Fiddlehead Ferns: A Surprise Delicacy

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What are Fiddlehead Ferns, also called Ostrich ferns, and what are they good for besides looking pretty in a flower bed or pot or while walking through the countryside? Well, surprise your family. First, let’s see what they look like. Remember what a violin/fiddle looks like? When this plant first peeks its head through the earth in the spring, it is coiled up, about the size of a quarter, resembling the end of the arm on a fiddle, very unique and identifiable. Then as it grows upright, it slowly begins to unfold over several days. Remember, though, there are other plants that appear in a coiled shape when they first start growing.  And some are not edible. If they are white and fuzzy, they are poisonous. Know how to identify the Fiddlehead Fern before striking out on your own to harvest them.

Fiddlehead Ferns
Photo: Flickr/Charled de Mille-isles

Most Fiddlehead Ferns grow in New England and parts of Southern Canada, but they can be found in any wet area along edges of rivers, streams, and in wet, swampy areas, even in South Texas. Wet is the key pattern for them. Look for ones that have the coil well out of the ground, anywhere from one to six inches tall. They are a bright, almost chartreuse green and there is a brown, feathery-like paper covering on the sides of the coils, not the stems, but the coils. The stems are grooved like stalks of celery. Once they are unfurled, they are beyond harvesting. Don’t forget to only harvest part of the plants. Leave some for next year’s growth. The best harvest method for inexperienced foragers is your supermarket that has a wild food section. And the rewards are well worth the hunt, wherever you locate them.

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