Please Sign In

Please enter a valid username and password
  • Log in with Facebook
» Not a member? Take a moment to register
» Forgot Username or Password

Why Register?
Signing up could earn you gear (click here to learn how)! It also keeps offensive content off our site.

A Beginner's Guide to Hunting Morel Mushrooms

Morels are America’s mushroom, more so than any other. It may be because they’re widespread, they’re easy to identify, and they come up in the spring, giving people a reason to get out and enjoy warm weather after a long winter. Or, it could be they’re popular simply because they taste so good. Morels are so prized they sell for up to $20 a pound in grocery stores where I live. Here’s a quick guide to finding your own. Please note that although morels are easy to identify, this a hunting guide, not a field guide. If you have any doubt about a mushroom, don’t keep it.

Found in much of the U.S. from late March through May, the morel is our favorite mushroom: plentiful, easy to identify, and delicious. It has colorful names like Molly Moocher, Miracle, Dryland Fish—or, my favorite, Hickory Chickens—but mostly, people just call them “mushrooms” and it’s understood that means “morels.”

Identifying Safe Morels

Here are two morels in the wild. Notice the pits (in the top photo), the distinctive conical shape, and the way the bottom of the cap (the pitted part) is attached near the bottom of the stem. Avoid the half-free morel (bottom photo), which has a longer stem and a cap that attaches near the top, looking like an umbrella. These mushrooms can cause some people to have cramps or other forms of gastrointestinal distress.

Definitely Don't Eat This

Don’t eat this mushroom, which is a false morel and is mildly toxic. Notice that it lacks the cone shape of the real thing, and has wrinkles, not pits, on its cap.

Where to Look

Morels live in and on the edge of forested areas. Look for ash, aspen, elm, and oak trees, around which morels often grow. Early in the spring as the ground is warming, you’ll find them on south-facing slopes in fairly open areas. As the season progresses, go deeper into the woods and onto north-facing slopes. 

Well-drained, sandy soils like this creek bottom make good hunting spots as well. You’ll find the first morels of the year when daytime highs reach the 60s and lows stay above 40 degrees.

Hunting Tactics

Hunting morels is like bass fishing. You cover ground until you find one, then slow down and search the area carefully. Concentrate the rest of your hunt on similar areas, on the theory that you’ve found the “pattern” for the day.

Early-Season Morels

The first morels of the season are small. It takes quite a few to make a meal. The acorn top and walnut husk in the hand above help show scale.

Look For Dead Trees

Morels often grow around dead and dying trees. Old apple orchards make good hunting grounds. Always look around dead elm trees like this one. When a tree reaches the stage of decay where its bark is slipping off its trunk you’ll often find lots of morels around it.

Later in the Season

As the season progresses you find bigger, yellow morels. They taste just as good as the smaller ones, they’re easier to spot, and it doesn’t take as many to feed a hungry hunter.

Preparation and Cooking

Soaking morels in water for a couple of hours cleans them and washes out any bugs living inside the hollow mushrooms. Some people slice them in half lengthwise for a more thorough cleaning.

Here you see morels sautéing in butter. Cooking in butter brings out their rich, almost meaty flavor. If I don’t have very many, I like to scramble them into eggs with some tarragon. Batter-fried morels are also very popular.

The Finished Product

The bounty of spring, fork-ready. Serve with a breast of wild turkey or some crappie fillets.

Comments (16)

Top Rated
All Comments
from chuck the weasel wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

A couple other things that I have learned from fellow morel pickers:

Make sure to cut or pinch the stem off at the base, leaving part of the mushroom there. They will be more likely to grow back if you leave part of the "roots" in the ground.

Also when you collect morels, carry them in a basket or mesh bag. This helps them from getting too moist, and it lets their spores fall through and spread around the area- causing more to grow for next year

The final thing is not to give away the location of a good spot once you have found it. Word spreads quickly and your morels will vanish overnight.

Happy Hunting!

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Chuck,
It has been proven incorrect about the spreading of spores through keeping them in a mesh bag or whatever, but it does help from them getting soggy. I did this last year after forgetting a potato sack and found a old Kroger bag under the truck seat but they were still god non the less. Also pinching them off is incorrect, they are grown by spores not roots. What they have determined is that as soon as the mushroom pops up the 1st breeze will blow the spore further spreading the spores, and by the time you or I pick them they will already be sporeless. The one thing you hit the nail on the head was never ever give up your locations. Another thing the morels are the only edible mushroom that has yet to be commercially produced due to their unknown germination and soil needs. They are a mystery.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Dcast is 100% correct, those 2 popular beliefs have been proven incorrect.

