When the soil temperature hits 50 to 58 degrees, some of our favorite Spring mushrooms will start to pop. Throughout the United States, except for a handful of southern states that are just too warm and dry, the Morel mushroom is about ready to harvest. As the soil temperature rises above 50 degrees the Morel quickly sprouts and reaches for daylight. You must be quick because within hours various bugs and other wildlife start to consume the dandy delight. As always with wild mushroom harvesting, be careful. You must do some studying ahead of time and ideally bring along an experienced hunter that can identify the difference between edible and poisonous mushrooms. The Morel does have a false counterpart that is poisonous.
As spring turns to summer and then fall, several thousands of edible and poisonous mushrooms begin to sprout across the US. Of these several thousands of mushrooms, only around 250 are considered significantly poisonous. Although the odds are in your favor, the risk is not, so make sure you know what you are doing. A significantly poisonous mushroom can cause sever liver damage requiring a transplant or even death.
What do we mean by edible? Edible typically is a mushroom that is absent of poisonous effects to humans and has desirable taste, aroma and minimal fiber. A mushroom that is too fibrous is like eating cardboard and not an enjoyable experience. Like the Morel, many edible mushrooms have look-alikes that are poisonous. These look-alikes can even be found in our lawns. Often that tasty looking mushroom in your yard, that closely resembles the common white button mushroom, is in fact a poisonous green spore parasol. There are some mushrooms that are edible for most people but can cause allergic reactions in others. If you are eating a mushroom for the first time, cook and eat a small portion to verify that you are not allergic. So, the bottom line is, make sure you know what you are doing before harvesting wild mushrooms.
Mushroom hunters typically harvest them for culinary reasons. They are great sautéed and eaten as a side dish or added as a garnish to some other food item. Reality is, mushrooms have many other benefits beyond the enjoyment of eating them. Mushrooms are naturally low in cholesterol, calories, sodium, and fat. They also can provide basic nutrition that can help prevent chronic disease due to beneficial dietary fibers and the presence of antioxidants. They are rich in B vitamins that help the body draw energy from food and form red blood cells. A rich supply of B vitamins appears to be an important ingredient for a healthy brain. Mushrooms are also a non-fortified dietary source for vitamin D. For those not consuming dairy products, mushrooms can offer an alternative source for this vitamin. There are studies that show mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light before or after harvest, can provide up to four times the FDA's daily recommendation of vitamin D.
There are many other benefits of increasing the number of mushrooms in your diet. As mentioned earlier, mushrooms contain two types of dietary fibers in their cell walls, beta-glucans and chitin. Consumption of these fibers makes you feel full longer and ultimately can reduce overall caloric intake. These same fibers can also assist a diabetic in lowering blood glucose levels. High fiber intake can also improve the digestive system function and reduce the risk of heart disease. Another health benefit from consuming mushrooms, which are high in potassium and low in sodium, is the lowering of blood pressure and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Top all of this off with the fact that the beta-glucans can lower blood cholesterol levels significantly. There are many other side benefits of eating a cup or two of mushrooms. With these benefits, on top of the exercise received while hunting for mushrooms, it is certainly time to start searching. Remember to exercise caution, not all mushrooms are your friend.