Plant of Week 5: Fiddlehead

In spring, ferns of the forest send up their leaves in an interesting way, which produces a fiddlehead. This plant of the week is a fern leaf before it fully unfurls into its fully lacy ferny form. Fiddleheads were named after their resemblance to a violin scroll (see an image of violin scroll in the pictures above) and have been eaten by Native Americans for a long time before to every one else caught on to these delicious spring edibles. The edible ferns we look for on Martha's Vineyard are called ostrich ferns. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are edible whereas other species, for example, bracken fern fiddleheads are not edible, and can even be toxic. Be sure to identify the plant correctly before consuming any fiddleheads. We invite you to search for any species of fern, making its fiddleheads this spring, just do not eat any without certainty of the species.

Species: Matteuccia struthiopteris

HABITAT: Ferns grow in wet, shady areas all over New England and Eastern Canada. Ostrich fern fiddleheads grow by streams, swamps, and floodplains in part shade, under the cover of tree canopies. When harvesting fiddleheads sustainably, be sure to leave at least 1/2 of the fiddleheads from each "crown" or growing center of the fern - this way the ferns can survive and continue to grow back year after year. 

IS IT EDIBLE?: Yes, with the right species. All ferns have a "fiddlehead" stage, when the new leaves are coming up, but only the Ostrich fern is edible. Their flavor tastes similar to asparagus, broccoli, and spinach. You can use them in cooking like you would any vegetable - stir fry them, pair them with eggs, add them to pasta dishes, soups, or as a side dish to meat and fish.

Video on How to Identify and Harvest Fiddleheads:

CAUTION: Remember, not all fiddleheads are edible. The bracken fern, which grows in sunny locations, can produce cyanide and tannins - which are toxic to consume in large amounts.  

IS IT MEDICINAL?: Fiddleheads are nutrient dense, packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, manganese, iron, copper, the antioxidant beta-carotene. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Recipes with Fiddleheads: