Health Benefits of Morel Mushrooms

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on May 28, 2024
5 min read

Mushrooms may bring to mind hearty dishes like beef stroganoff or chicken marsala. Perhaps you’ve even eaten a large mushroom as a vegetarian hamburger replacement. In popular media and folklore, fungi are used as food, medicine, and even poison. Morel mushrooms, though edible, are typically found in the wild and can easily be mistaken for a more poisonous species.

It’s important to know what type of mushroom you’re planning on preparing for yourself or your family — especially if you're not buying it at a grocery store. Learn the facts about the rare and tasty morel mushroom and how to safely prepare it.

Unlike common grocery store mushrooms like portabella, oyster, and shiitake, morels are usually harvested from the wild. They’re difficult to grow on farms and in greenhouses, so morel lovers usually rely on their own mushroom “hunts” or others’ findings to enjoy this food. Morel mushrooms taste earthy and savory, and because they're rare, they can be incredibly expensive.

Hunting tips. Mushroom hunters often have to use their knowledge and resources to determine whether or not a mushroom is edible or poisonous. If you find a morel mushroom in the wild, it’s important to first ensure that what you've found is a true morel mushroom, which is safe to consume, and not a lookalike, which could make you very sick.

Harvesting tips. Because morel mushrooms are rare and delicate, it’s important to harvest them in a sustainable fashion so that they grow back correctly. Once you’ve correctly identified your morel, try to pick the mushroom from its stem (like a flower) instead of lopping off the top.

Morel mushrooms contain a lot of vitamin D. They are also a low-fat, plant-based food that makes a great addition to a heart-healthy diet as an ingredient or as a meat substitute. Adding more plant foods to your diet can lower your cholesterol, give you more energy, and supplement your diet with a wealth of nutrients.

Morel mushrooms' health benefits are numerous: They're tasty, good for your heart and digestive system, and full of minerals that can help several parts of your body function at their best — so what’s the downside? With foods like morel mushrooms, you have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of selecting unlabeled food in the wild.

Pros. Eating morel mushrooms won't end in a sugar crash, as they contain less than 0.4 grams of glucose per cup. They’re a great source of iron, which many people don’t get enough of. They’re also an interesting, rare delicacy that can spice up a boring dinner menu.

Cons. The biggest drawback to eating morel mushrooms is the fact that any mushrooms sourced from the wild are easy to misidentify. Even if you correctly identify a morel, you must be cautious about eating these mushrooms without cooking them thoroughly.

Iron. Many people, especially pregnant women, do not consume enough iron. Iron helps red blood cells shuttle oxygen around the body. A 100-gram serving of morel mushrooms contains a surprising 12.2 milligrams of iron, which fulfills the entire daily iron requirement for men and provides more than half of a day’s dose of iron for women.

Vitamin D. Morel mushrooms' nutrition profile includes 136 international units of vitamin D, which is a significant part of the 600 international units your body needs every day. Mushrooms are good sources of vitamin D, especially among plant-based foods, which don’t usually contain much of this essential nutrient. Most of our vitamin D comes from fish like salmon, fortified milk, and the sun.

Morel mushrooms, like most mushrooms, are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense foodthat aligns with the healthy eating guidelines of the American Heart Association. A 100-gram serving of morel mushrooms contains only 31 calories, which makes them the perfect flavor boost for sauces, salads, and pasta dishes that won’t significantly affect the number of calories in the whole dish.

First, make sure that the mushrooms you’ve chosen are true morel mushrooms. If you have any doubt, ask a fellow mushroom hunter, a botanist, or perhaps your local university department. It’s never a good idea to take chances with mushrooms, as there are so many poisonous varieties of fungi and so many lookalike species.

You can store your morel mushrooms in the refrigerator for a few days, but don’t make the mistake of washing them and then sticking them in the fridge, as the extra dampness may cause mold growth. Prepare them by gently scrubbing them under running water or wiping them with a towel to ensure that you’ve washed off all the dirt, potential pesticides from nearby farms, and bugs. Mushrooms are very good at collecting dirt — under their caps and in their gills — that's difficult to remove.

When it’s time to eat, it’s important to cook morel mushrooms all the way through. Even though they aren’t poisonous, you can get sick from them if they’re not cooked thoroughly. Your mushrooms shouldn’t feel slimy or smell like they’re rotting. If they do, throw them out. 

Learning how to cook morel mushrooms isn't hard. Just follow these steps:

  • Wash your mushrooms immediately before you’re ready to cook them and pat them dry with a towel. 
  • You may need to soak them in warm water with a bit of salt sprinkled in to loosen the dirt and debris from under the cap.
  • Cook the mushrooms for about 15 minutes or until they look and feel soft and tender. Don’t eat them raw or undercooked or they can make you sick. 
  • Don’t save your morels in your fridge for longer than three days. 
  • If you wish to keep the mushrooms for longer than three days, consider freezing them or drying them to reheat and enjoy later.

Once you know how to identify and prepare morel mushrooms, there’s nothing stopping you from going into the wild and foraging them for yourself. Follow the above guidelines to cook a healthy, delicious dish.