[Gyromitra esculenta. Photo courtesy of Rand Workman]
Well, this is an eternal question that arises every morel season.
With tons of discussion on the subject, there can be a lot of confusing ideas that become indistinguishable from hearsay.
If there could be a quote, or a snippet of some sort from someone with experience on the matter…
Oh wait! there is! and It’s by mycologist Gary Gilbert of Boston Massachusetts!
“Many people have eaten some Gyromitra species for decades with no ill effect.
It is not true to say that eating them will kill you, nor is it clear that eating them is absolutely healthy. It depends on species, location, elevation, time between harvest and ingestion, and most of all, your body. Tons of nicknames exist for them but “False Morel” is one that is frowned upon as they do not resemble morels very much at all.
Use that term for Verpas only please.
Gyromitras are medium to large size. Cap is contorted, lobed, wrinkled and most often a shade of brown. Margin can be attached or free of stipe. Stipe is smooth, folded or ribbed, hollow or partially hollow stems.
The carcinogenic compound gyromitrin is almost non-existant in many species. However, there are 9 to 11 different types of gyromitrin in the very dangerous Gyromitra esculenta as well as G. infula and G. ambigua.
These are truly the most dangerous species in North America.
Gyromitrin decomposes in your body to yield monomethylhydrazine (often referred to as MMH). People vary as to how much of this they can tolerate without ill effects. Deaths have only occurred in Europe from this but yearly there are serious liver poisonings in the US from it. A small increment too much of it can kill (though no reported deaths in the US) and even one meal of it could start a tumor. Obviously, this is hard to test for but the chemical is absolutely a known carcinogen. Interestingly, the stipe has twice as much gyromitrin in it as the cap.
G. brunnea; G. caroliniana; G. korfii; G. montana ; G. gigas; G. sphaerospora; G. fastigiata are other species that are commonly eaten but none of them have been successfully tested for gyromitrin content, much to the chagrin of those who follow this issue. Poisonings occur regularly in AK, ID, OR, WA, MT. Possibly the California Gyromitra species are much less toxic or completely edible, exluding the G. esculenta clade. In the Michigan and midwest areas I’ve seen many reports of people eating some of these species for years but little data on which specific species they’ve been eating. They may think it is Gyromitra esculenta when it actually is Gyromitra korfii, for example.
‘Food’? for thought. Happy spring hunting – Gary Gilbert”
Wow! Thanks for taking the time for that wonderful explanation Gary!
I feel loads more confident in how I think about Gyromitra now!
Still confused about Gyromitra’s edibility? Leave me a comment in the comment section below!