My grandpa used to eat the half morels and even the false morels. He was a drunk and all that whiskey must have kept the poison at bay. Half morels in my region are called peckerheads for obvious reasons. The half morels disengrate too easily too pick anyway.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from hutter wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

I've eaten all three pictured. The second one is called a dog pecker in my area and the false morell is called a elephant ear. I've found them as big as a bushel basket.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dale Stehley wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

The second "morel" you picture is not a half morel, which are quite edible, but a verpa, also called a "peckerhead". The way to tell them apart is this: 1) a verpa cap is not connected solidly to the stem, rather it sits on top of the stem like a thimble on top of a pencil. A half morel cap is connected all the way around. 2) a verpa cap has wrinkles, not the pits of a morel. A half morel looks exactly like a regular morel except for the size of the cap. 3) cut a morel in half length wise and it is completely hollow and empty (except for perhaps some critters making their homes inside, don't worry, you can wash them out), whereas the stem of a verpa will be filled with a cottonly like fabric. If you are in doubt, don't eat them. Call me and I'll check them out for you ;)

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dale Stehley wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

The second "morel" you picture is not a half morel, which are quite edible, but a verpa, also called a "peckerhead". The way to tell them apart is this: 1) a verpa cap is not connected solidly to the stem, rather it sits on top of the stem like a thimble on top of a pencil. A half morel cap is connected all the way around. 2) a verpa cap has wrinkles, not the pits of a morel. A half morel looks exactly like a regular morel except for the size of the cap. 3) cut a morel in half length wise and it is completely hollow and empty (except for perhaps some critters making their homes inside, don't worry, you can wash them out), whereas the stem of a verpa will be filled with a cottonly like fabric. If you are in doubt, don't eat them. Call me and I'll check them out for you ;)

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from grant2 wrote 51 weeks 1 day ago

Any tips on someone that is a beginner in South Georgia?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from blackjac wrote 51 weeks 1 day ago

Buy the damn things at Whole Foods or another safe market---macho could kill you and your family!!!!

-6 Good Comment? | | Report
from bruisedsausage wrote 50 weeks 6 days ago

I do really well in areas that have been logged. The second year after the logging seems to be the best. (at least here). Sometimes just thinning trees gets the Mycelium activated. (Note the reasons morels fruit(grow) is because the Mycelium is stressed! And as a survival technique it sends up the "morel" to spore and spread itself so it can continue on.
Or if you're really serious you need to find areas that have been burnt the previous fall or summer, and killed everything.

As a side note we have morels grow until it snows here. Somewhere I've got photos of morels roughly the size of dinner plates that I picked out of a high elevation burn in montana back in September 1997.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jacqueline Derrick wrote 50 weeks 1 day ago

@dcast, you may be right about the incorrect information of spreading spores and snipping off at stem, but you are incorrect when you say "Another thing the morels are the only edible mushroom that has yet to be commercially produced due to their unknown germination and soil needs. They are a mystery."

Woodland Exotics produces them commercially. They are sold Sold under the name Woodland Exotics, the mushrooms are showing up in markets in metro Detroit, Lansing, Battle Creek and Chicago.

Mills holds the patent on the process to grow morels indoors, a feat once thought impossible. With backing from Toyota Motor Corp. and other investors, he and Berglund are growing the highly prized fungi and four other exotic mushrooms in a massive new facility in western Michigan, using local forest products such as sawdust, bark and composted leaves.

Check Meijers the next time you go shopping.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from John Denk wrote 49 weeks 4 days ago

The Half-free Morel is edible, problem with them is that they look a lot like a False Morel, Verpa bohemica. Either get a book that clearly shows the difference between the two or else don't pick Half-frees. Or better yet, learn how to tell them apart from an experienced picker. If you have a mushroom club where you live, join up and learn from others who are familiar with your local mushrooms.

And very important" ALWAYS cook Morels thoroughly, as they contain a toxin that is destroyed by the heat of cooking.

If you've never eaten a species of wild mushroom before, cook up one small cap, eat it and wait 24 hours before eating more, as a very small percentage of people are allergic to almost any mushroom, including commercial white mushrooms, and can get quite ill from eating them. If you're allergic to a species, one cap will give you an upset stomach and nausea, nothing worse than a mild case of stomach flu but if you pig out before checking to see if you're sensitive to them, you can end up in the ER from dehydration as a result of vomiting and diarrhea.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Safado wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Good call John Denk,
My brother can eat processed mushrooms but cannot eat wild mushrooms.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from tleichty1989 wrote 46 weeks 4 days ago

Nothing beats Morel Mushrooms we used to fry them but we also would throw them on a shish kabob with meat and other vegetables! Man is that good stuff. I typically have a hard time finding them but then again once you locate a spot you just have to keep returning every year to the same spot and harvesting them.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Laura L Larsen wrote 46 weeks 3 days ago

Half-free morels are edible, and the picture provided IS correct (the prior poster who said it wasn't is incorrect).

