The ostrich fern fiddlehead is used as an edible, medicinal, and ornamental plant. Ostrich fern is actually the plant and the fiddlehead is what the leaves are called before the unfurl. The ostrich fern, with a Latin name of Matteuccia struthiopteris, is native to North America and loves shade or part shade areas especially near streams and marshland. They grow in USDA Hardiness zones 3-7.
A frond is the leaf or leaflike part of a palm, fern, or similar plant. The ostrich fern has two types of fronds – a sterile frond that will grow 3 to 6 feet high and around. These five to nine fronds (leaves) of each plant grow out of the fiddleheads and are arranged in a rosette forming a large funnel. The second type of fronds are reproductive fronds that will be shorter fronds measuring 12-20 inches tall and stand erect in the middle of the cluster and produce the spores. Ostrich fern is a perennial that grows in vase shaped clumps called crowns.
According to Wikipedia, fiddleheads are the furled fronds of a young frond, harvested for use as a vegetable. Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll into a new frond. As fiddleheads are harvested early in the season before the frond has opened and reached its full height, they are cut fairly close to the ground.
They can be propagated via underground rhizome or by spores. Plant them with the crown just above the soil level.
You can pick the ostrich fern fiddlehead while they are small and tightly curled in the springtime. One must ensure that they properly identify the fern as not all ferns are edible.
According to the University of Maine there are three ways to identify the ostrich fern fiddlehead in the spring:
- There is a deep, ”U”-shaped groove on the inside of the smooth stem.
- There are thin, brown, paper-like scales covering the newly emerging fiddleheads. The scales fall off as the fiddlehead grows and elongates.
- The fertile, spore-bearing frond is distinctive in shape, and also has a groove on the inside of the stem. When present during harvest time, the previous year’s fertile frond will be dark brown in color. Not all ostrich fern crowns will have fertile fronds.
Wash them and remove any brown “paper like” covering on the ostrich fern fiddlehead. They can be boiled, steamed, or sautéed. Their taste is often described somewhere between asparagus, broccoli and spinach. You can get sick if you eat them raw or don’t cook them long enough. The CDC recommends boiling them for at least 10 minutes before severing them based on a survey of illness investigated in NY and CA in the mid-1990s. [Reference2]
According to WebMD: The young shoots of ostrich fern, known as fiddleheads, are used to make medicine. People use ostrich fern as a gargle for sore throat. Ostrich fern is sometimes applied directly to the skin for wounds and boils. Ostrich fern might act like a laxative. Otherwise, there isn’t enough information to know how it might work. [Reference3] *
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Spicy Stir-Fried Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads with Chile Paste, Sesame Oil and Walnuts
1 lb. ostrich fern fiddleheads, washed and stems trimmed
1 tablespoon sambal ulek (see note above)
One teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons organic canola or peanut oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (or pressed)
1/4 cup walnuts, lightly broken up
A few squirts fresh lime juice
- Have ready a bowl of ice water. Boil the cleaned and trimmed fiddleheads in a pot of lightly salted water for 10 minutes. Drop into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain well and pat thoroughly dry with paper towels.
- Stir together the sambal ulek, sesame oil, sugar and soy sauce.
- In a wok or wide sauté pan, heat the canola oil on high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and stir for a couple of seconds (don’t let it brown). Next, add the boiled and patted dry fiddleheads and stir for 1 minute. Add the walnuts and stir for 1-2 minutes more.
- Stir in the sambal ulek mixture and bring to a boil. Simmer over high heat until slightly reduced, about 1 minute.
- Remove from heat. Squeeze a few drops of lime juice over the fiddleheads.
Serve with rice.
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