AMES, Iowa – Near dead and dying elms, in many of Iowa’s forests, lies this season’s unclaimed harvest of morel mushrooms.
Mid-April marks the beginning of the morel mushroom season in Iowa, at least as it warms up in southern parts of the state. Over the next few weeks, morels will crop up farther and farther north as the temperatures rise. Iowa State University Plant Pathologist Mark Gleason says morel hunters should be careful to do their homework before setting out to gather mushrooms.
“There are mistakes people make, particularly if they’re new to wild mushroom gathering,” he cautions. “I think it’s a little like buck fever in hunting, in that occasionally, somebody will shoot a cow on the first day of hunting season, thinking it’s a deer. So it’s certainly possible to make a mistake, and people end up in hospital emergency rooms every year, because they’ve mistaken morels, which are safe to eat, for other mushrooms that aren’t safe, and can cause severe health problems, and even kill you.”
Of course, Gleason also points out that the dose makes the poison. But it would be a lot safer to just cultivate morels, so why not do that?
“If I had that answer I could retire from Iowa State and just grow morels in my backyard,” Gleason says with a laugh. “People have tried this, and believe me, I train people who are morel hunters, and this is a dream of many of them, a fevered dream; that they can figure out how to cultivate morels. And with many other wild mushrooms, people have figured out systems. Nobody has really figured that out ot make it work consistently with morels. Why? Well, if we knew the answer to that question we would know how to overcome the problem. But I think that’s part of the appeal, that this is the untamed mushroom; the wild mustang of morels, that nobody can tame. Others have been tamed. Not this one.”
Even if you find a great spot and fill your bag with morels, you’ll still need a certification if you want to sell them in Iowa.
At Iowa State University the next two Saturdays (April 11 and April 18), Gleason is conducting certification workshops. The workshops run from 1-4 p.m. at the Seed Science Center on campus. Training is $50 per person, and Gleason says the certificates are good for three years.
“Selling morels is different from selling other wild mushrooms,” he explains. “Right now, the Department of Inspections and Appeals says it’s not legal to sell other wild, gathered mushrooms except for morels.”
To hear more about gathering morels this season, click the audio player above this story.