It’s spring in the moist woodlands of North America when fiddlehead ferns begin to unleash their soft green tongues like a frog set to strike at an insect. These greens are one of the most tender and juicy wild harvest foods, available worldwide.
Fiddleheads in North America commonly are associated with the wet east coast or west coast rainforests, yet varieties can be found in abundance across the continent. Simply put, the fiddlehead fern is not really a type of fern of its own, but a general description of the new growth shoots for all of the fern family.
Like morels and other short-season spring delicacies, fiddleheads are available for brief days each year. They appear through the soft leaf beds of wet woodlands and shady waterway edges as soon as the ground begins to warm, quickly unfurl their fronds and rush toward full growth in a week or so. Unlike morels, they do not hide from sight, but form the lush carpets and undergrowths of many forests and thickets.
Two varieties of ferns – Bracken and American Royal – grow across North America, with the Ostrich fern found mostly on the east coast. Harvest them by clipping the uncurled sprouts. These wild plants are havens for small insects, dust and pollutants, and should be washed thoroughly before eating. While many instances of mild illness have been reported (mostly due to improper washing or cooking), there are very few reports of allergic or toxic reactions.
Because fiddleheads are neither a soft leafy vegetable or crisp root-like consistency, they are suitable for a variety of cooking styles and recipes. Simply sautee the greens in butter and a dusting of garlic, pepper, basil for a delightful side dish. Alternatively, boil the greens and serve with a little thyme. Top angel hair pasta with steamed fiddleheads spiced with paprika, thyme, cayenne and onion powder. Dash olive oil over dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Fiddleheads can be a feature ingredient for a number of…