These costly little sponges must be cooked to eat

These costly little sponges must be cooked to eat


By Marilyn McKinley

OSU Extension Master Volunteer

For many of us, cold temperatures and snow bring thoughts of spring.

One of my fondest springtime memories is going morel hunting with my dad. We would head back to the woods with a little pail and carefully walk, heads down, eyes searching for those little brown sponges.

I can still hear him shouting – “Got one!”

After he thought we had checked all their possible hiding places, we would head back to the house.

He would carefully wash them, pat them dry, dredge them in flour and fry in butter. There was no saving his treasures until dinner. He would wash his hands, call everyone to the kitchen and get busy.

Morels are called harbingers of spring. They are wildcrafted and not grown on farms.

They have a very short growing period, are rare and among the most expensive mushrooms on the market.

I spotted some last spring at a market near Cleveland for only $41.99 a pound.

You can find dehydrated ones and bring them back to “life” by soaking them in hot water for about five minutes.

If you would like to try growing some of your own, growing kits are available online. (Note: Morels must be cooked before eating.)

Morels come in different colors including brown, olive, gray, yellow and black.

They range in size from as small as the tip of your thumb to as big as your hand. I can only imagine dad’s delight if he found one that large.

They are cone-shaped and hollow inside with caps attached with a honey-comb like texture.

Research has determined that our ancestors used mushrooms for food and medicine. They were used by Greeks, Chinese and Native Americans for healing wounds.

Mushrooms are a great source of nutrition. They have protein, copper, iron, manganese, potassium and B, E and D vitamins.

Mushrooms have amazing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-stimulant properties. Research is currently going on to determine if mushrooms may be used in antibiotics.

Due to their unique appearance, they have long inspired folklore, fairy tales and legends.

Circles of mushrooms were known as “fairy rings.” According to legend, these rings were where fairies danced and rested on the caps. Disturbing the ring was thought to bring bad luck.

In Central America, it was believed that mushrooms were the umbrellas of forest spirits. In Africa, mushrooms represented the souls of the dead. Those in Central Europe believed that morels were creations of the devil.

There are false morels that are found this time of year (March-April). Our researchers remind us that while some people have cooked these and not been harmed, there are toxins present in some false morels.

Warning: If you decide to go wild mushroom hunting, be absolutely sure you know what you are looking for. Going hunting with an expert is the best idea. Do not touch, and most importantly, never eat any mushroom if you have any doubt as to whether it is edible or toxic.

Visit to learn more about wild mushrooms in Ohio.

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