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Morel Madness

A Favorite Amish Pastime

By Catie Noyes • Editor Published: May 1, 2015 12:10 AM
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The increase in temperatures and rolling thunderstorms have mushroom hunters on edge as they know these are the perfect conditions to produce a fine crop of mushrooms. A very popular mushroom, and preferred among those I have spoken with are the Morel mushrooms.
Morel Mushroom season is about at its peak at this point. Most hunters begin their searches in the middle April and continue finding them until the middle of May.
Mushroom hunting is popular among all ages and you will even find that the Amish love a good mushroom adventure themselves. Mushroom hunting is a favortie Amish hobby and if you are looking to try it out for yourself, here are some tips on finding these interesting fungi.
“They look a little like sea sponges growing in the woods,” said local mushroom hunter, Connie Frontz of Wooster.  Morels will pop up in shades of black, grey and yellows and start showing up in April till about the middle of May.
“The black morels come up first. They look kind of pointy and sort of resemble a witch’s hat (see picture A),” said Frontz. The next ones to come up are the grey Morels and then the small and large yellow Morels.
Having never been mushroom hunting myself, I attended a mushroom seminar at the Ashland Public Library to learn a little bit more about the Morel mushroom and found myself in a room of eager hunters ready to get out in the woods.
 Julie Powell-Albright, of Marion, Ohio, is a self-proclaimed naturalist and outdoor enthusiast. She travels all over Ohio as well as out of state to find her favorite fungi and took us all on a virtual “walk through the forest” to show us how to find the right mushrooms.
Albright’s presentation started off with a series of definitions to help mushroom hunters better understand the biology of the fungi. Albright has taken a few mycology courses and feels that by gaining a better understanding of the way the mushroom works the easier it is to preserve them and encourage others to preserve them.
“A lot of mushrooms are becoming extinct,” said Albright. This is due to a number of reasons such as: deforestation and lack of knowledge on how to preserve the species as hunters pick mushrooms. “I want to make people more aware of  these issues.”
It’s important to know the difference between the non-edible and edible types of mushrooms. Chances are the mushrooms sprouting up in your backyard are not ones you want to be popping in your mouth. While most will not kill you, Albright said that many will leave you very sick and in so much pain you may wish they had.
Many non-edible mushrooms resemble their edible counterparts. For example, the Conifer False Morel, Gyromitra Esculenta, has a similar sponge-like look and a rusty orange color to a real Morel. When placed next to the true Morel, you can easily see the difference (see picture B.) This makes it very important for hunters to do their research and know exactly what they are looking for.
After finding the safe and healthy mushrooms, hunters will be pleased to know of the nutritional benefits that go along with them. Coming straight from the earth and the wild, it’s hard to get much more organic than that. Some of these nutrients include; vitamins B, C and D, minerals such as potassium, copper and selenium, a high level of protein, low in cholesterol and much more.
When hunting for Morel mushrooms it is important to have the right tools. A mesh bag is preferred to collect your mushrooms in. The a mesh bag allows the mushroom spores to be released back into the earth after picking.
“It’s important to spread the spores so that new mushrooms can grow again next year,” said Albright. Laundry bags or potato sacks seem to do the job        as well.
Albright also suggest carrying a small knife and possibly a hand trowel to remove the mushrooms from the earth. It is important to pinch or cut the stem and remove the part of the mushroom that is above the ground. If you uproot the whole mushroom along with its roots, you are destroying the mycelium (network of roots) that supports the growth and re-growth of the mushrooms in that area, explained Albright.
“When you hunt, have visuals. It’s very hard to find your first one, but once you find them you start seeing them everywhere,” said Frontz. Both Albright and Frontz suggest carrying a mushroom stick with a basic carving of the mushroom you are hunting for.
Familiarize yourself with the trees that Morel mushrooms associate with. Morel’s are typically found near dying  Elm or Ash trees.
Other basic items that will keep hunters protected from the creatures and wildlife of the woods include: bug spray, long pants and sleeves, boots, light clothing (to reveal ticks and other bugs) or even Bounce dryer sheets have been deemed as a decent bug repellent.
As you prepare to set out on your hunt remember to leave your life stresses at the edge of the forest, Albright said. Just being out in nature can be a very relaxing time and a time  to enjoy nature’s beauty.
 “Approach the woods with soft eyes. Be open and you will see more,” said Albright. Don’t enter the woods on a mission to find that one certain mushroom. Be attentive to nature and hunters may find they see a lot more.
It wouldn’t be out of character to find a small Amish business closed on a warm sunny day as the family may be out on a mushroom hunting expedition. But, like many avid hunters, you won’t find them willing to share their secret spot as they wish to save as many mushrooms for themselves as they can.


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