Springtime in Idaho and across the Northwest brings mushroom lovers into our forests for a time-honored activity, hunting mushrooms! Morels (Morchella spp.) are one of the most prized delicacies. This fact sheet provides some basic information on mushrooms, but is not intended to serve as a formal field guide.
While morels are distinctive, you should never ever eat a mushroom that you can’t positively identify. Even then, some people can be allergic to morels, so cook and eat a small amount to make sure that you do not have a reaction. ALL MORELS MUST BE COOKED before eating.
Morchella Elata, which are a common black morel found in Idaho have also been reported to result in reactions when consumed with alcohol.
Is that a morel? Morels are widespread across North America and much of the globe. They have a distinctive honeycombed cap with ridges and pits. The stem and the cap are continuous; they appear to grow into each other. Still, some species can be confused with morels (see next page), so make sure you know for sure, before you cook and eat any mushroom!
Where to look: Morels can be found across Idaho, but are most common in coniferous forests in the spring and early summer. In the year following a forest fire, morels can be found in abundance. Morels can be found along streams, ponds, in open areas, dense forests, in brushy areas, along trails, and everywhere in between. When you find one, stop, and look closely for others, they can often be found in groups or “seams.” Look for fire maps on one of the links included below.
Key considerations: Recently burned areas can be dangerous with hazard trees, burned root holes, loose rocks, unstable slopes, etc. Always use caution, avoid burned areas during windstorms, tell others where you’ll be, watch for ticks, and don’t hike alone. A GPS unit is a great investment, as it’s easy to get turned around as you follow ridges and draws while hunting mushrooms. Anytime you travel in the forest, be prepared with a map, water, emergency blanket, food, and warm clothing.
When to look: May and early-mid June are primetime for morel hunting in southern Idaho. Warm weather after spring rains can provide optimal conditions. As temperatures warm, head for higher elevations.
How to harvest: As a rule, only pick morels that are larger than your thumb. Leave some mushrooms behind to mature (and for others to find…I know this is hard)! Slicing mushrooms with a pocketknife helps protect the sensitive roots (mycelia), and keeps your mushrooms cleaner. Pick only morels that are in good condition, as mushy, crumbly, morels won’t hold up. Gather your mushrooms in a basket or cloth bag, (don’t use plastic bags, morels need to breathe). Leave at least 20% in the woods.
Do I need a permit: In most areas, the Forest Service offers free personal use permits that allow for up to 5 gallons of mushrooms per day. Burned areas can be closed for safety, to protect resources, or because of other uses (i.e. salvage logging and tree-felling). Check in with the land manager or landowner for more info, as local regulations can vary.
How to prepare or store: Morels can keep up to about a week in a well ventilated bag in the fridge. You can also dehydrate and store morels for long periods. To prepare, I soak morels in salted water for 15 minutes and then rinse
and pat dry. Slice morels lengthwise to cook evenly. Some also recommend simply brushing off dirt and debris (and not soaking or running under water). Then sauté morels in butter, garlic and salt. Or you can bread and fry your mushrooms, or stuff and bake them. As long as you cook them, you can’t really go wrong!
Are there other mushrooms that can be harvested: Many other mushrooms can be found in Idaho, some of which are considered edible. These include chantrelle (Cantharellus spp.), coral (Ramaria spp.), bolete (Boletus spp.) and many other species of mushrooms. In general, as you head north in Idaho, more species can be found.
What mushrooms can be confused with morels: The two most common types of mushrooms that can be confused with morels are False Morels (Verpa spp.) or Brain Morels (Gyromitra spp.).
Figure 1: Snow or Brain Morel (Gyromitra esculenta)
Gyromitra species often have a “wrinkled” or “cerebral” (brain-like) appearance to the cap due to multiple wrinkles and folds, rather than the honeycomb appearance of true morels due to ridges and pits.
Figure 2: False Morel (Verpa bohemica)
The caps of Verpa species are attached to the stem only at the apex (top of the cap), unlike true morels which have caps that are attached to the stem at, or near, the base of the cap.