Spring is primetime for hunting morel mushrooms. Seasoned foragers suggest that when lilacs are in bloom and oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, it is soon time to scour wooded areas.
Dr. David Graper is a Professor of Horticulture and has worked at South Dakota State University since 1990. He says that the morel mushroom is easy enough to identify, it’s the only mushroom that has its distinctive look. If you’re out hunting in the spring and you find something that has sort of a brain like look to it, and is hollow, you’ve found a morel. The cap is very wavy, kind of deeply grooved. Its stem is generally a tan or whitish in color and should feel kind of spongy. Another important characteristic, if you cut it and slice it down the , It should be hollow inside.
Always use care when you harvest mushrooms. Pay attention to the structure of the mushroom as you identify if it is edible. A shiitake mushroom, for instance, have gills under the cap. A poisonous mushroom that looks similar may have pores instead. If you are ever uncertain about the classification of the fungi at hand, let it go.
Dr. Graper shares an old wives tale, “There are plenty of bold mushroom hunters and there are old mushroom hunters. There are seldom old AND bold mushroom hunters.”
You should even use care with mushrooms that you acquire from a friend, or the market. If you’ve never tried morels, you could have a personal allergy to that particular mushroom. So, just eat a small amount to see how you react.
Dr. David Graper contributes articles to SDSU’s extension program, www.igrow.org, it is an excellent resource as you delve into foraging for wild edibles. If you’ve missed the season for morels, there are other edible mushrooms that you could hunt for. Dr. Graper points to what he calls, “The Fool Proof Five”.
You can find more information about edible mushrooms in an article written by Dr. Graper, which can be found here.