Tips for Gathering Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms are native to most of the temperate areas of the United States. They're easy to identify, taste good and grow in large groupings. They are in season between March and May in most areas. When a person thinks of a mushroom, chances are they're thinking of a morel. Mushrooms can be pricey in the grocery store. Here are some tips on how to find them on your own in nature.
Learn How to Identify Morel Mushrooms
There are two types of wild-growing morels. One has pits, a conical shape, and a pitted cap that attaches to the bottom of the stem. This is the safe type of morel to gather and eat. Avoid morel mushrooms that have the longer stem and a cap that attaches by the top. This is the half-free morel, and it causes some people to experience severe stomach upset after eating it. The false morel is toxic and shouldn't be eaten.
Where to Look for Morel Mushrooms
Morels grow along the edges of forested areas. They also grow in forests. Look for a forest with ash, oak, aspen, and elm trees. Morels grow well near them. Look for the morels early in the spring. They are most common on a south-facing slope in an area that gets some sunlight. In mid- to late-spring, morels can be found deeper in the woods and on the north-facing hills. Morels prefer well-drained, sandy soils like a creek bottom. Once you find one morel, look around nearby. Notice the conditions and look for similar places. The first morels of the season will be small. As the weather warms, the morels grow.
Look for Dead Trees
Fungi feed on dead organic material. Morel mushrooms often grow around trees that are dying or dead. Look near felled dead trees as well as standing dead trees. When a tree's bark is falling off, you'll find morels growing around it. Late-season morels are big and yellow. They taste the same as the small early-season morels. They also prefer growing near dead trees.
Grow Your Own Morel Mushrooms
If you want a better chance of getting morels, consider growing your own. If you don't have a nearby forest, this is your best option. They need a slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.8 to 7.0. They are hardy in USDA growing zones 4 to 9. They can be tricky to grow, so be patient. They need filtered light, with shade ideally provided by trees. The soil should be organically rich and loamy. Regular water is essential. The soil should be wet like a wrung sponge. They prefer cool, wet weather. To propagate them, you need a slurry and a fresh morel. The slurry should contain shredded tree bark from ash, elm or oak, some soil, and some slightly acidic water. Let the mushroom soak overnight in the slurry, stir the slurry, and spread it over your designated morel growing area.