Morel mushrooms, or “woodfish” as I’ve always called them, are one of the most sought after fungi in the world. Unlike more common mushrooms, morels are not commercially grown and have to be harvested in the wild. You can find them in and around forested areas of the Northern Hemisphere, sprouting up in early spring as the ground starts warming to temperatures of around 50 degrees. Their earthy, meaty taste is a mainstay in expensive dishes around the world. Here are some tips for harvesting these delicious mushrooms.
Look for morels in fairly-open patches of forest and in areas that are disturbed or damaged. Some examples include ground that was previously flooded, wildfire sites and logging areas. Check southern-facing slopes (as the sun will warm those areas first) and the northern-facing slopes later in the season. Morels are prevalent around the bases of large or dying trees, especially Oak, Ash, Poplar and Elm. What’s the best advice when “hunting woodfish”? Be patient. Morel mushrooms blend in with the forest floor by design to avoid foragers and animals alike. If you’re having trouble finding them, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and look over the same area again; chances are they are hiding in plain sight. Still having trouble finding morels? Try foraging after a light spring rain. A 60-degree day after a morning shower is perfect for the mushrooms to grow. Oh, and if you see one there are bound to be more.
Why aren’t these mushrooms grown commercially? While there’s no shortage of demand, the production costs needed to replicate the perfect environment for morels is just too expensive. In the wild, morels are the result of a symbiotic relationship between fungus and the root systems of trees or other larger plants; the mushrooms provide minerals in exchange for nutrients. The mushrooms are bound to the life cycle of the host, sprouting when trees sap up in spring and also when the trees die. However, this relationship has to be just right for morels to grow. No one has figured out how to produce the mushrooms without the introduction of trees in a commercial environment (or enough of them to profit).
I think the fact that these aren’t commercially available only adds to the appeal and overall appreciation for morels. Hunting for “woodfish” has been a spring tradition for my household ever since I can remember. It’s a great way to experience the outdoors, be self-sufficient, and spend time together as family. It’s really a win-win for the younger ones as well, they get to be out in nature exercising and also participating in what feels like a scavenger or Easter-egg hunt. Once you spot one, it’s almost addicting trying to find more. There’s nothing better than a plate full of morels, flash-fried with a little flour. Take my advice this spring and try foraging for these delicious mushrooms, you won’t regret it!