morel mushroom

Your Guide to Morel Mushroom

Morels are a distinct-looking mushroom with a cone-shaped cap and sponge-like texture. They typically grow between two and four inches tall. The caps stand erect and range in color from pale cream to almost black with a well-defined pitted texture. Morels are hollow and have a white- to pale cream-colored stem. They need to be cleaned, but otherwise, require very little preparation before cooking and are best when simply grilled or sautéed.

Origin: Medieval French for “dark colored” or “brown”; Latin derivative meaning “dark colored” or “brown.”

Identification: Black morels have a brain-like outer appearance—ridged and pitted—with pits arranged in columns. They are hollow in the middle and take the form of a jester-shaped cap that tapers. Mushroom ranges from 2"–6" in height.

Habitat: Gray (yellow when mature) and black morels often are found about halfway down a slope in the woods, where spores have been washed and collected, usually in a tangle of brush. Dead ash, elm, apple, poplar, pines, and tulip poplars are good places to look. West of the prairie, find morels in burnouts, along the side of trails, and along the edges of campgrounds. In general, morels love rich soils with a lot of humus and rotting fallen trees and stumps. These are mushrooms of the spring, the timing of which varies by latitude and altitude.

Edibility: They are delicious in all dishes where mushrooms improve taste: omelets, frittatas, pizza, pasta, burgers, veggie burgers (sauté with wild stinging nettle, asparagus, and red bell pepper). Sauté the first bunch of the season in a pinch of butter and olive oil and serve on sourdough toast points. Delicious with eggs, beef, venison, cheese, and duck. Caution: To denature gastrointestinal irritants, always cook morels.

Traditional uses: In China, morels are considered an immune-modulating food, toning the stomach and intestines and opening channels regulating energy throughout the body—good for reducing phlegm and indigestion.

Research: An aqueous-ethanol extract from mycelium of Morchella esculenta showed both antitumor and anti-inflammatory action in a mouse model. Morel extract produced a significant dose dependent inhibition of both acute and chronic inflammation. The extract also exhibited antitumor activity against solid tumors and tumor ascites fluids (Nitha, Meera, and Janardhanan 2007). At just 3 micrograms per milliliter, morel polysaccharides stimulate immune-system response initiated in the mucosal immune system interface (Duncan et al. 2002; Lull, Wichers, and Savelkoul 2005). Ethanol extract of morels inhibits chronic and acute inflammation and prevented the growth of solid cancer tumors (Nitha, Meera, and Janardhanan 2007). The polysaccharide fraction appears to stimulate the immune system, providing enhanced immune protection. After morel consumption, 146 patients presented gastrointestinal syndrome and 129 presented neurologic syndrome. Gastrointestinal and other neurological symptoms were also present (ocular/vision disorders, paresthesia, drowsiness/confusion, and muscle disorders). These patients frequently ingested a large quantity of morels. Confusion with Gyromitra esculenta (false morels) was ruled out (Saviuc, 2010).

Storage: Brush morels clean, cook in dishes, and freeze, or dry and store in canning jars. Try pickling them. Freeze fresh and whole for up to month.

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