False morel mushrooms are sprouting up along BWCA portages and area hiking trails. I saw my first of the season a few days ago. Yesterday we saw about a dozen along the Bass Lake Trail near Ely.
These false morels are deadly. Eaten raw they may lead to diarrhea and vomiting within a few hours. That’s followed by dizziness, lethargy, and headache. Then, in severe cases, delirium, coma, and death in five to seven days.
However, some in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and around Ely, consider them a delicacy when prepared properly. The toxin in false morels is gyromitrin. The toxin, or some portion of it, is released by drying, par boiling, or sauteing. During these processes, the toxin is released as a gas. If cooked indoors without proper ventilation, the gas may poison the preparer.
Most guidebooks and wilderness guides wisely recommend treating all raw or cooked false morels as poisonous. Some research suggests that eating even properly prepared false morels may lead to poisoning. That is because individual false morels may contain different levels of the toxin, preparation methods reduce the toxins but may not eliminate them, and individuals react differently to different levels of the toxin.
With that said, I’ve eaten several meals of Ely-area false morels sauteed with butter. Their consistency and taste is remarkably similar to the safe gourmet true morel mushrooms. I had no known ill effects. However, since learning more about the significant potential dangers of false morels, I’ve concluded the risk probably isn’t worth the benefit of this hazardous morsel.
Pictured are false morels on the Bass Lake Trail on May 17.