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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Standard Disclaimer: I am not a trained foraging professional nor are the people who operate this forum. If you choose to forage it is something you do so at your own risk. Do not eat anything unless you are 100% sure you've correctly identified what you have as a safe edible. Always use a variety of reputable sources when identifying plants/fungi. Just like the foods at the grocery store can cause allergic reactions, wild foods can do the same. It's best to try new foods a sliver at a time to check for allergic reactions.

Ostrich Fern

Food Ingredient Natural foods Plant Cuisine
Plant Botany Fiddlehead fern Ostrich fern Terrestrial plant
Plant Terrestrial plant Organism Grass Natural landscape

Alternate Names: Fiddleheads

The stem of the emerging ostrich fern is crowned by a tightly curled headstock that looks like a lot like the neck of a violin or fiddle. One might think this delicious edible is aptly named by foragers who call it the 'fiddlehead'; however, the label is actually a little dangerous. All ferns, whether edible or non-edible, emerge from the ground with a fiddlehead, so you cannot assume that all fiddleheads are safe to consume simply on the basis that a fiddlehead is present.

Ostrich ferns are identified by its grooved stem (kind of like celery), coiled fiddlehead top, and the brown papery scales loosely attached to it. Ostrich fern shoots have two distinct types. One type has shoots that are smooth and bright green and others are covered with a thin whitish layer or very fine fuzz. There should be no scales or wooly fur attached to the straight part of the stem.

Region: This plant is common and abundant and found across the Northeast and south to Virginia, Canada, southern Alaska, Canada, and the Midwest (Illinois, Iowa, Ohio).

Peak Season: Forage in early spring. Pay close attention to the temperature because as soon as there are black flies and the ground has thawed, there will be fiddleheads ready to forage. Check back on patches often as they will sprout overnight.

Toxic Lookalikes: Cinnamon ferns and Interrupted ferns are both toxic and could possibly be mis-identified as an Ostrich fern. You have to really be not paying attention to mis-identify an Ostrich fern though. Both of the toxic lookalikes have a wooly covering that covers both the stem and fiddlehead top. Simply put, if it's got wool, leave it alone.

Tips for foraging: Fiddleheads are picked by hand and it's easiest to remove the brown parchment prior to pincing the head off the plant.
It's common to see fishermen foraging these alongside a streambed filling 5-gallon buckets while they wait for the next fish to bite.

Fiddleheads are a good source of Vitamin A and C. Fiddleheads can have a laxative effect if consumed raw and contain an enzyme called thiaminase that breaks down thiamine in the body. Cooking your fiddleheads thoroughly will prevent either concern from becoming a significant health issue.

Recipes: There was an outbreak of foodborne illness is 1994 related to the consumption of undercooked/lightly sautéed fiddleheads. However, some foraging experts suspect that people actually consumed mis-identified species of fiddleheads. Either way, it's best to avoid the consumption of raw fiddleheads just to be on the safe side.

Fiddlehead Saute
Trout with Fiddlehead Fern Stuffing

Fiddleheads can also be chopped, sautéed, then used as an omelet filling or to accentuate scrambled eggs. Fiddlehead quiche is another popular dish.

Canning - Processing times have not been officially established; although, people still do it. Here's one hot water bath method for canning fiddleheads.
Pickled Fiddleheads
Simple Freezing Instructions


The Foragers Harvest - Samuel Thayer - pages 78-86
Foraging New England - Tom Seymour - pages 22-25.
Edible Wild Plants - Lee Allen Peterson - page 232.

1,005 Posts
We LOVE fiddleheads!
A bacon & cheddar duck-egg omelet with a heap of fiddleheads lightly sauteed in butter and garlic with some toasted home-made bread.

nom nom nom nom nom..
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