What are Fiddleheads?
All ferns can be called Fiddleheads, but only the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) is considered to be an edible delicacy vegetable. They are perennial (and pop up along with Dandelion Greens every Spring), grow fast and are harvested before the fronds have opened to their full height. They've a unique earthy flavor and sometimes compared to having an asparagus or a spinach flavor.
In the Spring (late April through May), the dark green, tender curled heads of the fern begin to emerge from their pods/crowns. Housed in a light brown papery chaff they burst out of, Fiddleheads are pinched or snapped off close to the ground (with a stem of about 1 1/2" long). Pods are never picked completely - leaving 2 or 3 fiddlers on the pod ensures its' survival. The coil & stem are smooth and never furry or fuzzy. The stem will be grooved on the inside somewhat. Fiddleheads should always be rinsed several times in ice cold water to clean & keep them crisp, then steamed or boiled (approx. 15 min) & never eaten raw.
Once fully opened, the Fiddlehead fern (sterile fronds) can grow quite tall and is absolutely stunning - some people "naturalize" their gardens with wild Fiddlehead ferns, they are so beautiful.
The dried brown stalks that look like feathers, one might see on the banks, are the previous year's fertile fronds from the Fiddlehead plant (not all pods produce this "fertile" spore bearing frond) and an indication of Fiddlehead pods.
Where do you find Fiddleheads?
Fiddleheads can be found growing along sandy river banks, floodplains, streams, as well as at the edges of wetland areas in the forest.
You can buy fresh picked Fiddleheads (depending on where you live) at your local produce markets, roadside stands throughout New Brunswick, Quebec, the New England states, and at most grocery stores in May.
Up over the river bank.
Fiddleheads popping out of the pod.
Dried fertile spore bearing Fiddlehead fronds.
How do I store my fresh Fiddleheads and how long will they last?
Vacuum-packed Fiddleheads will stay crisp and green for up to three weeks in your fridge. Submerging them in ice cold water in your fridge, with a change of water every two to three days, will keep them fresh for up to three weeks or more as well.
When I was a boy, my parents kept the Fiddleheads in onion bags in our ground spring (which was also our drinking water) for up to two months after Fiddlehead season. If Fiddleheads are kept in ice cold running water, they will stay fresh for a long, long time.
In our part of the country, our grocery stores display Fiddleheads in large plastic barrels with a constant supply of fresh running water. You simply scoop them out of the barrel with a dip screen and let them drain a few seconds. This is how all grocery stores should keep the Fiddleheads they sell, to retain their freshness and spring green color. Fiddleheads that are displayed in regular open bins, in the grocery aisle, will turn brown, limp and dry out from exposure to the air.
This is a picture of the dried fertile fronds of the Ostrich fern after it has released its spore.
Unlike other types of ferns that dry up and fall to the ground, the fertile fronds of the Ostrich fern will remain standing for years.
These fronds are sometimes harvested for dried floral decorations. When searching for Fiddleheads in the spring, we look for these standing fronds as indicators to tell us that there are fresh Fiddleheads in that area.
According to scientists, Fiddleheads are well on their way to being the next Super food.
Nutritionally, the Fiddlehead is similar to spinach, which we know as being "a good for you" vegetable, explains Dr. DeLong. The total antioxidant activity in Fiddleheads is twice that of blueberries, adds Dr. DeLong. Unlike spinach, Fiddleheads contain EPA omega-3 fatty acids, as well as high concentrations of antioxidants. Both omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants have proven to have anti-inflammatory properties, which make them very useful in the treatment and prevention of many diseases. The unique fatty acid and antioxidant composition of ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) Fiddleheads.