How to Find Morel Mushrooms: Foraging 101



Few things get foragers excited like morel mushroom season. Few mushrooms get culinary mycophiles more giddy, and for good reason. Morels are delicious. Because this nearly-impossible-to-grow mushroom isn’t available at your local market, it makes the allure of the morel even more enticing.

As a lay mycologist myself, I get absolutely elated when the leaves start to bud on the cottonwood trees. It’s the sign that spring is here. For me, it’s the sign to head for the hills and start giving in to my fungi-gathering habit.

I’ve compiled some info, tips, and tricks, to get you into the field foraging your very own culinary delights.

DISCLAIMER: Foraging edible plants and fungi can be a dangerous endeavor. Before you consume any foraged food, be sure you have correctly identified it. If you aren’t sure, don’t eat it. You can likely find experts in your area to help you correctly identify your find. Mistakes can cost you your life.

What’s the hype with morels?

Morel Mushrooms

Black morels foraged by author. Photo: Rachelle Schrute


Morel mushrooms are one of the most sought-after varieties in the world. Depending on your location and the time of year, they can demand up to $50 per pound. The reason? They are absolutely delicious and incredibly difficult to cultivate. This means if you want to get your hands on the culinary delight of morels, you’re either going to have to fork over some serious cash or lace up your hiking boots.

A culinary marvel

Tagliatelle with creamy morel sauce and Hokkaido scallop

Tagliatelle with creamy morel sauce and Hokkaido scallop. Photo: Shutterstock


Morel mushrooms have an almost meaty texture, making them a wonderful meat substitute in cooking. Unlike other mushrooms, morels do not have the slimy texture often associated with edible fungi. The flavor of the morel itself is almost nutty but light and not overpowering.

Morels are what I like to refer to as a gateway mushroom for people not partial to the flavor or texture of mushrooms. They can turn anti-mushroom folks into mycophiles in short order.

During morel season, I use morels for almost every meal. It’s hard to find a meal that isn’t made exponentially better with the addition of morels. From breakfast omelets to an evening of fine dining, the morel mushroom is the jack of all trades and…well…the master of them, too.

Types of morel mushrooms

Types of Morel Mushrooms

Types of morel mushrooms. Photos: Shutterstock


There are currently 18 known different species of morel in North America, though most people identify them by color. Black, white, and yellow are the most common, but green and gray are also identifiers some foragers use.

Fortunately, all morels are edible (if cooked thoroughly).

Identifying morels

Mushrooms have a dark side, and if you decide to start foraging, you should make sure you are well-versed in identifying your target. There are so many poisonous mushrooms on the landscape, and one slip-up can be devastating.

The effects of eating poisonous mushrooms vary depending on the type and amount consumed. But, you can expect anything from minor gastrointestinal upset to extreme diarrhea, hallucinations, and even death.

NOT morels

Gyromitra esculenta

Gyromitra esculenta, one of the poisonous false morels. Photo: Shutterstock


Morels have a few lookalikes. However, they are quite simple to tell apart if you know your morels. Most false morels have more of a wrinkled cap and feature more of a solid or semi-solid stem. This is unlike the morel’s pitted cap and completely hollow stem and body. You may read that some false morels are edible if prepared properly, but to me, it simply isn’t worth the risk.

False morel red flags

  • Not completely hollow, fleshy interior
  • Wrinkled, brain-like cap, not pitted
  • Cap disconnected from stem or only connected at the top of the stem
  • More red, purple, brown colored
  • Irregular, “smooshed” shape

Morel identification

Morel Mushroom Identification

Morel mushroom identification, black morel (left), cross-section (center), yellow morel (right). Photos: Rachelle Schrute,


Aside from appearances, true morels have a telltale hollowness typically lacking in their imposters. If you slice a morel from top to bottom, or if you take a cross-section, you’ll find that morels have a hollow interior from the top of their cap down to their stem.

Instead of the brain-like wrinkled texture of most false morels, true morels have deep, defined pits (which are amazing for soaking up butter). Morels also tend to have a peak, growing toward a relative point. False morels often have a more squished, irregular growth.

Morel green flags

  • Hollow-bodied from stem to cap
  • Deeply pitted cap, not wrinkled
  • Fully connected stem and cap (in most cases)
  • Colors ranging from black, gray, tan, yellow, and whitish
  • Pointed, peaked growth

How to find morels

Let’s look at the groundwork needed to find the morels you crave. From tools needed to locations, time of year, tips, and tricks, we can help you embark on your mushroom foraging journey.