The half morel (which is different than the half-free morel) is one that looks more like a true morel, with the normal pits, except the head does not grow quite as far down the stem (some are quite short, others come close to the length, but not quite) and the stem is filled with a white fiberous material, whereas real morels are completely hollow, both in head and stem.

False morels have the brain-like pits and waves in some cases (called "brain false morels" as a type), or predominantly folds/wrinkles in other cases ("elephant ears"). Some can look quite similar to morels, except they do not have the upright habit. They are squat or lumpy or both. They do not always grow against trees, they can be found in open areas, so do not rely on their environment, just pay attention to their non-upright habit, sometimes looser waves, color (they can be dark red, and other weird colors), and also, if you cut them open, they are not hollow, and the cap especially is multi-chambered with sections between them. Real morels are hollow with no chambers.

This information has been confirmed through the Missouri Department of Conservation.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from blockward wrote 43 weeks 4 days ago

In response to DCast:

The fruiting does grow from the "root" - that is, the mycellium. As I understand it, the spores are directly responsible for the proliferation of new mycellium mats, from which morels spring. So theoretically, cutting a morel at the stalk (rather than pulling the whole mushroom out base and all) should leave the underlying mycellium intact, allowing for further fruiting... assuming that is what the mycellium will do. Whether cutting the stalk stimulates new morel growth or not seems to be the mystery.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from deryck wrote 3 weeks 5 days ago

the second morel you show is edible.. we call them the swamp morels.. Ive eaten thousands of those.. they are more common in saskatchewan than the black morels..the swamp morels are more watery and you have to handle them with more care not to squash them all up.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from chuck the weasel wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

A couple other things that I have learned from fellow morel pickers:

Make sure to cut or pinch the stem off at the base, leaving part of the mushroom there. They will be more likely to grow back if you leave part of the "roots" in the ground.

Also when you collect morels, carry them in a basket or mesh bag. This helps them from getting too moist, and it lets their spores fall through and spread around the area- causing more to grow for next year

The final thing is not to give away the location of a good spot once you have found it. Word spreads quickly and your morels will vanish overnight.

Happy Hunting!

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dale Stehley wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

The second "morel" you picture is not a half morel, which are quite edible, but a verpa, also called a "peckerhead". The way to tell them apart is this: 1) a verpa cap is not connected solidly to the stem, rather it sits on top of the stem like a thimble on top of a pencil. A half morel cap is connected all the way around. 2) a verpa cap has wrinkles, not the pits of a morel. A half morel looks exactly like a regular morel except for the size of the cap. 3) cut a morel in half length wise and it is completely hollow and empty (except for perhaps some critters making their homes inside, don't worry, you can wash them out), whereas the stem of a verpa will be filled with a cottonly like fabric. If you are in doubt, don't eat them. Call me and I'll check them out for you ;)

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Chuck,
It has been proven incorrect about the spreading of spores through keeping them in a mesh bag or whatever, but it does help from them getting soggy. I did this last year after forgetting a potato sack and found a old Kroger bag under the truck seat but they were still god non the less. Also pinching them off is incorrect, they are grown by spores not roots. What they have determined is that as soon as the mushroom pops up the 1st breeze will blow the spore further spreading the spores, and by the time you or I pick them they will already be sporeless. The one thing you hit the nail on the head was never ever give up your locations. Another thing the morels are the only edible mushroom that has yet to be commercially produced due to their unknown germination and soil needs. They are a mystery.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from bruisedsausage wrote 50 weeks 6 days ago

I do really well in areas that have been logged. The second year after the logging seems to be the best. (at least here). Sometimes just thinning trees gets the Mycelium activated. (Note the reasons morels fruit(grow) is because the Mycelium is stressed! And as a survival technique it sends up the "morel" to spore and spread itself so it can continue on.
Or if you're really serious you need to find areas that have been burnt the previous fall or summer, and killed everything.

As a side note we have morels grow until it snows here. Somewhere I've got photos of morels roughly the size of dinner plates that I picked out of a high elevation burn in montana back in September 1997.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jacqueline Derrick wrote 50 weeks 1 day ago

@dcast, you may be right about the incorrect information of spreading spores and snipping off at stem, but you are incorrect when you say "Another thing the morels are the only edible mushroom that has yet to be commercially produced due to their unknown germination and soil needs. They are a mystery."

Woodland Exotics produces them commercially. They are sold Sold under the name Woodland Exotics, the mushrooms are showing up in markets in metro Detroit, Lansing, Battle Creek and Chicago.

Mills holds the patent on the process to grow morels indoors, a feat once thought impossible. With backing from Toyota Motor Corp. and other investors, he and Berglund are growing the highly prized fungi and four other exotic mushrooms in a massive new facility in western Michigan, using local forest products such as sawdust, bark and composted leaves.

