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Helvellaceae: The False Morel Family

The false morels, or "brain mushrooms", are easily distinguished from the true morels. True morels look more like sponges, whereas false morels look more like brains. Of this family I am only familiar with one species Gyromitra esculenta. It grows on the forest floor among conifers. The species name G. esculenta suggests that this is an edible mushroom, but it really isn't. The mushroom contains monomethylhydrazine (MMH), a very toxic and carcinogenic compound used in the manufacture of rocket fuel. The mushrooms are most dangerous raw. Cooking the mushrooms helps disperse the volatile compounds, but they must be cooked without a lid, and the cook must avoid breathing the fumes! (Drying them first, then rehydrating and cooking is said to be a better strategy.) Even then, the threshold between a safe dose without any ill effects, and a deadly dose is reported to be very small. Numerous people have died eating this mushroom in Europe. There are fewer reports of poisonings in North America, but let's keep it that way. There is no need to play roulette with your food!

References:
Arora, David. All That the Rain Promises, and More... Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA. 1991.
Arora, David. Mushrooms Demystified, Second Edition. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA. 1986.
Phillips, Roger. Mushrooms of North America. Little, Brown & Co.: Boston. 1991.
Schalkwijk-Barendsen, Helene M.E. Mushrooms of Northwest North America. Lone Pine Publishing: Redmond, WA. 1991.

-Check out my favorite mushroom guides.-

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