Morel mushrooms are said to be the true harbingers of spring in the world of fungi. Mushroom hunters are now sharing their secrets to give you something to do during quarantine.
This first nugget of wisdom is most important to avoid poisoning yourself.
“If it’s hollow, you can swallow,” Lee Arbogast, instructor at Kalamazoo Vally Community College, said to FOX 17 News.
Lee encourages novice mushroom foragers to acquaint themselves with different kinds of mushrooms, many of which are good for eating. However, the only mushroom you can confuse with a morel is the false morel, which has a gauzy interior in the stem. True morels are always hollow in the center.
“They’re not as scary as you think,” said Lee. "People are overly cautions about mushrooms, and there’s a lot of ways to safely use them and not have anything too bad happen. Most poisonings are simply a stomach ache.”
Lee is an organic crops specialist, researching and growing mushrooms on his organic farm while teaching mushroom cultivation classes at KVCC.
He says the first sign of morels should rear their honeycomb heads around May 1.
“In addition to a basket, bring a thermometer and check the soil temperature four inches below the surface. You’re looking for a temperature of 55 to 62 degrees.”
He says checking the soil will give you assurance the mushrooms are sprouting before you start randomly walking around just to get in a lot of exercise.
“It’s best to stay six feet apart, perfect for social distancing,” Lee said. "Any closer than that and you’re just stealing each other's mushrooms. The best success is found in old apple orchards. Old timers say to check elm trees and ash trees. Anywhere you have a mix of living and dying trees, which seems like an odd composition, but it’s a good way to go.”
Mushrooms form when threatened or facing death. According to Lee, that’s their reproductive body. He recommends checking disturbed sites where trucks have dug up the soil, or maybe a camp site. You should keep your nose down, always looking at the ground while walking in a zig-zag pattern off of foot paths.
“When you see them in a bowl you say, How could you miss them?" said Lee. "They’re honeycomb shaped, beautiful, but in their natural setting they’re almost impossible to see."
If you’re lucky enough to find them, you can saute them in butter and eat them straight up because they're that delicious. Some people use them in omelets or pizzas.
If you find a large quantity, you can always dry them and freeze them. Lee encourages novice hunters to not sell them for their high dollar value, because the sale of morels requires a foragers license throughout the state.
While looking for your prized mushrooms, Lee says its nice to acquaint yourself with a few other species and wild plants before going out, just in case you get skunked.
“Michigan has a huge native asparagus species, and fiddle head ferns are delicious when they’re young and tender,” Lee said. “Wild leeks come out this time of year, and they’re easy to forage for, very tasty. You might also find chicken of the woods, which grow on tree trunks and dying trees, and oyster mushrooms, which we cultivate in my class.”
You can even learn how to grow mushrooms right at home through Lee’s online Mushroom Cultivation Crash Course. Its a one-day, three-hour course on cultivating mushrooms at home, covering topics like deciding what kind of mushrooms to grow, where to obtain the cultures and materials needed for production, and how to create good environments for mushroom growth.
The cost is $20.00