Gyromitra esculenta: The Ultimate Mushroom Guide
About The Gyromitra esculenta Mushroom
Gyromitra esculenta or False Morel, is an ascomycete fungus from the genus Gyromitra, widely distributed across Europe and North America. It normally fruits in sandy soils under coniferous trees in spring and early summer. The fruiting body, or mushroom, is an irregular brain-shaped cap dark brown in color that can reach 10 cm high and 15 cm wide, perched on a stout white stipe up to 6 cm high. Although potentially fatal if eaten raw, Gyromitra esculenta is a popular delicacy in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and the upper Great Lakes region of North America.
It is important to note that in most older cookbooks and mushroom guidebooks, even on some internet sites today, one can read claims that drying false morels would render them safe to consume. Under current knowledge, this is no longer believed to be true, and dried false morels, after being reconstituted, should be processed by repeated boiling quite like fresh ones.
False Morel, Brain Mushroom, Rain Mushroom, Beefsteak Morel, Elephant Ears, Lorchel, Turban Fungus.
Gyromitra esculenta Identification
Cap 5-9 cm tall, 5-11 cm broad, semi-globose, brain-like, inconspicuously lobed; fertile surface convoluted to wrinkled, lobes separated by deep furrows; color: tan-brown, ochraceous-brown, deep reddish-brown; sterile undersurface of cap cream to buff-colored; margin attached to stipe at several points; context thin, brittle; odor and taste not distinctive.
Stipe 3-6 cm long, 1-3 cm thick, hollow, round to compressed, sometimes grooved or with basal folds; surface smooth to furfuraceous, whitish, often tinged vinaceous-tan.
Spores 18-23 x 9-12 µm, ellipsoid, smooth, with two oil droplets; spores pale yellowish-buff in deposit.
Gyromitra esculenta Toxicity
Eating false morels or elfin saddles has caused severe illness or death through damage to red blood cells and liver. However, individual susceptibility to these fungi seems to vary greatly and some people regularly cook and eat species in this group.
Boiling the fungi at least twice, throwing away the water each time can largely eliminate the toxin. However, the toxin then evaporates into the air where breathing it is a health hazard.
Gyromitrin, monomethylhydrazine, a component of rocket fuel.
Time of onset, 6-12 hours, beginning with stomach cramps, vomiting and watery diarrhea. Symptoms usually resolve themselves in 2-5 days. However, eating false morels occasionally results in severe illness, with gastrointestinal symptoms followed by liver and kidney damage, seizures, comas and in a few cases, death.
Contact your regional Poison Control Centre if you or someone you know is ill after eating false morels. Poison centres provide free, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If possible, save the mushrooms or some of the leftover food containing the mushrooms to help confirm identification.
Cases of Poisoning From False Morels
No human fatalities were reported among 68 reported poisonings in North America from Gyromitra and Helvella between 1985 and 200610.
Three young campers collected a five-gallon bucket of false morels and cooked and ate a large quantity of them. All suffered a night of misery with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and one also had a headache and chills.
The next morning their dog found and wolfed down leftovers from the pot and after vomiting and diarrhea and despite the best efforts of a veterinarian, died four days later.
Gyromitra esculenta Taxonomy & Etymology
Described in 1800 by Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, who gave it the scientific (binomial) name Helvella esculenta, the False Morel acquired its currently-accepted scientific name in 1849 when the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries moved it to the genus Gyromitra.
Synonyms of Gyromitra esculenta include Helvella esculenta (Pers.), and Physomitra esculenta (Pers.) Boud.
Gyromitra, the genus name, comes from the Greek words gyros, meaning round, and mitra, meaning a headband. The extent to which this mushroom resembles a round headband I shall leave to your imagination.
The specific epithet is much easier, however: it comes from the Latin esculentus, meaning edible - one of the world's worst misnomers, but Persoon was unaware of the issue when he established the basionym of this toxic toadstool.
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