By Stacey Sutherlin
A springtime favorite for many outdoor lovers and foragers are morels, also called Morchella.
Since I was a child, I remember trekking through the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest gathering different edible mushrooms with my father. Our main focus was normally Chanterelles as well as some others known as cauliflower mushrooms and chicken of the woods. Over the years, foraging has remained one of my favorite things to do as I love to get out and explore nature and provide for my family.
Morel mushrooms are something that I began to gather as an adult as I grew to learn more and more about this popular fungi. These mushrooms are popular because they are very delicious, and due to that fact, they are hard to find. For these reasons, morels are one of the most desired wild mushrooms in the world.
These mushrooms are true wild mushrooms as they are not farm-raised like mushrooms you find in your local grocery store. Every spring, foragers, chefs, outdoor enthusiasts, and commercial harvesters head out to hunt these treasures of the wild. With the warmer weather moving in, the sun shining and those cold days of winter behind, it’s time to get out in search of the prize that’s waiting.
Prior to harvesting morels or any mushroom, be sure to check in with your local BLM office to inquire about the local regulations and purchase any permits that may be needed. Lots of areas allow for certain amounts to be harvested for personal use whereas some wilderness areas are limited, and a commercial permit is required if you intend to sell the morels or mushrooms you harvest.
Identification of wild mushrooms can be intimidating but truly not that hard. However, with the stakes of a wild mushroom being edible or toxic, it’s important to pay attention to the details when you are foraging. Morels in most cases are less than six inches tall but can grow to be much larger, and the cap tends to be longer than the stem.
I’ve always said they look like a brain giving them a distinct look. Their stems are hollow and are light cream in color most times but can also be yellow or tan. Their rounded cone-shaped caps have brownish-black ridges and deep pits. It’s important to know that a true morel mushroom will be hollow from the tip of the cap to the bottom of the stem when sliced in half. Also, the cap is attached to the stem, it does not hang.
Morels tend to live on the edges of forested areas that have ash, aspen, elm, apple, and oak trees. Depending on the time of spring in your area as you are headed out to search for these treasures, it will determine where you may find them. In early spring when the weather warms up, south-facing slopes are where they tend to be found first and as spring moves through, north-facing slopes become the areas where you can locate morels.
Ground temps about 40 degrees at night and 60 degrees during the day provide the ultimate temperature for growth as well as adequate rainfall. In the spring, the day after a rainfall can be a good
morel hunting day! Morels tend to like ground that is moist, not wet, that has decay along with sand, clay and natural minerals like lime or calcium. This kind of ground can be found near creek bottoms.
Look for burn sites, logging areas, dead trees, or decaying wood/bark (disrupted habitat areas) as these areas are popular grounds for morels to grow. Morels blend in well but once you find one, you’re bound to find more! These mushrooms can be found in forested areas across the United States.
When harvesting morels, use a knife to cut the stem leaving the base in the ground to give opportunity for that area to produce again. Only take what you can manage, don’t overharvest an area. I recommend carrying your harvested mushrooms in a mesh-type bag or basket as this provides ventilation to keep them fresher, some people use paper bags or buckets with holes.
Disclaimer: Keep in mind this is a hunting guide to finding morel mushrooms and not a field guide for them. If you have any doubt about a mushroom and being able to correctly identify it, DO NOT keep it! Don’t use this article solely to identify your harvest if you are not familiar with morel mushrooms.