Guide to Foraging Morel Mushrooms in British Columbia
This article is a to-the-point guide on how to hunt and gather the elusive morel mushrooms in British Columbia. It was my first season foraging morels, but I was mentored by Eatwild and a group of industry professionals hence why I feel confident sharing some tips and tricks I’ve learned. I’ve even included a gear checklist at the end!
WHAT ARE THE Health RISK IN Eating MORELS?
These delicious meaty mushrooms are unique in appearance. Therefore, there’s minimal risk of misidentifying and self-poisoning, making them an excellent option for beginner fungi foraging. The false morel instead of having a honey comb like appearance looks brain-like and they are mildly toxic, but since they looks very different from morels misidentification is rare.
IS IT SUSTAINABLE TO PICK Morels?
Picking morels or any mushroom is a very sustainable practice! Using an apple tree as an example: think of the mycelium (which is underground) as the tree and the apple fruit as the mushroom. Just like apples if you don’t harvest them, they rot and go back into the earth. Wouldn't you rather have them make someone's day caramelized in butter and garlic, scrambled in eggs and served on crusty sourdough bread? Or simmered in thick cream and poured on a medium rare steak? That damn sure would make my day.
WHEN TO GO Foraging
- In BC the season starts Mid May to about Mid June
- Keep in mind the further north you go the later the season. For example, commercial forages start off in California, move to BC for a few weeks, and end their season in the Yukon.
- Wait for there to be some rain and hot sun following the storm. The morels will typically be fully grown in a week after this sequence of weather.
- Follow foraging influencers and the hashtag #morelmushroom on Instagram. When you start seeing a post about them in your region, that’s the most obvious signal to start your hunt. I've linked some of my favourite influencers below:
WHERE TO GO Foraging
- Start tracking forest fires there are many maps online that track last year’s forest fires. Google map pin drops are the best way to save your locations.
- Go where commercial buyers have set up buying camps. Do not hesitate to pick up the phone and ask around!
- This article list a few commercial buyer names here
- Don’t forget to buy a harvesting license for $20, read more about the benefits of this new conservation effort here
BURN AREA CHARACTERISTICS
- Burn areas with trees with slightly green tips near the top of the tree
- Some forest fire areas could have burned too hot for anything to have survived
- The ground should be black with ashes soil and covered in pine needles.
- Avoid burn areas without too much vegetation (tall grass, large leafy plants, etc…) it should just be large pine needle trees with only a few sprouts of green grass.
- Look for a slope going down towards a water source such as a pond. They sometimes thrive on these slopes or right before the drainage area.
- I’ve had the most success nearer to the edges of the burn areas and around large fallen trees
- A reminder that it will take your eyes a while to adjust to recognizing them. The pine needles and root stubs can play tricks on your eyes. Don’t be too quick to give up on an area. To always helps to get low on your knees.
WHAT IS A HEALTHY MOREL?
- Keep in mind morels come in many different shapes, sizes and colours
- Look for a white stem and firm body but not crumbly to the touch
- Older ones have brown-orangey-yellow stems, softer body, slim, mold or a mild fish smell
- Lichen sometimes cover them, note that this isn’t mold
- Don’t pick anything smaller than your thumb. Best to give them a chance to grow and be enjoyed full size. A good indicator is large spores on the body. The ones that are not ready to be picked will have tightly closed spores.
- Dark ones (beginning of the season) and blonde ones (later in the season)
- Blonde ones are harder to spot they start off dark grey, turn lighter grey or very blonde. They are great at camouflaged, I had a particularly hard time finding them.
HOW TO PICK Morels
- Box cutters are the safest and easiest knife to forage and commonly used by commercial pickers
- You can quickly retract the blade while you're hiking around. It’s muddy and the risk of falling and stabbing yourself is high
- You can simply break off your blade to sharpen it or carry extra ones
- They are also very light making it easy to carry
- Cut close to the body, leave a bit of stem if it’s healthy
- Leave a max of 1 inch, anymore stem and it’s not good eating
- You don’t want dirt on your stem because it will dirty the rest of your harvest
- Have a bucket or basket. Avoid using a bag, which will easily bruise the morels.
- Have a well-ventilated box (shoe boxes with holes on them work great) to transfer them home
HOW TO PRESERVE AND EAT Morels
- Do not consume raw! Cook them well. It’s almost impossible to overcook mushrooms, the more you cook them, the sugars start carmelizing which gives a richer gravy-like flavor
- Only eat a few to start and wait for 24hrs for signs of an upset stomach.
- Keep them fresh in your fridge for up to 5 days in a paper bag
- Eat the older ones right away and keep these separate, just like an apple one lousy fruit can ruin your whole batch.
- Dry the rest. Dry using tightly woven baking racks, chicken wire, baskets, or the cheaper option would be to use suspended bed sheets. They will shrink to 1/10 of the size. Note that:
- Birds or rodents don’t get them, so they’re safely exposed outside
- It takes about 3-5 days depending on weather
- Any dirt that’s on them will quickly shake off after
- Soak them in boiling water to re-hydrate. Just the broth to make stock and sauces. Some say the dry ones taste even better than fresh
Morel Mushroom RECIPES
My batch is drying so I haven’t cooked any yet, but I've had plenty of fresh ones to eat thanks to the amazing cooking of Jody from Eat Wild (also the owner of Wild Northern Way) during my guided harvest. Below are some recipes I’ve bookmarked for myself:
FORAGING GEAR LIST
- Daypack (small backpack) (compass, whistle, and first aid kit)
- Water bottle and high energy snack (nuts, banana, granola bar, jerky, etc...)
- Picking mushrooms burn more energy than you think. Stay fuelled!
- Bug protection: Thickly woven clothes, bug spray, hat, scarf, and gloves
- Those not familiar with the bush, I must warn you your hands and face will be eaten alive by mosquitoes! Stay covered.
- Bear spray or other methods of bear scare and protection
- Rain gear (if expecting rain)
- Good hiking boots, waterproof if possible
- Bucket (with a handle to make it easier)
- Ventilated boxes to carry harvest home
As silly as it sounds, the chances of you losing your sense of direction in a burn area is much higher than you would think. I chuckled when Jody warned me about getting lost, and twice I found myself looking up and have no idea where the car was parked. The reason is you can quickly forget to look up when you’re rolling on the soft earth hunting these elusive mushrooms. Burn areas also have no significant landmarks beyond burnt trees that look the same. The best advice I can give is dropping a pin on google maps before you begin your search, don’t go alone, and wear bright colors. Google maps track your location even if you’re out of service range!
Alrighty, now I've shared with you everything I know about morels, get out there and forage!
I would love to hear about your foraging experience, share them with me HERE. We could even collaborate together and publish your story on CFC's stories page to encourage others to get out there and start their own foraging journey.