Fiddlehead fern

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A chicken dish including fiddleheads
Fiddlehead sculpture at the Saint John Arts Centre by sculptor Jim Boyd in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

Fiddleheads or fiddlehead greens are the furled fronds of a young fern,[1] harvested for use as a vegetable.

Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll into a new frond (circinate vernation). 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.[citation needed]

Fiddleheads have antioxidant activity, are a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are high in iron and fibre.[2] Certain varieties of fiddleheads have been shown to be carcinogenic. (See bracken poisoning)

The fiddlehead resembles the curled ornamentation (called a scroll) on the end of a stringed instrument, such as a violin. It is also called a crozier, after the curved staff used by bishops, which has its origins in the shepherd's crook.


The fiddleheads of certain ferns are eaten as a cooked leaf vegetable. The most popular of these are:

Fiddleheads' ornamental value makes them very expensive in the temperate regions where they are not abundant.

Sources and harvesting

Bucket of newly collected fiddleheads

Though available regionally[where?] in some supermarkets and restaurants, fiddleheads are not cultivated and are available only seasonally. In rural areas, such as western Massachusetts, fiddleheads are harvested by individuals in early spring. When picking fiddleheads, three tops per plant is the recommended[by whom?] harvest. Each plant produces seven tops that turn into fronds; over-picking will kill the plant. Maintaining sustainable harvesting methods is important in the propagation of any non-farmed food species.[citation needed]

Culinary uses

Fiddleheads have been part of traditional diets in much of Northern France since the beginning of the Middle Ages, Asia as well as among Native Americans for centuries.[citation needed] The are also part the diet in the Russian Far East, where they are often picked in the wild in autumn, preserved in salt over winter, and then consumed in spring.

East Asian cuisine

In Indonesia, young fiddlehead ferns are cooked in a rich coconut sauce spiced with chili pepper, galangal, lemongrass, turmeric leaves and other spices. This dish is called gulai pakis or gulai paku, and originated from the Minangkabau ethnic group of Indonesia.

In East Asia, fiddleheads of bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) are eaten as a vegetable, called warabi () in Japan, gosari (고사리) in Korea, and juécài (蕨菜) in China and Taiwan. In Korea, a typical banchan (small side dish) is gosari-namul (고사리나물), which consists of prepared fernbrake fiddleheads that have been sauteed. It is also a component of the popular dish bibimbap. In Japan, bracken fiddleheads are a prized dish, and roasting the fiddleheads is reputed to neutralize any toxins in the vegetable.

In Japan, fiddleheads of flowering fern (Osmunda japonica), known as zenmai (), as well as those of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), known as kogomi (コゴミ), are commonly eaten in springtime. Fiddleheads in Japan are considered sansai, or wild vegetables.

Indian cuisine

In the Indian subcontinent, it is found in the Himalayan North and North Eastern states of India.

In the Kullu valley in Himachal Pradesh, it is known locally as lingri and is famously used to make a pickle lingri ka achaar. In the Kangra Valley of Himachal it is called lungdu in the local Kangri Pahari language.

In Garhwal region in Uttarakhand, it is called languda and eaten as a vegetable.

In Darjeeling and Sikkim regions, it is called niyuro (नियुरो)(Influence of Nepalese cuisine) and is well loved as a vegetable side dish, often mixed with local cheese. It is also pickled.

In Assam, it is known as dhekia xaak; there it is a popular side dish.

In Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir state, it's known as kasrod (कसरोड). The most famous Dogra dish is kasrod ka achaar (fiddlehead fern pickle). It's also cooked as a dry vegetable side dish to be eaten with rotis or paranthas.

Nepalese cuisine

In Nepal, it is a seasonal food and is called niyuro (नियुरो) and is well loved as a vegetable side dish, often cooked in local clarified butter. It is also pickled.

North American cooking

Ostrich ferns, known locally as fiddlehead ferns, grow wild in wet areas of northeastern North America in spring. Fiddleheads are a traditional dish of northern New England (especially Maine) in the United States, and of Quebec, Ontario and the Maritimes in Canada. The Canadian village of Tide Head, New Brunswick, bills itself as the "Fiddlehead Capital of the World." Fiddleheads are also exported fresh and frozen. They are typically steamed or boiled before being eaten hot, with hollandaise sauce, butter and lemon or vinegar, or chilled, in salad or with mayonnaise.

For the Maliseet, fiddleheads were considered to be medicinal as well as a foodstuff and were gathered in quantity during the relatively brief season before they unfurl.

To cook fiddleheads, it is advised[4] to remove the brown papery husk before washing in several changes of cold water, then boil or steam them. Boiling reduces the bitterness and the content of tannins and toxins. The Centers for Disease Control associated a number of food-borne illness cases with fiddleheads in the early 1990s. Although they did not identify a toxin in the fiddleheads, the findings of that case suggest that fiddleheads should be cooked thoroughly before eating.[4] The cooking time recommended by health authorities is 15 minutes if boiled and 10 to 12 minutes if steamed.[4] The cooking method recommended by gourmets is to spread a thin layer in a steam basket and steam lightly, just until tender crisp.

Fresh fiddleheads are available in the market for only a few weeks in springtime, and are fairly expensive. Pickled and frozen fiddleheads, however, can be found in some shops year-round.

In Maine fiddlehead ferns mostly of the Matteuccia struthiopteris species are picked in the spring time and often sold.

Health effects

Fiddleheads contain various vitamins and minerals, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are a source of antioxidants and dietary fibre.[2] They are low in sodium, but rich in potassium, which may make them suitable for people who need a low-sodium diet.[5]

Fiddleheads may harbour microbes, and should be washed and cooked before eating.[2]

Many ferns also contain the enzyme thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine. This can lead to beriberi, if consumed in extreme excess.[6]

Further, there is some evidence that certain varieties of fiddleheads, e.g. bracken (Pteridium genus), are carcinogenic. It is recommended to fully cook fiddleheads to destroy the shikimic acid.[7] Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is not thought to cause cancer,[8] although there is evidence it contains a toxin unidentified as yet.[9]


  1. C.Michael Hogan. 2010. Fern. Encyclopedia of Earth. National council for Science and the Environment
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Agriculture Canada Study".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "WESTERN SWORD FERN (Polystichum munitum)".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Fiddlehead Safety Tips". Health Canada. 2013-04-11. Retrieved 2014-05-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  6. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  7. Carcinogenicity of bracken and shikimic acid. I. A. Evans and M. A. Osman, Nature, 26 July 1974, volume 250, pages 348 - 349, doi:10.1038/250348a0
  8. "Possible Hazards of Eating Bracken Fern". New England Journal of Medicine. Massachusetts Medical Society. Retrieved 26 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Ostrich Fern Poisoning -- New York and Western Canada, 1994". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 11 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Lyon, Amy, and Lynne Andreen. In a Vermont Kitchen. HP Books: 1999. ISBN 1-55788-316-5. pp 68–69.
  • Strickland, Ron. Vermonters: Oral Histories from Down Country to the Northeast Kingdom. New England Press: 1986. ISBN 0-87451-867-9.
  • Barrett, L.E. and Diket, Lin. FiddleMainia. WaveCloud Corporation: 2014. ISBN 978-1-62217-164-4.

External links