Posted in Nature

Foraging Morels

Although I don’t have expertise in this area, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) just published a series of videos on foraging for morels that I’d like to share with you.


ODNR naturalist, Erin Shaw, hosts four videos about hunting for morels. I’ve created a playlist of all four in order here. Individuals videos are around a couple minutes long. To watch all four in order will take about 8½ minutes. Links to each individual video in the playlist are also provided at the end of this article.

From these videos on morel hunting, I have summarized Erin Shaw’s pointers below:

  • The peak season occurs at the same time that trillium and violets are blooming in the wild.
  • You should carry your morels in some sort of mesh bag, for instance, an old onion bag. This allows the spores on the morels you’ve already collected to fall through to the forest floor while you continue your hunt.
  • Morels tend to grow near the following trees: ash, elm, apple, and tulip poplar. You can try looking near the trunk of these living trees, or perhaps better still, along the length of fallen trees.
  • In addition to looking around fallen trees, areas that have been burnt or flooded also are more likely to have morels.
  • The morels are often completely covered by leaf litter, or by bark that’s been shed by fallen trees. It is helpful to use a walking stick to gently stir the leaves and lift fallen bark.
  • If you do find a morel, continue to inspect the area. They usually appear in groups.
  • When harvesting a morel, Shaw recommends pinching it near the base of the stem, but leaving a bit of the stem in the ground.
  • Shaw recommends using two bags, one for specimens that you are confident are morels, and another bag for those that you feel less certain about. This prevents cross-contamination in the event that further investigation shows that you’ve made a mistake.
  • The bottom of a true morel’s cap is joined to the stem. In contrast, the top of a false morel’s cap is attached to the top of the stem, while the bottom of the false morel’s cap drapes loosely over the stem (kind of like an umbrella). Pick the true morel, and shun the false one.
  • If you cut a morel lengthwise, it should be hollow in the center. In contrast, false morels usually have a cottony, fibrous material in their centers. Here’s a saying you can use to remember this distinction: “If it’s not hollow, don’t swallow.”
  • And now for a bit of morel hunting etiquette: don’t ask others where they found their morels. They aren’t willingly going to disclose that information, so it is an awkward question.
Photo courtesy of Thomas & Dianne Jones, license: CC BY 2.0

If you look at the bottom of the cap in this photo, you can see how it is joined to the stem of the morel.

Photo courtesy of Brian (Ziggy) Liloia, license: CC BY-NC 2.0

By carrying your morels in a mesh bag like this, you’ll help spread spores so there will be more morels to harvest next year.

Erin Shaw said that she used to clean her morels by soaking them, but now she believes that the morels soak up water like a sponge. Instead of soaking them, she recommends squirting them clean with a kitchen sprayer. When she does this, she captures the water that runs off the morels in a bowl, then she empties the bowel at the base of some of her apple trees. It’s all done in the hope that someday the spores will take hold, and she will have her own private, morel garden. 🙂

Photo courtesy of Wayne, license: CC BY 2.0

Shaw used to soak morels like this to clean them, but then decided that spraying them with water worked out better. Nonetheless, these sliced morels show how the center is hollow, and you can see how the bottom of the cap joins up with the stem.

The mushroom below is a false morel and you should not eat it. At the author states that when he first began to hunt morels, there were individuals who told him that false morels were edible, too. Below he describes what happened when he took a small taste of a false morel:

I only cooked just the caps without the stem, and took only one bite about the size of a nickel. I started chewing and I didn’t like the taste or texture, so I spit it out, and said they can have these. Within a few minutes, I became extremely dizzy, and nauseous! I do not recommend anyone eating them. And unless you are VERY familiar with the identity of the half-free, and know the differences between them and the false morel, I don’t recommend eating them either. When in doubt, throw it out! After the dizziness and nauseous feel left, I felt okay. A few hours later I decided to have a beer. After about my third sip of beer I was right back to the way I felt before. Alcohol and wild mushroom don’t mix well. Especially with poison ones. I consider these poisonous!

Photo courtesy of Jason Hollinger at Mushroom Observer, discovered at Wikimedia, license: CC BY-SA 3.0

This is NOT a true morel. It is a false morel (Verpa bohemica). Note how the stem attaches to the cap at the top, and how the bottom of the cap drapes over the stem sort of like an umbrella. Also note that there is a cottony fiber growing inside the stem. DON’T EAT THIS.

In the first video of the playlist, Erin Shaw talks about the four kinds of morels (the blacks, the grays, the yellows, and the “big foots” – this is also the order in which they appear). Speaking of “big foots” (morels of unusual size that appear late in the season), I found this photo prank on Flickr of a truly monstrous morel, and it was so well done that I wanted to share it. 😀

Photo courtesy of Deb Deppeler, license: CC BY 2.0


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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

2 thoughts on “Foraging Morels

    1. Karen, thanks! I haven’t tried foraging morels, either. When I took the topmost photo of a morel, I wanted to bring it home and try it, but Bob wouldn’t let me. 😮 However, Erin Shaw did such a great job with her identification pointers, I feel much more confident about being able to safely identify them.

      On the other hand, I just found out that you can buy dried morels at Amazon.

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