Springtime is here, singing loud and clear, with bird's song and a green brushstroke awakening yards and trees to a new rhythm. As beauty colors in the landscape, wild varieties of plants, herbs, and mushrooms begin to appear. One of the most mysterious species coming up this time of year is the great morel. Morels are a sneaky mushroom that come up and disappear within a small time frame in the spring. They are conically shaped, with white, hollow stems and pitted caps. They "pop up" in many different colors. They range from grey, black, yellow, tan, white, or golden. They are well known for their woodsy, earthy fragrance and delicate nut-like flavor.
Science behind the morel
People trek out in search of the morel with their own personal theories. The morel seems to surprise hunters every year, although it does seem to have its favorite spots. Morel growth depends primarily on moisture content in the ground, the perfect soil temperature, the existence of nutrients and an invisible root system.
Scientists believe the morel spreads by an underground, invisible root system called the mycelium. The highly sought after sponges reproduce by sending out between 250,000 and 500,000 microscopic spores. The spores drop into the ground and reconnect to their underground root system where they will draw in nutrients from the soil. Sclerotic, which are hardened nodules on the mycelium, swell during the spring season, forming the spongy morel fruits. Since the morel doesn't rely on photosynthesis, it obtains its nutrients from the ground.
For the morel to thrive for upcoming seasons, many advise to carry the morel in mesh bags, so the spores can freely release back into the ground.
According to the Department of Agriculture's national nutrient database, one cup of morel mushroom contains 59 grams of water and only 20 calories.
Their nutritional strength lies in their 136 IU vitamin D content. They also harbor B vitamins, including folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin and thiamine.
A cup also contains 28 mg of calcium, 271 mg of potassium, 13 mg of magnesium and 8 mg of iron, 128 mg of phosphorus, 14 mg of sodium.
Many people celebrate the morel's flavor by slicing them and sauteing them in butter, coating them with flour or cracker meal. They can also be enjoyed on the grill, stuffed and baked with cheeses, onions, and garlic.
Knowing your morels
For safety reasons, it is important to properly identify various morel species. A Verpa bohemica, or wrinkled thimble cap, is filled with a white cottony fiber substance. These should be avoided.
The Gyromitra esculenta or the "Beefsteak Morel", usually fruits before the true morels. It has a wavy brainy like cap and is fleshy and brittle. These are very toxic.
The species Morchella semilibera, or half free morel, usually has a tall stem and a cap that is not fully connected to the stem. These can be eaten, but in moderation.
Know your morels: http://www.northerncountrymorels.com/morels.htm
Morel fever and beyond
Morels are wildly sought after across the United States. Finding a way to cultivate morel fever and share that same passion with other edible hunts will be a great way to celebrate all that is beneficial in the universe. There are thousands of edible medicinal mushrooms and herbs growing wild and free. Obtaining books and learning how to properly identify wild plants, berries, and mushrooms will be a valuable learned skill in this age of disease. Knowing what to eat in times of hunger and illness is a great way to live simple, happy, and free. People everywhere can thrive on what is natural and existing just outside the door.