Monday, April 6, 2015

Morel? True or False

A friend of ours sent me this picture, asking, "Found this puppy in the woods today. It’s a little more than 6 in. tall. Is it edible?" With morel hunting season around the corner, this is a great question.

First, everything is "edible" if your teeth can penetrate it, grind it up or you can swallow it whole. Do not eat this one. This is a false morel. Some people say they and their family have eaten them for years and love them. Of course I have never personally spoken with anyone who died from eating them but there are many reports.

The problem is that there are several species of false morels (genus Gyromitra) which require an expert mycologist to identify. Furthermore, there is uncertainty about which are toxic. Boiling them twice and draining off the water is said to remove most of the toxin but the fumes can make you sick and the boiled morel can still make you sick even if less likely to die. Finally it contains N-methyl-N-formylhydrazine which in addition to being a hemolytic toxin has been shown to be carcinogenic in mice.
"Although they are much sought after in Europe as an edible species (Gyromitra esculenta), 2 to 4 per cent of all mushroom fatalities are associated with them. It is not clear whether the same species occurs in North America, although we call one species here by that name. The active ingredient is called gyromitrin (N-methyl-N-formylhydrazine), which is metabolized to monomethylhydrazine (rocket fuel!) in the body." *
False morel - Linda Ellis
The false morel Gyromitra are easy to differentiate from true morels (genus Morchella). First of all they are reddish in color. Next slit the mushroom lengthwise. False morel's cap sits on top of the stipe (stem) while true morel's cap extends down the stipe. Even more fundamental, the stipe of a true morel is hollow while the false is solid with irregular chambers. Don't eat one with a solid stipe!
True morels cut open -  Great Morel
If you find a mess of morels with a hollow stipe but you are still wary of eating them, leave the bucket of them on our porch and I will take care of the problem.
* Tom Volk's Fungus page has a comprehensive discussion of false morels.

1 comment:

  1. There is a full discussion of gyromitrin / monomethyl hydrazine poisoning from false morels in Nancy Smith Weber's book, "The Morel Hunter's Companion," pages 59 to 69. Compelling reading