It’s spring in Minnesota when the trees are sporting their new green leaves and the ground is warm and damp. It’s also time to get into the woods and look for morel mushrooms. Morel hunting has become one of my favorite springtime traditions. My husband Adam, introduced me to morels several years ago. I still can’t believe something that delicious had been under my radar for so many years!
Once you get a taste of morels there is no going back. Many people don’t like mushrooms, but I am willing to bet that the vast majority of those people would love morels. They are nothing like the button mushrooms from the grocery store that might have created your mushroom disliking. In a way, I would prefer you not try morels, because once you do, you will want more. That means less for me…so now that I think about it, morels are kinda icky…
Where To Find Morels
If you aren’t easily fooled and you want to give morels a try, you simply have to get into the woods once the weather has been warm for a bit. Here in Minnesota, that is usually the end of April or beginning of May.
We always look for morels near dead or dying elm trees where they grow up from the forest floor. They can also be found growing near ash, polar, and apple trees. When Adam and I go, we carry long sticks to move wood nettle and other plants out of the way so that we can get a better view of the forest floor. Morels grow in woodlands throughout North America. They are very easy to identify.
Identifying And Collecting Morels
There is a poisonous look-alike known as the false morel, but it’s really easy to distinguish the two. The true morel is hollow inside and the false morel is not. Also, the false morels are irregularly shaped compared to a true morel. Here is a great guide to help you identify morels.
Once you find one morel mushroom be sure to look around nearby because there are likely more to be found. Break the mushroom off at the base rather than pulling it so that you don’t collect dirty mushrooms. We put them into either a mesh or paper bag, although a wooden basket would also be great. Do not use a plastic bag or your mushrooms will turn mushy.
We also collect ramps (also known as wild leeks) if we see them. They have a great onion/garlic flavor to them, and they go very well cooked up alongside the morels.
There are many wildflowers in bloom at that time of year. Not to mention the wildlife that we encounter. I bring my camera into the woods to take pictures of whatever catches my eye. Hawks, butterflies, deer, toads. If it moves, I will probably take its picture.
A Safety Note On Long Pants & Stinging Nettles
Be sure to wear long thick pants. I learned this lesson the hard way. The first year that Adam and I went morel hunting in the woods I wore leggings. Bad idea. We came into a thick patch of wood nettle which is like stinging nettle on steroids. They were pricking/stinging me through my pants. Ouch! Thankfully, Adam carried me through that patch (my hero).
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Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle). Stinging nettles have spicules (like needles) that pierce the skin with biochemicals such as histamines, causing a painful rash. Dock leaves, which often grow near nettles, can be rubbed on the rash as a remedy. If handled correctly, nettles can be made into a nutrient rich soup and are sometimes even used in cheeses and bread. A lot of nettles in an area can be a sign that there was once an inhabited building there, since human and animal waste elevates nitrogen and phosphates in the soil, which makes an ideal growing environment for nettles. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #nettles #stingingnettles #urticadioica #nettlesoup #nettletea #nettleleaf #stingingnettle #nettlepesto #nettlefiber #leitrim #sliabhaniarainn
Morel mushroom hunting is not for the faint of heart. Don’t skimp on the bug spray! If the wood nettle doesn’t deter you, the hoards of mosquitoes and wood ticks might. Even though I usually leave the woods itchy and with a few wood ticks, the morels are worth it. They are so fun to find! I feel like I’ve just won the lottery whenever I find a nice big morel or a large patch of them.
How To Prepare & Enjoy Morels
Once we get back home with our morels it is time for a feast. Our daughters absolutely love morels as well. If we have had a good haul, we like to invite family over to share in our bounty. We give the morels a rinse, slice them up, and saute them in butter with a little salt and pepper, and sometimes throw in some wild leeks for another dimension of flavor.
The morels have an amazing meaty texture and savory flavor. If we have a lot, we dehydrate them and add them to various dishes throughout the year. This is enjoyable because not only am I able to enjoy that distinct morel flavor in soups and stews but just seeing those dehydrated mushrooms enables me to relive the adventure in the woods in my mind. Sometimes those memories are even sweeter than the experience itself.
If you have never looked for morel mushrooms before, make this year your first. Start with morels, and then learn more about other wild edible mushrooms (there are lots).
And bring the kids! My kids and I have found morels at local parks just walking along a tarred path. Don’t let your fear of the unknown get in the way.
If you have the desire to find them, do some research, join an online mushroom group, buy a mushroom identification book, but most importantly, get into the woods and start looking! You don’t need to be a mushroom expert to identify morels. If I can do it, so can you.
Happy morel hunting!