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The Genera Gyromitra and Verpa
The False Morels

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Gyromitra esculenta

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Gyromitra korfii

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Verpa bohemica
Wrinkled Thimble Cap
Courtesy Jean O. Fahey Copyright

Beware of mushrooms that do not have true pits or cavities and are smooth, brain-like and shiny. These spring mushrooms, often called "False Morels" or "Early Morels" are from either the genera Verpa or Gyromitra and though there are people who eat these mushrooms without incident, there have been fatalities from them as well. Clearly, consumption of any mushrooms from these genera can be a very dangerous practice.

In older texts Verpa bohemica and V. conica are listed as edible but new evidence is contradictory. Newer texts list Verpa bohemica (the Wrinkled Thimble Cap) as poisonous and best avoided. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps and a loss of muscle coordination.

The other so-called "Early Morels" of the genus Gyromitra, G. esculenta and G. infula contain the toxin Gyromitrin, AKA: monomethylhydrazine. Related species including G. gigas, G. korfii and the genera Verpa and Helvella may also contain traces of hydrazines. Believe it or not, monomethylhydrazine is a key component of rocket fuel. Eating mushrooms containing hydrazines raw has caused many documented fatalities (mostly in Europe.) Cooking and/or drying can remove the volatile Gyromitrin poison, hence people have eaten these mushrooms for years with no ill effects. BUT... cooking Gyromitra esculenta (pictured at left) can release enough toxin into the air that simply sampling the aroma of your saut pan can lead to severe poisoning or even death.

BEST BET WITH GYROMITRA, VERPA AND HELVELLA:
Don't bother with any of them!
Cooking may not remove all of the toxin and this could result in liver damage over a period of years.
Get a good field guide and stick to the genus Morchella (the "real Morels"!) ...very safe, and very delicious.

Notes: Field Guide Recommendations - David Fischer's Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America is an excellent "field to kitchen guide," including recipes and storage techniques. Mushrooms Demystified - by David Arora provides identification keys, photos and descriptions of a wide variety of edible and non-edible mushroom species and The Audubon Society field guide to North American Mushrooms is "the old standard" of mushroom field guides.

Happy Hunting!
-Roy Reehil

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