GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If you want to sell wild-foraged mushrooms legally, you’re supposed to obtain certification through the state or have them inspected by a certified expert prior to sale.
But even though it’s technically illegal to sell without certification, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said it prefers to educate people instead of fining them.
“Typically in these cases a cease and desist notification is issued, the offender is informed about the requirements and directed to the information on how to become certified,” MDARD spokesperson Jennifer Holton wrote in an email to Target 8. “No cases come to mind where further enforcement action was warranted.”
She added that if you’ve collected morels, you can have them checked by someone with certification and then sell them.
“The seller would need a record showing who certified them,” she said.
But not all sellers are aware of the requirement, which is actually a mandate laid out in federal law, according to Midwest American Mycological Information, a nonprofit public charity that provides information on mushroom identification and cultivation.
The state offers two to three eight-hour training sessions each year through MAMI, usually in March and April. The trainings go from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you must pass a test at the end for certification. The cost is $175 for those seeking certification and $85 for those who are not.
As morel hunting season winds down, there are fewer mushrooms for sale on Facebook Marketplace, but the site has been a popular place to find the much sought-after fungi.
Target 8 visited one mushroom-hunting family and bought one to two pounds of morels for $60. The seller, who we’re not identifying, said she thought it as legal to sell foraged morels because they’re covered under the Cottage Food Law.
But Holton of MDARD said that’s not the case.
“Cottage Food Law is a separate law from mushroom certification,” Holton wrote. “One has nothing to do with the other.”
The seller from whom Target 8 bought morels said her husband spent 13 to 16 hours a day hunting for them.
“He’s been picking them for probably 45 years. He knows what he’s looking for. He knows what trees they grow under,” she said.
Dr. Phil Tedeschi, a retired U of M professor and President of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club, confirmed the mushrooms were indeed morels. But he also warned that novice hunters can mistake poisonous “false” morels for the real thing.
“Two weeks ago, the Poisoning Center (in Michigan) called me about a couple who had found the false morel in a field, thought they had a morel, ate it raw and were hospitalized,” Tedeschi reported. “The true false morel … is definitely poisonous. It has caused serious poisonings in this country. It has caused deaths in Europe. So it’s not something to play with.”
Even true morels should never be eaten raw. They must be cooked.
Tedeschi said there are 12 to 20 reported poisonings per season in Michigan.
He also recalled a close call a decade or so ago when a mushroom hunter thought she had found chanterelle mushrooms. It happened years before Michigan began offering certification courses. The woman gave half of her haul to a chef friend to use in his restaurant before members of her mushrooming club identified them as fake and poisonous chanterelle look-a-likes.
“It turned out what she had was a mushroom called a jack-o’-lantern which was definitely a strong GI tract poisoner,” Tedeschi recalled. “Had the guy served those at this restaurant, he would have lost his business, I’m sure, with all the lawsuits and such. Fortunately, we called the restaurant (in time) so no one ever ate those mushrooms. It was just lucky.”
When asked if people should buy wild mushrooms from uncertified sellers, Tedeschi said he wasn’t going to tell people to break the law.
“I would not really recommend (buying from uncertified sellers), although people have done so for many, many years in this state, and there are people out there selling mushrooms who know them very well who are not certified,” he said. “They’re technically breaking the law. I’m not going to stand here and advocate that someone breaks the law.”
He is advocating, however, that people learn how to distinguish true morels from false ones.
He also urges extra caution if you’re hunting for chanterelles or other wild mushrooms, some of which have lookalikes that present a greater poisoning risk than false morels. Tedeschi said Michigan had one fatality due to mushroom poisoning, a woman who died after eating a mushroom in the genus cortinarius.
The Mushroom Hunting Club president said while he would like to see the state certify people to distinguish more varieties of wild mushrooms (certification currently covers 20 types), he believes the current training program is better than offering none at all.