It’s almost morel mushroom season, and I’m giving you my two secret foraging spots.
Morel mushroom season in Southwest Missouri usually starts in mid-March and lasts through early May, depending on the weather. Northwest Arkansas is usually about two weeks ahead of Springfield. Morels commonly appear after warm, moist spring weather with daytime temperatures in the low 70s and nighttime temperatures in the 50s.
The best places to forage for morels are typically in wooded areas with damp soil, such as river valleys, hillsides, and along the edges of fields. South and west facing slopes are good sites to look for morels early in the season, with north and east slopes being better for later-season morel hunting. Morels tend to favor tree species such as elms, ashes, cottonwoods, and even domesticated apples. Look around recently dead trees but beware of falling branches! Areas disturbed by flooding, fire, or logging often produce loads of morels.
I know a forager never tells her secrets, but since we’re all Artemis family, here they are. Two of my favorite places to forage are Richland Creek Wilderness in Arkansas and Chadwick Motorcycle and ATV Use Area in the Mark Twain National Forest. There were quite a few controlled burns two years ago in the Richland Creek area, making the soil ripe for mushrooms. Plus, Chadwick is great for foraging because most of the people there are zipping around on dirt bikes not paying attention to mushrooms. Plus, both Richland and Chadwick both have lots of established trails where the sunlight peeks through and warms the soil.
When foraging for morels, it's important to keep a few things in mind to ensure you have a safe and successful trip. Here are some tips:
- It goes without saying, always obtain permission to forage on private land. You can forage mushrooms for personal use on most public land in Missouri, but you should always check regulations before you go.
- Wear appropriate clothing and shoes. Long pants, long sleeves, and sturdy shoes or boots are recommended. In Missouri and Northwest Arkansas, ticks are out from early-to-mid March through November. Unless you want your romantic or hiking partner pulling seed ticks off your unmentionables, treat your clothes now with Sawyer Permethrin. It lasts up to 6 washes.
- Carry a field guide to help identify the mushrooms you find. Morels have a distinctive honeycomb-shaped cap and a hollow stem. To avoid confusing true morels with false morels (which are toxic), check out this post from the Missouri Department of Conservation: https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/morels
- Be cautious when harvesting mushrooms, as some mushrooms can be toxic. I usually keep the book “Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms” by Maxine Stone in my day pack when I’m foraging. And just like your days in the elementary school cafeteria, if you are unsure about a mushroom's (or mystery meat’s) identity, do not eat it.
- Always cook morels before eating them, as they can cause stomach upset if eaten raw.
- Be sure to clean your mushrooms thoroughly before cooking to remove any dirt, debris, or bugs. I like to cut mine vertically, give them a quick spray with the sink spray nozzle, then put them in a bowl of cool, salted water for a short soak. Then I place them on a paper towel to dry. If you’re not ready to cook just yet, please don’t put them in a sealed Ziplock. Mushies need air.
- Finally, always leave some mushrooms behind to help ensure future growth. Some foragers like to carry a basket so the spores continue to spread as you hike. I find hiking with a basket to be cumbersome, so I use a mesh laundry bag. It used to be for lingerie, but I’m old and married now—so mushroom bag it is! It’s not as gentle on the mushrooms, but it gets the job done.
Happy morel season, and happy hunting!