Morchella esculenta: The Yellow Morel Mushroom Benefits & Identification

The common morel, Morchella esculenta (L.) Pers.


Phallus esculentus L.


Morchella esculenta var. rotunda (Fr.) I.R. Hall
Morchella esculenta a rotunda Fr.
Morchella rotunda (Fr.) Boud.
Morchella rotunda var. esculenta (L.) Jacquet.
Morellus esculentus (L.) Eaton
Phallus esculentus L.

Common names

Common morel
Yellow morel
True morel
Sponge morel
Hickory chick
Sponge mushroom
Guchhi (Indian)


Cap: 3-6 cm diameter, 4-8 cm long; pale brownish cream, yellow to tan or pale brown to grayish brown; globose to ovoid; surface covered with irregularly interwoven pits of various shapes, framed by irregular ridges following the pits; edges of the ridges usually not darker than the pits.
Stem: 2-8 cm long, 2-4 cm in diameter, glabrous, round, much larger at the base, wrinkled, grooved longitudinally, covered with small scurfy tufts just beneath the cap, whitish, becoming ochraceous in age, fragile, hollow.
Asci: long cylindrical, hyaline, 280-320 x 18-22 µm.
Flesh: waxy, thin, whitish.
Spores: 18-25 x 11-15 µm, ellipsoid, smooth.
Spore print: yellow.
Habitat: singly or in groups on the ground of mixed open woods, pastures and hillsides on sandy ground, sometimes in rows or partial rings. Frequently found in old burned-over woods in spring, late April to June.

The morel and its relatives are among the most highly prized of the edible fungi. Despite considerable research effort, commercial cultivation of this mushroom has not been successful. However, the mycelia, grown in liquid culture, are used as food and food-flavoring materials, and also in the formulation of nutraceuticals and functional foods.
In the Himalayas, morels are cooked as food and used in medicine and health care systems by the traditional societies and also used clinically. Sometimes, the locals will set the ground on fire assuming that such a practice will improve its yield, although this practice has a negative impact on the forest ecosystem (Prasad et al., 2002).

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Use in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Morchella species are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat indigestion, phlegm, croup, and shortness of breath (Ying et al., 1987).

Nutritional properties

Mineral composition

The mineral content of M. esculenta fruit bodies has been determined by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (Dursun et al., 2006). Values (in mg/kg) obtained were as follows:

Ag= 0.4±0.4
Al= 17286±779
As= 9.6±0
B= 19.7±8.5
Bi= 0
Ca= 33787±707
Cd= 1.1±0.1
Cr= 59.2±27.6
Cu= 12.7 ± 0.5
Fe= 7858.9 ± 188.3
Ga= 4.5 ± 2.6
K= 808.3 ± 354.5
Li= 19.5 ± 1.2
Mg= 4254.9 ± 18.4
Mn= 157.7 ± 6.5
Na= 4193.5 ± 260.6
Ni= 73.2 ± 2.2
P= 14 607.6 ± 447.9
Pb= 2.3 ± 0.4
Se= 8.0 ± 3.1
Sr= 90.6 ± 3.3
Ti= 0
Zn= 57.5 ± 1.2

Detailed information about the composition of taste components from cultured mycelia has been reported (Tsai et al., 2006).

Bioactive compounds

A nonprotein amino acid, cis-3-amino-l-proline,has been found in both the fruiting bodies (Hatanaka, 1969) as well as the growth medium and cultured mycelia of Morchella esculenta (Moriguchi et al., 1979). Three γ-glutamyltranspeptidase enzymes (MW of 155,000 (I), 219,000 (II) and 102,000 (III)) were partially purified from the cell free extracts of the cultured mycelia. All of them catalyzed both hydrolysis and transpeptidation of various γ-glutamyl compounds (Moriguchi et al., 1986).

Wei Yun et al., 2000, have purified and characterized two soluble polysaccharide components (MEP-SP2 and MEP-SP3) obtained from Morchella esculenta grown in liquid culture.  MEP-SP2 (MW=23kDa) is made of the monosaccharides mannose, glucose, arabinose and galactose in the mole ratio of 1.75:4.13:0.71:0.68. The main chains of MEP-SP2 have an α-pyranglycoside linkage. MEP-SP3 (MW=44 kDa) consists of xylose, glucose, mannose, fructose, arabinose and galactose in a mole ratio of 3.58: 14.9:3.85:1.77:51.3:0.53.

Bisakowski et al., 2000, have reported on the extraction, partial purification, and characterization of lipoxygenase activity in M. esculenta. Lipoxygenase, an enzyme that catalyses the hydroperoxidation of linoleic acid and other polyunsaturated fatty acids containing a cis,cis-1,4-pentadiene moiety, has potential biotechnological applications for the bioconversion of lipid-rich byproducts into natural flavors.

Medicinal Benefits & Properties

Antitumor activity

The antitumor activity of a 50% ethanolic extract of Morchella esculenta mycelium grown in submerged culture was determined by the mouse solid tumor model induced by Daltons Lymphoma Ascites cells. Oral administration of 1 g/kg body weight of the morel extract resulted in a 74.1% inhibition in tumor volume and 79.1% decrease in tumor weight 30 days after tumor cell implantation (Nitha and Janardhanan, 2005). Later research further confirmed the antitumor activity of the extract against both ascites and solid tumours (Nitha et al., 2007).

Antioxidant activity

Methanolic extracts prepared from the mycelia of M. esculenta showed high antioxidant activity (85.4%) at 25 mg/ml; for comparison, the activities of the common antioxidants ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol and BHA were 36.9%, 80.5% and 98.1% (at 0.5 mg/ml), respectively.  Expressed as EC50 values (the effective concentration at which the antioxidant activity is 50%), the antioxidant activity was 2.78±0.14. Similarly, the reducing power was determined to be 1.25±0.06, the scavenging effect on DPPH radicals was 3.71±0.03, and the chelating effect on ferrous ions was 3.55±0.01. The relatively high content of total phenols was suggested to contribute to the mushroom’s antioxidative capabilities (Mau et al., 2004).

Anti-inflammatory activity

Anti-inflammatory activity of a 50% ethanolic extract of Morchella esculenta mycelium grown in submerged culture has been determined by carrageenan induced acute and formalin induced chronic inflammatory models. Oral administration of 500 mg/kg body weight of extract showed 66.6% and 64.2% inhibition of acute and chronic inflammation, respectively (Nitha and Janardhanan, 2005). Later work showed further elaborated on the dose-dependent inhibition of both acute and chronic inflammation, and suggested that the activity is comparable to that of the standard reference drug, Diclofenac (Nitha et al., 2007).

Immune enhancement

An immunostimulatory high-molecular-weight (~1000 kDa) galactomannan polysaccharide has been isolated from morel fruit bodies. This polysaccharide, which accounts for about 2.0% of the morel’s dry weight, contains 62.9% mannose, 20.0% galactose, and smaller amounts of N-acetyl glucosamine, glucose and rhamnose.  The immunostimulatory activities of various morel extracts were measured using a luciferase reporter gene bioassay, where luciferase expression results from the binding of NF-kappa B. It was determined that at a concentration of 3.0 µg/mL, the galactomannan polysaccharide increased NF-kappa B directed luciferase expression in THP-1 human monocytic cells to levels 50% of those achieved by maximal activating concentration (10 µg/mL) of lipopolysaccharide. The authors speculate that although the high molecular weight of the polysaccharide precludes it from being absorbed orally, it may have therapeutic effects by interacting directly with the mucosal immune system of the gastrointestinal tract (Duncan et al., 2002).


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PDF available online

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