Sometimes healthy eating is just a matter of getting more connected to your food source. Becoming familiar with the seasonality of regional edible plants allows you to access healthy foods at the peak of their ripeness. Nutrition and Wellness Elevated develops a monthly blog post featuring an edible plant that is in harvesting season in Colorado that month. Be sure to compare this to your state’s seasonal crop calendar.
Spring foraging season is upon us in Colorado and this month’s seasonal edible plant is the morel mushroom. While morels are not available in most grocery stores, this mushroom is accessible via self-harvesting throughout the state of Colorado. Depending on your region, the morel may be present anytime from late April through early June and begins fruiting when temperatures start reaching 60-70 degrees. The initial flowering of trees is a clear indicator that it is time to begin morel foraging. Morels thrive in moisture and can be found situated along river banks, irrigation canals, or in areas that have received significant moisture. They are especially abundant in the presence of aspen, cottonwood, ash, elm, or oak trees. Morels are characterized by honeycomb like inward pits and ridges, a hollow stem and body, and a stem that connects at the bottom of the mushroom cap. There are two varieties of morels, the blonde and the black. The dangerous false morels are dissimilar to true morels in that their stem is not hollow but fibrous and it connects at the top of the cap rather than at the bottom. Never consume a wild mushroom without an exact certainty that you’ve identified the correct mushroom.
If you are able to precisely identify morel mushrooms their nutritional value is rich.
While morels are low in calories, they are high in micronutrients. Morel mushrooms are unique in that they are a vegetarian source of two nutrients that are most often associated with animal based foods. Vitamin D, for example, is limited in most plant-based foods and vegetarian sources are usually fortified with the essential vitamin. Morels, however, contain about one third of the daily value of vitamin D in just one cup. Vitamin D is an important micronutrient for bone health, blood pressure regulation, and immune system function. Morels are also unusual in their mineral content. Morels contain high levels of the plant-based non-heme iron, providing almost half of the daily value in a cup (that’s even more than spinach!). While this iron type is less absorbable, it is also less likely to promote serious health concerns because the body is more easily able to rid itself of non-heme iron when overloaded. Choose foods high in plant-based iron alongside foods rich in vitamin C (think citrus, tomatoes, and peppers) to increase absorption. Iron is responsible for the oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood and also supports many antioxidant enzymes. Aside from this antioxidant-promoting nutrient, morels contain many of their own antioxidants and are a good food to add to aid in preventing cellular and tissue damage.
Never tried a morel? They have a pleasant meaty texture and rich taste. Get outside and start foraging!
Morels may be used to top a vegetable pizza, added to whole grain pastas, or made into gravies. I personally love the simplicity in sautéing freshly foraged morels and enjoying them atop a lean protein or salad, try my Sautéed Morel Recipe. These beauties also rehydrate well so avoid letting any of your bounty go to waste by drying them and use them year round.