What Are Fiddleheads, Anyway? (2024)

When you hear the word "fern," many things might come to mind. An elderly aunt, for example, or perhaps a generic houseplant or a bit of greenery in a woodland. Rarely would your mind immediately land on delectable spring produce. But for those in the know, tightly curled fern tips called fiddlehead ferns or fiddleheads are a delicacy worth seeking out. In recent years, they have become much more widely available at farmers' markets and grocers like Whole Foods, which is terrific! That is, if you know what to do with them once you buy them. Read on to find out what fiddlehead ferns are, how to cook fiddleheads, what to do with cooked fiddleheads and more.

What Are Fiddleheads?

Fiddleheads are the new-growth shoot tips of the ostrich fern, sometimes referred to as fiddlehead ferns. They are named for their scroll-like appearance, which hearkens to the tip of a violin or fiddle. Harvested in spring, these green curls are delicious when prepared properly.

Where Do Fiddleheads Grow?

Ostrich ferns grow mainly in New England and Canada, but can be found in other areas with wild woodlands that tend toward damp environments. The new shoots, which are the edible fiddleheads, will emerge from the loamy soil often near riverbanks or in swampy or marshy areas, beginning usually in late April, and will continue to appear through early June.

How Do You Identify Fiddlehead Ferns?

If you are not an experienced forager, your best source for fiddleheads will always be a reputable farmers' market or local produce purveyor who is sourcing through trained foragers. Not all ferns are edible, and some can be toxic or even contain carcinogens, so as with all wild foodstuffs, you will want to err on the side of caution.

The shoots of the ostrich fern are one of the most commonly consumed fiddleheads in the U.S. If you want to learn to forage for them, begin with hiring a guide or herbalist to show you what to look for. They will emerge from the forest floor in clumps of at least four and will be a bright lime green with brown papery scales. They will also have a defining deep groove on the underside of the stem. You should harvest just the coiled tips once they have gotten to be a couple of inches tall, and before they begin to unfurl. If you are foraging, be sure to leave at least half of the fiddleheads attached to each clump—if you harvest all of the tips on a plant you will kill it.

Where Can You Buy Fiddleheads?

Your best sources for fresh fiddleheads will usually be a farmers' market or grocer that carries specialty produce, like Whole Foods Market.

How to Store Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads, like much spring produce, are very delicate, and should be prepared within a week of purchase. Store in the fridge in an airtight container or plastic bag with a damp paper towel to keep them from shriveling.

How to Clean Fiddleheads

As with any foraged item, a good cleaning will be important before you cook, especially since fiddleheads grow in damp soil. To begin, gently wipe off any remaining brown papery scales from the sides of the fiddlehead, since those are inedible. You can just pull them away, or wipe them off with a damp paper towel. Then put the fiddleheads in a bowl of cold water and swirl them around to remove any dirt, grit, sand or insects. Lift them from the water, dump out the dirty water and rinse out the bowl. Repeat two to three times until you see no more debris in the water.

How to Cook Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads need to be cleaned and cooked before eating them. Once cleaned, trim any browned or shriveled parts from the stem end. You can then steam the fiddleheads for 10 minutes or boil them for 15 minutes. If you want to sauté them, it's recommended that you steam or boil the fiddleheads first.

What Do Cooked Fiddleheads Taste Like?

Fiddleheads are often described as having a flavor that is sort of halfway between asparagus and mild broccoli stems. They have a wonderful verdant vegetal flavor with a hint of bitterness that is terrific with all sorts of dishes. Cooked fiddleheads often need nothing but a gloss of butter or fruity olive oil, and some seasoning to make them shine, but they also play well with lemon and fresh tender herbs like chervil, chives or tarragon, and they are good pals with other springtime produce like morel mushrooms, early-season peas, asparagus, ramps and artichokes. Try cooked fiddleheads in light pasta dishes or risotto, and with eggs in quiches or frittatas or omelets, and once cooked, they can also be chilled for use in salads. Or try our recipe for .

What Are the Health Benefits of Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads contain vitamins like A and C and some omega-3 fatty acids, as well as fiber, making them a nice addition to a healthy diet. They are low in calories and carbs and contain some protein.

Bottom Line

If you have never tasted a fiddlehead, and you spot some at the market, give them a try. For most people, once you have enjoyed these unusual treats, you will begin to look forward to their brief season all year long.

What Are Fiddleheads, Anyway? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Reed Wilderman

Last Updated:

Views: 5623

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Reed Wilderman

Birthday: 1992-06-14

Address: 998 Estell Village, Lake Oscarberg, SD 48713-6877

Phone: +21813267449721

Job: Technology Engineer

Hobby: Swimming, Do it yourself, Beekeeping, Lapidary, Cosplaying, Hiking, Graffiti

Introduction: My name is Reed Wilderman, I am a faithful, bright, lucky, adventurous, lively, rich, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.