“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.
Another 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.