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A Complete Wild Food Guide

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Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta). By: Bob (Bobzimmer) Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

READ THIS Before Gathering and Eating Wild Mushrooms.

Season: Spring

Urban, Rural or Both: Both

The Morel family (Morchella) has three groups that are great to eat - The Black Morel Morchella septentrionalis and Morchella angusticeps, though until 2012 they were both known as the (Morchella elata), so that is what most books will name it, the Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) and the White Morel (Morchella deliciosa). Use the Latin name in brackets when doing internet searches to find pictures and descriptions of them. But, once you recognize a Morel, it does not matter which one of the three it is for cooking and eating purposes.

Spore print is Creamy Yellow. This is one of the few mushrooms where just looking at it - if you are familiar - will identify it. Get a spore print if you feel unsure at first.

I wish I could tell you a sure fire way how to locate them - a when & where guide, but these are tricky little mushrooms. Once the leaves start to come out on the trees in the spring, keep your eyes open for them, by early summer, they get less and less likely to find, by late summer it is quite rare to find one. I have found them in hardwood woods, in flower beds in front of a local mall, in my back yard, behind a junk pile, etc. One of the problems with finding them is there is a lot of competition - squirrels love them, and will pick and eat most of them before you can blink. If you find one in a woods area, there is a good chance there are many around that one. In urban environments, if you find one, that may be all there is.

The only close look-alike to the Morel is the False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) of the Gyromitra family. Although one member of this family is edible and good, the others are poisonous (not deadly, but being sick sucks) and its just not worth the effort when real Morels are out and about to be found. The False Morel sort of looks like horribly misshapen Morels, or a small brain on a stem, so if the Morel does not have the classic Morel "sponge shaped like a Christmas tree on a stem" look, don't bother - better to leave a good Morel behind than chance eating a Gyromitra. The stem of the true Morel is hollow, and hollow all the way up into the cap. There is no overhang of the cap - it is all one hollow. If the stem is hollow, but the cap overhangs the stem like an umbrella with a space under it, it is not a true Morel. See the diagram below.

Look each one over carefully, looking for bugs and tiny slugs. Rinse well under cool water to get any dirt, leaf litter, and insects out from the hollows on the surface of the upper section (cap). The stem is edible and just as good as the cap.

Cooking them by sautéing with a bit of chopped onions and/or garlic in grape seed oil is my personal favorite. NEVER eat Morels raw, and start only with a very small amount the first time you eat them, some people are allergic to them. This is a good rule for all mushrooms - each species seems to trigger allergic reactions in a small percentage of the population.

Recipe search on the web here (Google search) and here (Bing search).

True and False Morel diagram

A true Morel has a single hollow space for the cap and stem. If it is like the diagram on the right, it is not a true Morel


A true Morel - A single hollow space for the cap and stem. By: 00Amanita00 Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported


A perfect Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) growing sideways. Usually they are upright but it doesn't matter. Photo by Pamela J. Walsh.


Black Morel Morchella septentrionalis and Morchella angusticeps, formerly the (Morchella elata).


Black Morel (Morchella elata). By: Dan Molter (shroomydan) Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta). Known also as the Common Morel, True Morel, and Sponge Morel. Yellow Morel is the common name that is most common and the one most mushroomers will recognize as the Morchella esculenta.


Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta). Not all Morels are cone shapped. By: TOMMES-WIKI Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

White Morel (Morchella deliciosa).


White Morel (Morchella deliciosa). By: Gzirk - Public Domain Image

Before Gathering and Eating any Wild Mushroom READ THE FOLLOWING:

This is a difficult subject to approach. I've been studying mushrooms in the wild for about 30 years and they often still surprise and confuse me when identifying.

The problem for a site like this, is that 100% correct identification is absolutely necessary, but hard to do for many mushrooms - even with years of experience, let alone a newcomer to the subject. Best to have someone with genuine expertise show you. If that is not possible, please do much research on the web or with books, preferably both. Do not trust a single source of information - EVER. I have found mistakes on the web, and have even corrected errors on Wikipedia myself. You need confirmation from multiple sources. If you are serious about the subject, one book I highly recommend is "Mushrooms Demystified: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fleshy Fungi by David Arora". I bought the 1986 edition in 1987 and that is what got me started seriously learning about mushrooms. David Arora is from the west coast, but what he says about east coast mushrooms matches with my experience. There are pictures, and very well thought out step by step identification sequences.

Another book which is very good, and a great guide to carry with you on gathering expeditions is "The Audubon Society Field Guild to North American Mushrooms".

