Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Morel Mushrooms

When you start your search for different options that you can do on your farm, don't overlook the resources that might already exist on your land.  These natural resources will cost you very little to get started.  At this time of the year, it is not uncommon to see a couple of vendors at the farmers' market selling morel mushrooms that they hunted on their own property or other private land (always get permission).  I bought some last year for a hefty price.  If you do hunt morel mushrooms and plan on selling them, be sure you can identify the morel from the false morel.  Listed in the article below are two resources to assist you in identifying mushrooms and an opportunity to learn how to hunt them.  (debi kelly)

This year’s weather presents a promising prospect for morel hunters. Mild temperatures and plentiful moisture this spring is the perfect recipe for a mushroom crop.

Morel mushrooms start fruiting in the spring as the soil warms to about 50 degrees if there’s enough moisture,” said Johann Bruhn, a University of Missouri mycologist. “Rain like we’ve been getting is important to make mushrooms fruit, but most important is a prolonged combination of moisture and appropriate temperature.”

Morel hunting is a popular pastime for many Missouri families. The best time to hunt morels is roughly mid-April to mid-May and typically coincides with the flowering of May apples.

Surrounded by lore and mystique, hunting mushrooms connects generations who pass down information on the mushroom’s fruiting grounds and use the experience to spend time together in the woods.

“The great enjoyment is not just about finding the mushrooms, but also about experiencing the great outdoors, identifying wild flowers, going out with your dog on an adventure in the woods and being with family and friends,” Bruhn said.

Bruhn, who has eaten more than 50 species of wild mushrooms, offers advice for those unsure how to hunt.

He recommends using an onion sack or similar mesh bag to collect mushrooms. Always bag each variety separately if there’s doubt about the safety of a collection. Carefully identify any new species of mushroom before eating and try only a small portion at a time until you know it’s safe.

“There are not many different kinds of mushrooms growing during morel season, but there are some ‘false morels’ that contain a chemical that’s akin to rocket fuel and can be lethal,” Bruhn said. “The only rule of thumb is that there is no rule of thumb and everyone who hunts should use field guides or an expert to identify any suspect varieties.”

Morel look-alikes – such as the Verpa, the saddle-shaped Helvella and the brain-shaped Gyromitra mushrooms – can entice some hunters, but can be distinguished by the squatty shape compared to the more cone-shaped true morels.

“If the cap of the mushroom drapes down from the very top of the stalk, it’s likely a false morel and I’d not recommend eating it,” Bruhn said.

Bruhn said all mushrooms – regardless of type – should be cooked thoroughly to make them more digestible. The enzymes mushrooms use to decay wood can be very hazardous to humans. “Cooking helps,” he said. “However, keep in mind that cooking still does not break down most deadly toxins present.”

For pictures and more information on mushroom species, see www.mdc.mo.gov/nathis/mushrooms/mushroom/edible.htm.

You can learn more about mushroom hunting through the Missouri Mycological Society, which will host Morel Madness at Cuivre River State Park April 23-25.
Written by Roger Meissen, Senior Information Specialist, MU Ag News and Information.

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