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Are morel mushrooms safe? Expert weighs in

MTN travels to Big Timber to forage morel mushrooms
morel mushroom.jpg
Posted at 5:52 PM, Jun 06, 2023

MTN News visited Big Timber at a local spot for foraging morel mushrooms, which according to a release by the FDA in May, you should eat at your own risk. Carson Pollington has been foraging morel mushrooms for about eight years in Big Timber.

He says, “Don't eat wild mushrooms unless you're 110% sure you know exactly what they are.”

Pollington says you should always be aware of what your morel looks like to know whether it's safe to eat.

“Shouldn't have any holes in them," says Pollington. "They have that kind of coral spongy shape to the top of them, and if that's intact, that's good. If it's like soft and squishy, it's just not good.”

In May, the FDA released a morel mushroom investigation of illness and provided general safety tips about the mushrooms, stating:

"There are varieties of “false morels” that may be mistaken for a true morel due to a similar appearance. 'False morels' are toxic and should not be consumed, cooked or uncooked.....If you are foraging for wild-type mushrooms, it is important to consult with a knowledgeable expert to properly identify species that are safe for consumption."

MSU Plant Pathology Professor Emeritus Jack Riesselman knows what to look for to avoid false morels.

“There is another fungus or mushroom that's very closely related to the morel called the false morel, or Hellvella is another name for it," says Riesselman. "That one is semi-toxic, so it looks a lot like a golden mushroom. So make sure you know what you have.”

He recommends you only try a little bit of morel for your first time and avoid alcohol in case of a reaction.

“Most people are totally insensitive to morels, but there are some folks who are sensitive, and especially if you enjoy a glass of wine or cold beer with their Morel, that has a tendency to release some things in the morels that some people react to,” says Riesselman.

Riesselman says morels are safe to eat. He and Pollington both say if you prepare the mushroom correctly, there shouldn't be anything to worry about.

Pollington says, “I've never been concerned because we will just batter them lightly and fried in butter, and as soon as they're turning golden brown they're well cooked.

Like Pollington, Riesselman has the same warning.

“If you don't know what you're eating, don't eat it,” he says.

MSU also has a mushroom identification center called the Schutter Diagnostics Lab that you can send a foraged mushroom to and confirm whether it's safe or not to eat.