The Dangers of False Morels

You can take a sample to an expert for identification but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms. It really is best to be safe than sorry.

Today I decided to go for a walk on my property a little ways north of the house and have a look for black morels in my favorite spot. This time last year we found many pounds of the famous land fish on our land and I am hoping to harvest a bounty again this year. Being that a friend wants the heads up this time to guide an elderly couple in their late 80’s into a nice easy pick I am being a little more vigilant in finding them as they first emerge. So far no luck. This year is a lot later spring than last, being more like the common years. Perhaps wetter too and the morels have yet to pop.

What I did find is a bit concerning though, right in my favorite morel spot was a nice fresh batch of false morels. Now the variety I found looks to be snowbank false morels and can be considered choice as well but it has very close relatives that are deadly poison. They are so close in appearance that I cannot tell them apart and most pickers will tell you it is not worth the risk.

False morels are a type of helvella, they are chambered internally rather than being just a hollow cap and stalk like a true morel. There are five false morels in North America that are similar to true morels; the poisonous conifer false morel, the choice snowbank false morel, the poisonous gabled false morel and the thick-stocked false morel. The fact that these are all so similar makes it not worth seeking the snowbank false morel but if you are familiar with what true morels look like there will be little doubt when you are in the field picking.

Both the true and false morels have a brainy look but you will find that the true morels grow taller in a cone-like shape, have a large hollow void in the cap as well as a hollow stem instead of the smaller, randomly chambered caps of the false morel. The false ones also tend to have a squatter, flatter shape than the true morels. Another difference I see where I am is that the true morels will be a blackish dark or yellow/tan colour while the false morels I see are a reddish brown or almost orange colour. To me there is no mistaking the one for the other, the true black morel is pictured here below.

A most important note that should be heard by all whom wish to hunt those wonderfully allusive morels is if you are not sure about what you are doing or looking at don’t eat them. You can take a sample to an expert for identification or to look through your own field guides but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms in case you have a reaction or touch your mouth and food. It really is best to be safe than sorry. ~Scott

They’re Berry, Berry Good!

When it comes to a delightful trail side morsel of flavour you can’t beat a handful of wild strawberries in my neck of the woods. My favourites anyways, I wouldn’t change them if I could!

Today I’d like to write about one of my favorite wild edibles that grows in my area. Wild strawberries! These tiny bundles of flavour have been a target of mine since I was a small child. It is incredible to me how much sweetness can be packed into a single little berry.

In my yard we have an area devoted to Saskatoon berries and in amongst the grasses around these are thousands of wild strawberry plants. They can form as wee little round berries or as long thimble sized and any size in between. This one patch that I keep my eye on in front of a big spruce tree has an incredible flavour. Sweeter and stronger than the rest, they taste like lipton raspberry juice crystals. I swear!

I find that the Saskatoons and the strawberries are ripening at nearly the same time so as we go to check how far along our Saskatoons are we get to nibble on fresh wild strawberries too. And I’m not kidding when I say nibble. They are small, so small I have yet to try wild strawberry jam since it takes so many to fill a cup. Another issue is they don’t keep well to be able to stock up on a whole lot and they squish so terribly easily. I’m not sure if I will ever get enough past my children and in to the house to have them end up in jars. Our Jake is a berry fiend! Not the fellow to have come on a berry gathering trip… Unless you are fine with them being gathered in his belly of course. And of course I am thrilled he likes them too.

The two plants featured in my photos here were actually taken about 10 km south of my place at around a 1000 meters elevation. A bit higher than here at the homestead. They produce so heavily and have such sweet fruit I dug up a bunch to add to our special spot. Hopefully they will add to the genetics of our strawberries and improve yields. I only take a few when transplanting and since they grow everywhere in this valley I am not ruining the wild bounty for my neighbours at all.

They happily grow in the local minerals and I tend to find them in well drained soil. My area has a large amount of glacial till and often little topsoil. Regardless the wild strawberries still cover many areas and I would say they don’t need much to grow in way of organics, most of ours are only watered by natural rain fall growing in normally dry areas. Preferring to mix in with grassy patches and roadside ditches they make a perfect trail side snack for a burst of sugars, I am constantly picking/eating fruit as I go.

These little treasures will never take the place of our domestic strawberries in their garden. They unfortunately won’t be found in my freezer ever either to fill my steady need of frozen berries for our smoothie addictions. But when it comes to a delightful trail side morsel of flavour you can’t beat a handful of wild strawberries in my neck of the woods. My favourites anyways, I wouldn’t change them if I could!

Morals & Morels

One thing we do need to be aware of is over harvesting.

When spring takes its turn and transforms our snowy wonderland from the clean, white landscape to a slippery, muddy mess opportunity strikes for the various flora and fauna. As the new years growth takes a hold of the Earth we get to see the once cold, white world change to a sweet smelling, beautiful Eden full of life and sound.

One of my favorite things to look for come April and May is the wild morel mushroom. I live in an area heavy with black morels and they are incredible! The texture and patterns that make up the body of this most interesting of fungi can steal away ones imagination.

When picking these choice edible mushrooms I like to use a mesh bag or colander for gathering them into. This allows any bugs that may be upon the prize to wiggle out and drop off as the mushroom dries and helps with the airflow to facilitate drying. Some people will use them fresh, some like to dry them out for later and some like to soak them in a salty brine to drive out any remaining critters that could be still inside. If they are there, you will see them in the bottom of your brine bowl.

Morels prefer disturbed areas in pine and poplar forests where I am. Mostly higher than 500 meters above sea level. I find mine in the 700-1000m range but I do see them much higher too at work. As I do my work in silviculture, rehabilitating the forest after the loggers finish, I especially find the spring morel in the burned off areas. These are prime locations to pick mushrooms and the higher you go in elevation the later in the season you will find the fresh morels.

One thing we do need to be aware of is over harvesting. If you leave some of the older, less fresh and desirable caps you will ensure that there will be more to come in following years. The one thing we don’t want to do is destroy the value of future harvests by being greedy today. I added an Amazon affiliate link below to the exact field guide I use to identify mushrooms when I go out picking. It’s a good one!

I filmed a YouTube video of us finding morels a couple years ago. I picked 15 lbs that year and decided it would be fun to show everybody what to look for when out picking. Yum! ~Scott