With the novel coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide lockdown forcing people away from crowded places, many people in Himachal Pradesh are turning towards forests this spring to hunt for the highly-prized morel mushrooms.
The edible morels usually sell for Rs 10,000 to 30,000 per kilogram due to their unique flavour, nutritional value and medicinal properties, and are generally found in the forests of middle and high hills from February to May. Many locals have already taken to social media to document their morel hunting trips.
“People are finding ample time this year to look for the elusive morels, also called Guchhi or Chau locally. They cannot be cultivated and are only found naturally, usually in moist areas, and at different spots each year. It is believed that areas struck by lightning are more prone to having them,” said Mohan Verma, a resident of Solan district.
Hansa Devi from Mandi’s Kamru valley said that she has undertaken multiple trips into the forest near her house to collect the honeycomb-structured fungi. “We collected about a plateful of them during our last expedition. In these parts, black morels are found from mid-February to March and yellow morels from March to April,” she said.
Devi added that morel prices have fallen to Rs 3,000 per kg this year due to the lockdown. “Traders buy them door-to-door and also during village fairs. In 2015, they were being bought for Rs 15-20,000, but prices have been falling ever since,” she said.
Morels can be dried and stored, and are mostly exported to other countries or sold to high-end hotels across the country, said Dr Onkar Shad, a Shimla resident who researched edible mushrooms during his doctoral degree. “Morels are delicious and have a protein content of 30-35 per cent. In Himachal, they are also stored and reserved as a special delicacy for guests,” he said, adding that there are six species of morels found in the state, classified under the genus Morchella.
Shad said that morels are more likely to be found in calcium-rich areas such as those struck by forest fires.
Shivam Sharma, a resident of Manali, said that the price of the mushroom shoots up after it leaves the state. He added that this year, there have been frequent rains and thundershowers during March and April leading to an above-normal growth of Morchella mushrooms