Finding the elusive wild morel mushroom requires the sharp eye of a hunter. These wild mushrooms are found throughout the Illinois woodlands. Wild mushroom aficionados, as well as regular people, savor the distinctive taste of morels. Morels are cooked and eaten fresh; they can be dried or frozen, but some flavor and texture are lost. Morel hunters may even guard secret mushroom patches in woods where they have been known to grow. Morel mushrooms cannot be cultivated. Morel spores prefer wild, relatively undisturbed places with specific conditions, such as soil temperature, air temperature and soil moisture.
Dress appropriately for hiking in the woods. Morels are found off the beaten path, and to find them you must search undisturbed woods and wooded edges of fields and river bottoms. Wear sturdy shoes or boots, a hat, long jeans and a sweater, if appropriate.
Review your mushroom book, and learn exactly what the different kinds of morels look like. Know your mushrooms. Take your book with you into the woods.
Choose an undisturbed wooded location to search, and take your bags or boxes, cell phone/camera, and walking stick. Hike the edges of the woods first, looking among the leaf litter for the heads of morel mushrooms above the leaves. Walk slowly, and watch where you step to avoid treading on mushrooms. When you find one morel, look carefully in the immediate vicinity for more. Where the growing conditions are right, several morels may be in the same area.
Use a walking stick to carefully move plant leaves, such as May apples or other undergrowth, so you can see the forest floor. This saves having to bend over to search likely spots where morels may be growing.
Pick morels, stem and all, in one piece. The ridged cap and the stem are both edible, and both have the same flavor. Brush away pieces of leaves or soil particles, and place the mushrooms in the bag or box. Keep the bag or box closed as you hunt to keep the morels from drying out.
Always get permission from landowners before you hunt mushrooms on their property. If you do not, you are trespassing. Check at a ranger station if you are hunting on public lands; some areas may be under protection.
Take pictures of your hike in the spring woods. It will be an enjoyable day even if you don’t find any morels.
Know your mushrooms. If in doubt, don’t eat. People die each year from eating poisonous mushrooms.
Morels can be toxic if they are eaten accompanied by alcoholic beverages.
Avoid morel mushrooms that are not firm and fresh looking. If the mushroom seems soggy or soft, or if it has dried out, it is not suitable for eating.