Before you gather anything, you must know the most dangerous mushroom of Eastern North America - it can mean your life if you don't. It is the Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera). There is another Destroying Angel on the west coast, the Amanita ocreata. Please take me seriously with this, the Destroying Angels not only kill, but they kill you slowly & painfully. Don't rely on taste, people who have eaten them said, before they died, they were very good tasting. I don't think there is anything, other than maybe the Water Hemlock plant, that kills with such pain and suffering. Look them up, read about them here - KNOW THEM.

Another very dangerous mushroom with the same toxin as the Destroying Angel is the Galerina marginata. Please read the entry for Galerina marginata on the Poisonous Plants page.

I suggest only five mushrooms for the wild food gatherer & mushroom novice to start off with. The Chanterelle, Morel, Hericium, and the Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball. The Morel, and Giant Puffball can often be found in urban environments. The Chanterelle, Hericium, Morel and Sulphur Shelf in the woods. The Giant Puffball can be often found in grassy areas in the country. I have seen the Sulphur Shelf in the city on rare occasions on the side of dying trees. These five are relatively straight forward to identify correctly, and do not have deadly poisonous close look-alikes - although there may be similar looking mushrooms that could make you sick - very sick, so always take identification very seriously. Also, these are not mushrooms you can usually buy in the local grocery store. Until fairly recently, Morels could not be grown in artificial environments.

The Morel is a spring season mushroom, Chanterelle, Sulphur Shelf and Giant Puffball is a summer to fall mushroom, and the Hericium is a late summer to fall mushroom, so this gives a fairly large window of time to enjoy them. PLEASE take it very slowly, do a lot of research, look at many pictures, and learn how to identify the edible ones from mushrooms that look like them - STEP by STEP with each aspect of the mushroom. Remember, though I do my best to help you identify them, this is not a dedicated identification guide, you do need to learn more than I provide.

And by the way, be careful of what other people pick. Some people go by simple rules of identification that they have learned from others that don't hold up. They may have been lucky so far, but if you eat what others have picked, you had better hope they know what they are doing. Know what you are picking, don't use simple rules except for one: If you are not absolutely, 100% sure, with each and every aspect of the mushroom, do not eat it.

Spore Prints:

Learn to take a spore print. Put a mushroom cap on white and black paper, and cover with a cup or bowl and after a couple of hours take off the cup, carefully lift up the cap and you should see a spore print. The color of the spores is an important aspect of identification. Go to the spore print link, where you will see the black and white spore print paper image. Click on it, click again and print it. Here is a link directly to it. You can print the same image below:


Print this image to take your spore print on. (William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute CC BY-SA 3.0). Click here to download a printable version.

The next six images are the steps in taking a spore print:

spore print 01

This is an Agaricus bisporus that I'm using to demonstrate taking a spore print. This one still has a bit of the partial veil left on. It is the partial veil that makes the ring on the stem.

spore print 02

Next, you have to take off the stem so that the cap will sit flat on the paper. If the gills are "free" - don't touch the stem, you can usually break off the stem. If the gills touch the stem, (adnate, decurrent, etc.), you are best to cut the stem off carefully with a sharp, clean knife.

spore print 03

Set the cap, gills down, on a piece of paper. Put a drop or two of room temperature water on the cap, but not so much that it runs down to the paper. This helps the mushroom hydrate which helps it in the process of releasing the spores.

spore print 04

Cover with a glass or plastic container to keep it humid inside for the mushroom.

Agaricus bisporus spore print 01

It can take as little as a couple of hours, to 12 hours in my experience to get a good print. If you have 12 hours, leave it. If you want to eat the mushroom sooner, take a look after a couple of hours. You may not get a nice looking print, but even a few spores should reveal their color.

Agaricus bisporus spore print close up

This is a close up of the spore print. You can see the white lines where the gills were, and the spores on either side that dropped off. This is the brown for a spore print you would expect for an Agaricus bisporus.

Remember the mushroomer's motto: When in Doubt - Throw it Out. Even experts aren't sure sometimes, and will pass on eating a mushroom unless they are sure.

One more thing I will repeat over and over. When eating anything for the first time, only have a tiny amount to make sure you are not allergic to it. This is especially true for mushrooms. Every edible mushroom creates a reaction with some people. There are two choice edible mushrooms that I am allergic too. The Oyster mushroom makes me feel like I have the flu coming on, and the Boletus edulis makes me feel hot, I break into a sweat, and feel sick to my stomach.

If you think I'm being overly cautious, think about what I read years ago (I regrettably forget the source). There are two kinds of wild mushroom eaters: Brave ones and living ones.

Identification: When reading the description for the mushrooms, refer to the chart below for what those descriptions mean.

Creator of this chart: debivort. Used under GNU Free Documentation License. Full size and source of this image here.

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Important Notes when Identifying
Rules & Cautions
Dangerous Plants to Avoid Touching

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