Also known as
common morel, yellow morel, true morel, morel mushroom, sponge morel
Europe, including Britain, temperate regions of Asia, North Africa, North America. They grow in varied habitat – Fields, hedgerows, open woodland, clearings and waste ground. They often turn up in fresh wood chippings put down as mulch in gardens, but seldom come back once the chippings have weathered in and the mycelium runs out of steam.
Morchella esculenta is a type of fungus, descended from Cup fungi or Ascomycetes. Although the fruit bodies have a stem they lack the gills or pores of other mushrooms, instead releasing spores from a surfaces of fused irregular cups.
Each mushroom begins as a small greyish sponge with lighter ridges, then expands and becomes more yellow-brown. The mature cap varies in colour from dull yellow to grey-brown, and is made up of large pits and ridges joined together in an irregular, blobby honeycomb structure, raised on a large white stem. The caps measure 2–7 centimetres (1–3 inches) broad by 2–10 cm (1–4 in) tall, and when cut open are hollow, with one large space extending right through the cap and stem. The pits irregularly shaped with rounded edges The hollow stem is creamy white to yellow in colour, typically 2–9 cm (1–3 1⁄2 in) long by 2–5 cm (1–2 in) thick.
Morels are a much sought after delicacy, popular in cuisine across the world. They can be fried, baked, combined with other mushrooms in sauces, pies, stews… They can also be dried to preserve them, which also concentrates the flavour
Morchella species are used in traditional Chinese and Himalayan medicine to treat intestinal problems and shortness of breath . Studies have noted some anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour and immune regulation effects
Morels are poisonous when raw, containing the irritant hydrazine. This is broken down by heat, so they should be cooked for at least 10 minutes before eating. Or to be completely safe, the mushrooms should be parboiled and the water thrown away before cooking as you would any other mushroom.
Appears in early spring.
The Stinkhorn Phallus impudicus has a pale stem and grey-brown cap, but isn’t pitted in the same way and absolutely stinks of rotten meat. You certainly wouldn’t be likely to want to eat it! You’re much more likely to confuse the True morel with other edible morchella species such as the Black morel, morchella elata, which is has a darker brown and more pointed cap. Beware of the False Morel Verpa bohemica, which has deep wrinkles on the cap but not the characteristic deep cups of the true morel, and the Thimble Morel, Verpa conica, which has a much smaller cap in relation to its stem, and the cap is smooth, hanging free and unattached to the stem at the bottom. Both of these Verpa species can make you unwell.