This article was originally published June, 2012
The mushroom described by many as one of the tastiest and most desirable out there, morels are also fairly prolific throughout the Upper Wenatchee Valley…if you know when and where to go. Seasoned mushrooms hunters very rarely share their secrets so count yourself amongst the lucky if you’ve been let in on a local spot to find these gems. To find new hunting grounds, check out areas near cottonwoods or pine trees, especially after a rain storm. Then again, morels have also been known to grow in the most unlikely of places including dry rocky ground and random roadside patches, so keep an eye out during the growing season.
Morels typically begin to show up in the Leavenworth area sometime in early May and continue through June or later, depending on how high up you go in elevation, but be mindful to choose your fungus carefully. There are actually a couple of different species that grow in our area that are considered “false morels”, as apposed to the more desirable “true morels”. Verpa bohemicas and Gyromitras both grow in similar conditions as true morels and have been reportedly eaten by many with no consequences, but they are listed as being possibly poisonous and/or cancerous and may cause intestinal problems.
I’ve personally eaten verpas for years with no ill effect, but eat them at your own risk. In Leavenworth, the verpas seem to come up earlier and can be found in abundance under cottonwoods. It’s easy to distinguish the different varieties once you’ve encountered them and as always, it’s recommended to educate yourself on what to look for before heading out into the woods or even better-take a friend with you that has experience.
Because morels, with their distinct honeycombed appearance, are not likely to be confused with other types of poisonous mushrooms (with the exception of false morels), they are a great mushroom for begining foragers. They also taste amazing breaded and deep fried or sauteed in butter.
If mushroom hunting has you interested in the fascinating world of mycology, check out the latest documentary by fungus expert Ron Mann. Happy Hunting!