FIDDLEHEADS! The Ostrich Fern-A Great Edible Native

FIDDLEHEADS! The Ostrich Fern-A Great Edible Native

Ostrich Fern-Matteuchia struthiopteris

Matteuccia, named in honor of C. Matteucci (1800-1868), an Italian physicist. struthiopteris, from the Greek, strouqeios (stroutheios), "of an ostrich", and pteris (pteris), "fern" Common Name, from the resemblance of the fronds to the plumes of the large flightless bird of Africa.

Fiddleheads (young coiled sterile fronds) are considered a delicacy. Collected in early spring, they support a local canning industry in New England and adjacent Canada.

Eating the Fiddleheads

In selecting fiddleheads look for a tight coil and only an inch or two of stem beyond the coil. There is a brown papery chaff that surrounds the fiddlehead on the plant. Much of this will have been removed prior to purchase, but some may remain. (See below for ways to remove Fiddlehead chaff.)

The outside of the coil should have an intricate pattern of tiny leaves arranged along the sides of the spiral. Size of the coil should be 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. Larger size is acceptable as long as they are tightly coiled. Common bracken and other ferns also produce tightly coiled new growth in the Spring but none of these are suitable for eating.

Good fiddleheads should have a distinctly crisp texture, both raw and after brief cooking.

Handling Fresh Fiddleheads

If more than 2 inches of stem remains attached beyond the coiled part of the fiddlehead snap or cut it off. If any of the paper chaff remains on the fiddleheads you may rub it off by hand. Since the chaff is very light, you may want to clean off the chaff outdoors by fanning them or lightly shaking them in an open wire salad basket.

After the chaff is removed wash the fiddleheads in several changes of cold water to remove any dirt or grit. Drain the fiddleheads completely. Use them fresh, and soon after harvest.

If you must store fresh Fiddleheads keep well cooled (35 F) and tightly wrapped to prevent drying out. If you have stored them, you may wish to trim the stem again just before use since the cut end will darken in storage. They may be kept in refrigeration for about 10 days, although flavor will be best if used as soon as possible after harvest.


The flavor of fiddleheads goes well with cheeses, tomato sauce and oriental cuisine. Excellent with Hollandaise sauce.

Fiddleheads are versatile and easy to use. They have a mild taste reminiscent of Asparagus with an added nutty bite all their own. They are excellent marinated in vinegar and oil or as a crunchy pickle. As a featured vegetable they will please the most demanding palate. Fiddleheads can be used in similar ways to any firm green vegetable such as Asparagus or Broccoli florets. Fiddleheads will lend their delicious flavor and elegant visual appeal to many familiar dishes. Use them as a perfect featured vegetable in a simple stir-fry.

They are wonderful in pasta dishes with a sauce made from Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. Sauté, stir-fry or steam briefly to retain their crunchy texture and bright green color. Do not overcook.

Fiddlehead ferns are a good source of vitamins A and C. Fiddleheads should not be served raw as they have a slight bitterness until cooked and may cause stomach upset if eaten raw in quantity. Health Canada advises that fresh fiddleheads must be properly cooked before being consumed.

The jumbo Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) –  "The King" - is a huge spreader ready to fill your vacant meadow! It is native to much of northern North America, and with its cold tolerance it leads off the spring with magnificent fist-sized green fiddleheads.

When well-watered, the height of this fern can approach seven feet. (No head in the ground for this bird!) Autumn turns the deciduous sterile fronds a glowing golden yellow while the separate fertile fronds fade from green to brown and remain erect throughout the winter.

Underground runners "run" out forming surrounding colonies making this very useful for a quick cover. And if you don’t like it you can always eat it as these are the fiddleheads of gourmet restaurants: in fact, it’s the state vegetable of Vermont!

Fall is a great time to plant an Ostrich fern in your yard to enjoy the wonderful fiddleheads next spring! SHOP FOR OSTRICH FERNS

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