Tools needed

Mushroom Foraging Tools

Mushroom foraging tools. Photo: Amazon

In reality, you don’t need any tools to forage for mushrooms. You can easily pop them out of the ground and toss them in a sack. However, morels are fragile, and harvesting them properly may lead to bulkier harvest in the future (or so they say). If you get serious about foraging for mushrooms, two simple tools will be an asset.

Mushroom knife: There are knives made specifically for harvesting mushrooms. They tend to have a curved blade that allows you to hook the stem just above the soil. This leaves a bit of “stem stubble” and doesn’t disrupt the mycelium below. Some, like the Opinel No. 08 Mushroom Knife, have a brush on the handle end for removing the bits of debris.

Mushroom bag: A vented/mesh mushroom bag can help keep your mushrooms fresh and protected. Morels are delicate. Because of their hollow body, they are very easy to crush and break. The stems are particularly crumbly and prone to breaking. Reusable produce bags also make great mushroom-collecting vessels. In reality, a plastic grocery bag will do the trick.

You can also save time and money by picking up this All-in-One Mushroom Foraging Kit, pictured above.

When to look


Morels harvested by the author in the Rocky Mountains. Photo: Rachelle Schrute

Morels have a very distinct and very short season. Spring is your time. The old rule of thumb is to start poking about as soon as the deciduous trees in your area have leaves that are just popping. The months where most morels will be prevalent in the U.S. are March, April, May, and June. Elevation also plays a huge part in when those mushrooms will pop.

Fortunately, you can find all sorts of resources online for your specific area, including the Morel Mushroom Sightings Map, which lays out where and when people spot the first morels of the season. You’ll find the first sightings tend to be the coasts, then the low-elevation central parts of the U.S., and finally up through the mountain ranges.

Where to find morels

If you’ve reached the time frame when morels should be popping up in your area, there are some distinct locations and signs that morels might be hiding in your vicinity. This should all be taken with a grain of salt, though. I’ve found morels next to the parking lot of rest stops. They are mysterious and finicky and, really, can pop up where you least expect it and not where you’d most.


Like most fungi, morels prefer some moisture. However, they tend to prefer it drier than most. Think of the shady areas under trees that aren’t wet but have a bit of residual moisture from being shaded all day. You’ll find more morels there than you will on the river bank or near standing water.


Trees really are your mark. Oak, elm, ash, and aspen trees are the big targets for morel foragers, though they can coexist at the base of several other species. Because morels and trees share a mycorrhizal relationship, the mushrooms are almost always found in wooded areas. Mushrooms increase the moisture provided to the roots of the trees, while the trees provide nutrients like sugars for the morels.


Burn Morels

A cluster of black morels, Morchella elata, growing after a forest fire. Photo: Shutterstock


Morels love a burn area. “Burn morels” are the mushrooms that pop up after a fire. These morels tend to be hardier than the rest of the morel family and are spurred to fruit in response to heat.

The mycelium of a burn morel attaches itself specifically to conifer trees and sits dormant until a fire comes through. Once the fire has scorched the earth and cooled, burn morels are known to pop up in unbelievable numbers and will for several seasons after the burn.

Preparing morels

Morel Mushrooms

Preparing morels. Photo: Shutterstock


The most important factor for consuming the morels you forage is to cook them thoroughly. There have been a few deaths associated with undercooked morel mushrooms, though the actual mechanism of the illnesses that caused the deaths isn’t well understood. The takeaway is this: COOK YOUR MOREL MUSHROOMS.

Because of the areas these fungi grow in, they often have soil and debris on them. Instead of washing, it’s recommended you use a soft brush, like the one included on a mushroom knife, to brush away any extras you bring home with you.

You can then sauté them in butter, use them as topping on pizza, add them to your morning omelet, toss them into spaghetti sauces, or, my personal favorite, use them to make a morel cream sauce and dump that on everything.

If you’re fortunate to harvest too many to eat like I am, you can dry them and rehydrate them for use throughout the year. I often end up drying a lot of morels, though they are so much better fresh. I slice mine in half to ensure a thorough drying and pop them into my dehydrator. They’ll keep quite some time and are wonderful to add to meals when the winters grow long.

Now, go forth, forage, be careful, and eat your way through spring.


This story first appeared on GearJunkie.