Health Benefits of Morel Mushrooms
The unique, widely esteemed, dried morel mushroom is delicious, yet its magnificence goes far beyond pure taste. Morel mushrooms (Morchella sp.) are medicinal as well. They are rich in vitamins, minerals, and overall nutritional value. Research also indicates morels potentially enhance the immune system, destroy harmful pathogens, and improve liver health.
What are Morel Mushrooms?
A species of fungi prized for their flavor and rareness, morels have a very enthusiastic following. They grow in springtime across parts of North America, China, India, Pakistan, and Turkey. Morel mushrooms demand exact growing conditions in order to fruit, and their season is quite short, which is one reason for their rarity. And, their specialness. The other reason they are so revered is that they are only available wild-foraged. No one has succeeded in commercially cultivating them, yet.
What are the Health Benefits of Morel Mushrooms?
- Vitamin D Source
There are few non-animal sources of vitamin D. Most mushrooms provide some amount of vitamin D, though in this case, morel mushrooms shine. A 100-gram serving of morel mushrooms provides 5.10 mcg of vitamin D, 25% of the recommended daily value. This is more than any other mushroom. For vegetarians and vegans, this is an exceptionally rich source of the D vitamin.
These mushrooms are also rich in minerals. 100-grams (1 cup) of raw morels provides .625 mg copper (69% RDI), 12.18 mg iron (68% RDI), 194 mg phosphorus (28% RDI), .587 mg manganese (26% RDI), and 2.03 mg zinc (18% RDI).
In addition, morel mushrooms are low-calorie, low-fat, and contain no cholesterol. At 36 calories and 5.1 grams fat per 100-gram serving, morels are an excellent and healthy addition to any diet. They also contain 3.1 grams of protein.
- High in Antioxidants
Free radicals and antioxidants play a delicate balancing game in our bodies. Too many free radicals results in an imbalance, known as oxidative stress. Improperly balanced free radicals, or oxidative stress, leads to tissue damage and infections. It is also linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, inflammatory conditions, cancer, and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidants play a huge role in keeping us healthy and disease-free. Morel mushrooms are high in antioxidants. They scavenge free radicals and protect our bodies on a cellular level.
- Enhance Immune System Function
A polysaccharide extracted from morel mushrooms increased the activity of immune system cells in a laboratory study. It reduced inflammatory responses and stimulated the immune system response. In times when our immune system struggles, or we are faced with a disease or pathogen that has no known antidote, enhancing the function of our immune system becomes our best defense.
Recent studies also discovered morel mushrooms possess a potentially potent immunomodulatory agent. Immunomodulators modify the immune system by activating it or suppressing naturally as it is needed. This type of response is essential in treating autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Immunomodulators are also used during organ transplants and show potential in treating Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Antimicrobial Properties
Several recent studies demonstrate the ability of morel mushrooms in fighting infections, pathogens, and parasites. In clinical studies, morel mushrooms prevented the growth of E.coli bacteria. A common bacterial infection, E.coli causes intestinal issues, which can range from mild to quite severe. Morel mushroom extracts also showed efficacy in treating a variety of fungal diseases. The best results were against Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungal species whose spores can cause extreme infections in people with asthma, weakened immune systems, AIDS, those recovering from the flu, and those undergoing chemotherapy.
A 2018 research experiment showed that morel mushrooms are effective in treating Leishmaniasis, an infectious disease transmitted to humans by sandflies. This disease is found in 90 countries around the world, mostly in tropical areas. Current treatments include chemotherapy, which is not feasible in many places and has toxic side-effects. In laboratory studies, morel extracts inhibited the disease without causing any side-effects.
- Protect the Liver
An extract of morel mushrooms elevated liver function enzymes in animals with liver damage. It also increased antioxidant activity in the liver, demonstrating overall liver protective abilities.
- Fight Cancer
Preliminary research exhibited the potential of a morel mushroom polysaccharide extract in fighting colon cancer cell growth and proliferation.
Where Can I Get Morels?
During their growing season, morels are available fresh in areas that they grow. In most areas of the Midwest and Central United States, morels are the mushroom harbinger of spring. Right around Mother’s Day (the exact timing varies year to year depending on weather conditions), mushroom hunters take to the woods to seek out these gems. If you are lucky enough to live in one of these places, keep an eye out at farmer’s markets, contact local foraging groups, or go searching yourself.
There are 15 species of morel mushrooms across the United States, with the main concentration in the Pacific Northwest. There, they thrive on burn sites and grow in enormous groupings. In the central regions of the United States, morels are found under ash, aspen, elm, and apple trees. Their brown conical caps blend in with leaf litter, making them quite difficult to spot. Once one is spotted, though, keep a lookout for others nearby! If you are able to buy(or forage) fresh morels, collect a bunch and freeze or dehydrate them. The season only comes around once a year. All other times of the year, morel mushrooms are available online dried.
How Do I Prepare Morel Mushrooms?
The delicate structure and smoky, intense flavor of morels is easily overpowered by complicated dishes and heavy sauces. Morels are best cooked simply, with butter or olive oil, and sprinkled with salt. They are excellent braised, fried, stuffed, or served with a very light cream sauce over pasta. Never eat morel mushrooms raw, as they will cause stomach distress.
Morel Recipes & Inspiration