Gyromitra, or, what people like to call false morels, although that’s a bit of a misnomer, as some Gyromitra are a traditional edible, in some places.
In the past, Gyromitra have been eaten widely across Europe, but are formally referred to in most guides I’ve read as being poisonous. Depending on the species, they could be poisonous, edible, or both. Makes a lot of sense, right? As strange, and scary as that might sound, know that our beloved, common morels are also toxic raw, just like Gyromitra.
If you go to certain places in the United States, such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, you’ll find people in rural areas that eat them. They also used to be canned and sold in stores in Europe, and I’ve also heard of them being sold dried in Scandinavia, especially in Finland.
Monomethylhydrazine Varies Between Species
The problem with Gyromitra is allegedly the toxins (monomethylhydrazine) found in some species of these mushrooms are supposed to accumulate over time in such a way that you could be fine for years and years, than take one bite and have an extreme case of poisoning on your hands.
To further compound things, different Gyromitra species are thought to contain varying levels of gyromitrin, the compound that is thought to be dangerous, and creates the aforementioned toxin. So, if you’re not sure of your identification and the amounts of gyromitrin in the species you have, you could be playing Russian roulette.
I have one friend who claims his professional hunting team sold 9000 lbs of Gyromitra montana to restaurants in Florida one year, but remember, they were professional hunters and knew exactly what species they were picking. Even so, I would never sell Gyromitra to a restaurant, or serve them to guests that aren’t fully aware of the nature of these mushrooms, especially pregnant women or vulnerable people like the elderly.
Biggest differences between Gyromitra and morels
From my experience, the things that stand out most to me are:
- Gyromitra caps have folds, not the pitted honeycomb shape of morels.
- Morels are always hollow, Gyromitra may have white pith inside.
- Gyromitra are generally bigger than morels and not as conically shaped where I pick in the Midwest.
Whatever camp you’re in , one certain thing is that Gyromitra should never be eaten raw, and even if cooked they are generally boiled in a few changes of water. Until we know more about them, it’s probably best to just admire them in the field.