Check Meijers the next time you go shopping.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from jay wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Dcast is 100% correct, those 2 popular beliefs have been proven incorrect.

My grandpa used to eat the half morels and even the false morels. He was a drunk and all that whiskey must have kept the poison at bay. Half morels in my region are called peckerheads for obvious reasons. The half morels disengrate too easily too pick anyway.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from hutter wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

I've eaten all three pictured. The second one is called a dog pecker in my area and the false morell is called a elephant ear. I've found them as big as a bushel basket.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dale Stehley wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

The second "morel" you picture is not a half morel, which are quite edible, but a verpa, also called a "peckerhead". The way to tell them apart is this: 1) a verpa cap is not connected solidly to the stem, rather it sits on top of the stem like a thimble on top of a pencil. A half morel cap is connected all the way around. 2) a verpa cap has wrinkles, not the pits of a morel. A half morel looks exactly like a regular morel except for the size of the cap. 3) cut a morel in half length wise and it is completely hollow and empty (except for perhaps some critters making their homes inside, don't worry, you can wash them out), whereas the stem of a verpa will be filled with a cottonly like fabric. If you are in doubt, don't eat them. Call me and I'll check them out for you ;)

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from John Denk wrote 49 weeks 4 days ago

The Half-free Morel is edible, problem with them is that they look a lot like a False Morel, Verpa bohemica. Either get a book that clearly shows the difference between the two or else don't pick Half-frees. Or better yet, learn how to tell them apart from an experienced picker. If you have a mushroom club where you live, join up and learn from others who are familiar with your local mushrooms.

And very important" ALWAYS cook Morels thoroughly, as they contain a toxin that is destroyed by the heat of cooking.

If you've never eaten a species of wild mushroom before, cook up one small cap, eat it and wait 24 hours before eating more, as a very small percentage of people are allergic to almost any mushroom, including commercial white mushrooms, and can get quite ill from eating them. If you're allergic to a species, one cap will give you an upset stomach and nausea, nothing worse than a mild case of stomach flu but if you pig out before checking to see if you're sensitive to them, you can end up in the ER from dehydration as a result of vomiting and diarrhea.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Safado wrote 48 weeks 3 days ago

Good call John Denk,
My brother can eat processed mushrooms but cannot eat wild mushrooms.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from tleichty1989 wrote 46 weeks 4 days ago

Nothing beats Morel Mushrooms we used to fry them but we also would throw them on a shish kabob with meat and other vegetables! Man is that good stuff. I typically have a hard time finding them but then again once you locate a spot you just have to keep returning every year to the same spot and harvesting them.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Laura L Larsen wrote 46 weeks 3 days ago

Half-free morels are edible, and the picture provided IS correct (the prior poster who said it wasn't is incorrect).

The half morel (which is different than the half-free morel) is one that looks more like a true morel, with the normal pits, except the head does not grow quite as far down the stem (some are quite short, others come close to the length, but not quite) and the stem is filled with a white fiberous material, whereas real morels are completely hollow, both in head and stem.

False morels have the brain-like pits and waves in some cases (called "brain false morels" as a type), or predominantly folds/wrinkles in other cases ("elephant ears"). Some can look quite similar to morels, except they do not have the upright habit. They are squat or lumpy or both. They do not always grow against trees, they can be found in open areas, so do not rely on their environment, just pay attention to their non-upright habit, sometimes looser waves, color (they can be dark red, and other weird colors), and also, if you cut them open, they are not hollow, and the cap especially is multi-chambered with sections between them. Real morels are hollow with no chambers.

This information has been confirmed through the Missouri Department of Conservation.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from blockward wrote 43 weeks 4 days ago

In response to DCast:

The fruiting does grow from the "root" - that is, the mycellium. As I understand it, the spores are directly responsible for the proliferation of new mycellium mats, from which morels spring. So theoretically, cutting a morel at the stalk (rather than pulling the whole mushroom out base and all) should leave the underlying mycellium intact, allowing for further fruiting... assuming that is what the mycellium will do. Whether cutting the stalk stimulates new morel growth or not seems to be the mystery.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from deryck wrote 3 weeks 5 days ago

the second morel you show is edible.. we call them the swamp morels.. Ive eaten thousands of those.. they are more common in saskatchewan than the black morels..the swamp morels are more watery and you have to handle them with more care not to squash them all up.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from grant2 wrote 51 weeks 1 day ago

Any tips on someone that is a beginner in South Georgia?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from blackjac wrote 51 weeks 1 day ago

Buy the damn things at Whole Foods or another safe market---macho could kill you and your family!!!!

-6 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment