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Looking for a challenge that could result in a tasty treat? Try morel hunting

A person finds a morel mushroom in the woods
Missouri Department of Conservation
A person finds a morel mushroom in the woods

Hunting for mushrooms is a great way to get outdoors in the spring and can also be a great side dish for dinner.

After being inside for the winter, Ozarks residents are ready to get outside when spring arrives. Perhaps one of the more interesting and popular early spring activities for those who have an interest in exploring and a keen eye is morel mushroom hunting.

Imagine you’re in the woods, eyes focused on the ground. You look carefully under trees, next to fallen logs and near a patch of May apples. Just when you’re about to give up and call it a day, you spot the treasure you’ve been seeking: A cone-shaped mushroom with pits all over the cap. It's a morel.

To identify a morel, look for a mushroom that’s hollow from the bottom of the stem to the top of the cap, and one that is usually longer than it is wide.

Ozarks resident Dan Liles, who is a member of the Missouri Mycological Society, said he attributes the popularity of hunting morels to their taste and the adventure that comes with searching for them.

Hunting morels, he said, gives people a chance to get outside after a long winter.

“They haven’t been able to go out and do any mushroom hunting, and when the mushroom season starts in the spring with morels, those are the ones everyone wants to go out and find. So, it’s the ability to go out and find mushrooms is what I think is the joy of morel hunting in the spring,” he said.

In Missouri, springtime is the only time of year to find true morels. Liles said there are specific weather conditions you should watch for before setting out to go mushroom hunting.

“Usually, a rule of thumb is three days in the 70’s after a rain," he said. "And the ground has to warm up to 55 degrees in order for the morels to emerge. The first hills that warm up will be the south facing hills, because they’re the ones that will have the sun on them first.”

Liles said if you’re lucky enough to stumble upon some morels, you should clean them thoroughly before preparing them for the table.

“Many people clean them different ways, some people feel that they need to soak them in salt water over night. If there are any insects that might be on the morels, that will kill them and then you can wash them off," he said.

You can hunt morels at almost any public conservation area, he said, but it’s a good idea to double check before you go. He said if you take morels from public land, they must be for personal consumption and cannot be sold. Morels found on your own property can be sold – if you can resist eating all of them.