One concern for every type of hunting is safety, but when hunting for morel mushrooms you don’t need an orange vest. However, correctly identifying mushrooms is a major safety concern.
Londa Nwadike, Kansas State University food safety specialist, explained not to soak the mushrooms to clean them before cooking. Most importantly, never eat a mushroom unless you are 100 percent certain of its identity and it’s thoroughly cooked before consumption.
“Morels are very distinct, if you know what you’re looking for,” said Ari Jumpponen, Kansas State University associate professor of biology.
You want to look for the pits and wrinkles in the cap and the stem of the mushroom will be hollow, he continued. Mushrooms are fungi, and while they may sound gross, fungi play a very important role in the ecosystem.
“The fungi feed off rotting logs and help to clean up and decompose vegetation material,” said Francis Skalicky, media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Morel hunting is typically passed along from generation to generation. Some families have secret spots where they hunt, while others find them where they least expect them. Other hunters decide to embark on the adventure simply because they’ve heard of the tasty treats.
The morel season is very brief. In a good year if the weather and temperature are right, the season can last for two weeks. A bad year though, and the season might never start, Jumpponen explained. According to Skalicky, morels typically show up between late March and early May, with April having the best chances of finding some.
When hunting for mushrooms, you will be more likely to find them in wooded areas or near riverbeds, Jumpponen said. This is because fungi need adequate moisture to grow. However, there have been cases of finding mushrooms in dry areas, Skalicky, said.
“Avoid picking from roadsides or well-manicured lawns,” Nwadike said. Mushrooms soak up what is around them like exhaust fumes and herbicides.
While hunting for morels, bring a pocketknife or scissors to easily cut the base of the mushroom. Do not mix different types of mushrooms in the same bag, especially if you are unaware of the identity of a mushroom. This can cause cross contamination, which can be harmful if you have picked a poisonous variety. Don’t use a plastic sack to hold the mushrooms while picking. The sack doesn’t offer any protection to the mushrooms and also creates a warm environment leading to quicker disintegration.
If you’re hunting mushrooms for yourself then it is at your own risk, but if you’re planning on selling your finds in Kansas, they have to be inspected. In March, Kansas State University held a wild mushroom certification class. This class is helpful for not only people wanting to become certified but also for those interested in learning to properly identify the mushrooms they find. The certified inspector does not have to be the seller. It can be either the seller, buyer or a third-party person. As long as the mushrooms have been inspected, buying and selling can be done at farmers markets or to your friends and neighbors.
KSU plans to have another certification class next year. For more information regarding mushrooms or the certification class, visit agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/food-safety-lodging/morel-mushroom-workshop.