Don’t Eat the Fuzzy Ones….

“Don’t eat the fuzzy ones!”  As I pointed my camera toward the fronds of spring ferns, I heard a passerby call that warning. ‘Tis the season for ferns and they are unfurling all over moist wooded areas here. As I prowled the woods, I was keeping my eye open for the sought after ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddlehead, a fairly elusive delicacy that is available for about 3 weeks each spring. Their fiddleheads, the young, tender coiled tips that resemble the end of a fiddle, are about an inch across on a smooth stem, but not fuzzy… as I was warned.

I’m not sure what I’d do if I found the ostrich fern. Would I harvest them or photograph them? We bought some ostrich fern fiddleheads at the grocery last spring and we thought those tasted a little like…. uh…. grass. Maybe we prepared them incorrectly but I think I’d rather photograph them than eat them.

It’s the time of year for ferns to emerge. The fuzzy fiddlehead of the bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), perhaps the most widespread fern in the word, is said to look like eagles’ claws. It is one I would avoid eating since it contains contains high levels of carcinogens. Cooking reduces the carcinogens but some remain.  These fiddleheads are widely eaten across Japan.

Bracken Fern.

BrackenFernAnother common fern populating the woods around us is the cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea). These wooly fiddleheads are edible but I read that few people actually dine on them. Deer eat them raw without problems, but folks should cook them remove mild toxins that could cause indigestion.

Cinnamon Fern.Cinnamon FernFerns and other natives are beginning to put on a show in the woodland landscape around us and we are enjoying the performance.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Eat the Fuzzy Ones….

  1. Very interesting article, as I find ferns very restful, somehow. Your recent article mentioned them as even going back to dinosaur times; amazing for such a fragile seeming plant. Here in the city of Richmond, VA, we have 5 native ferns growing along our creek bed, which of course, have already unfurled here. Do I see some lady slippers in the background getting ready to appear there in New Hampshire?


    • The plant in the background is Canada Mayflower, a wild lily-of-the-valley. They are just beginning to send up their tiny blooms. It is a miniature plant that thickly carpets the woodlands around here. Maybe I’ll post some photos of them.


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