False Morels grow near the same habitats and areas as true morels, so it’s easy to misidentify them. The best way to tell you have a False Morel versus a real one is by two common factors: the cap and the inside. True morels have deeply pitted caps and are hollow inside. Anything else is a False Morel.
What is Verpa Bohemica?
Verpa bohemica, also called the Wrinkle Thimble Morel, is an early spring false morel that very much looks like a real morel. As the name suggests, it looks like a wrinkled thimble. But this is the telltale sign that’s it’s not a real morel. There are brain-like folds on the cap’s surface which are tan or dark brown.
It has a very delicate flesh that deteriorates the moment you handle it. The cap also drapes down in a similar manner as a skirt, known as a “free hanging” cap.
The stem is thin with a whitish-beige color. The best way to identify this particular mushroom is to cut it in half and inspect how the stem attaches to the cap. If it attaches only at the top of the stem and it’s rather loose, it’s a Wrinkle Thimble Morel.
Verpa bohemica grows in ravines, pond edges, bogs and valleys. If you see one, there are likely many others in proximity. They often show up before the real morels.
Toxicity & Edibility
Whether these are edible or not is up for debate. Some people will harvest, boil, dry and cook them while others avoid the mushroom altogether. This is because there is a high risk of gastrointestinal distress and problems with muscle coordination due to a highly toxic chemical. Plus, they aren’t nearly as tasty as real morels.
What is Gyromitra Esculenta?
Gyromitra esculenta, or the Beefsteak Mushroom, is another false morel that grows in the same area as actual morels, but they don’t have the same characteristics or features.
These are very deadly and you should avoid them at all costs. This fungus has the potential to kill if consumed. The very least that will occur is vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness.
So, it may come as a surpise that they are sold across northern Europe. There are some people who eat them and don’t experience any problems. This means their toxicity will depend on where they grew and the method of processing it.
Like Verpa bohemica, they have large brain-looking or saddle-shaped folds but they’re brownish red or maroon. The cap isn’t as deeply pitted as a real morel, which is the quickest way to identify them.
The stem is white, grooved and smooth with an ability to be large in size. They grow around mountainous forest areas in North America and Europe around rivulets, disturbed ground, washes and roadsides.
What is MMH?
Almost all versions of False Morel, including Gyromitra esculenta, contain MMH (monomethyl hydrazine), which is the same chemical used in rocket fuel. This is why it’s best to not eat this mushroom. It’s very volatile, carcinogenic and there’s no way to measure how poisonous it will be.
What Do True Morels Look Like?
Real morels have pitted or honeycomb caps that do not attach at the top of the stem. They’re hollow in the center while the stem and cap connect at the base. The stem is thick and smooth.True morels grow throughout the early parts of spring and into summer. Depending on the location, they will sometimes grow in autumn as well.
Are There Any Other Species of False Morels?
The term “False Morel” entails a number of species, but Gyromitra esculenta and Verpa bohemica are the most common. They all resemble others in their family and contain a certain amount of MMH and why it’s not advisable that you eat them:
- Gyromitra caroliniana
- Gyromitra infula
- Verpa conica
How Do You Distinguish False Morels from True Ones?
The shape and texture of the cap will be your biggest clue. False Morels have wavy or lobed caps with a brain-matter-like appearance that protrudes. True morels are uniform with ridges of pits and bulge inward.
The Cap is Key
The edges of the cap are also an indicator. If it hangs freely from the stem, it’s a False Morel but if attached, it’s a real morel. Note, however, this isn’t always going to be the case but it is the most common.
Inside Should Be Hollow
When you cut open the mushroom, it should be hollow inside to indicate that you have a true morel. If the inside has chunks of tissue or cottony fibers, it’s a False Morel. If you ever have any doubts at all either leave the mushroom alone or consult your local mycological expert.
Why Do Some People Eat False Morels?
There are many people out there who will intentionally forage and eat False Morels. They don’t experience any health issues either. While this may be safer for some people to eat than others, MMH is a chemical that can build toxicity within the body over time.
So, even though some may not feel the immediate effects, they may be accumulating toxicity within the body. This has the potential to affect them later on in life. On the flip side of this, however, the people who do eat these mushrooms claim that they’re safe. But this is only the case after proper preparation.
Preparation of False Morels
False Morels go through a parboiling process that reduces the amount of MMH which makes the mushrooms more edible. They are then dried with heat to kill the chemical and any other spores that could pose health issues. It is then that False Morels are suitable for eating.
Europe & North America
But, we should note that it’s likely that the European versions of False Morels contain lower levels of MMH. So, when parboiled and dried, they lose almost all of their toxicity. However, the ones in North America are probably more toxic.