Tuesday Edible – Steamed Fiddleheads: Archived 2011

Day two of wild foods extravaganza!

Tonight we decided to go for a more native plant that is growing in our back yard. The beautiful and rather controversial edible, bracken fern fiddleheads.

Bracken fern or Pteridium aquilinum can be found in many of Eugene’s coniferous forests and have deep rhizomes underneath the soil. Each year the fiddleheads come up out of the ground in Spring and (right now is perfect fiddlehead season!) then die off in the fall leaving behind fern skeletons to eventually decompose.

Harvesting fiddleheads is fairly simple. The little shoots are surprisingly hard to find as they are skinny and are dark green to purple in color so they blend in well. However if you look for the fern skeletons of the previous season you will find the little plants growing up in the same area because of the underground root system. Clip the stem a couple inches below the unfurling leaf. Be sure that the leaf is still well curled as this is the time when the plant is most edible. If you see the leaf beginning to take shape then leave those plants – you may be too late in the season.

To prepare the plant put a couple of inches of water in a pot, place the heads inside and let them steam for 4-5 minutes. You may add whatever topping you would like to suit your taste. We added butter because the fat really helps with the bitterness. I was really surprised by the taste. On first bite I was struck with the bitterness not unlike asparagus, however the after taste strongly resembles anise. Very interesting! We shared our fiddlehead meal with a very tasty baked chicken.

Caution: Bracken fern is not known for acute poisoning however it has been researched and noted that after mass consumption or regular consumption people have been more susceptible to cancers. The leaves are generally thought to be carcinogenic though this will take time to accumulate in ones body. In countries like Japan fiddleheads are consumed on a regular basis as a good food. Eating this plant raw can cause a deficiency of Vitamin B1 which causes the body to reduce its thiamine levels however cooking it is believed to eliminate the problem. The ironic thing is that I read that bracken has been eaten as a treatment for cancer…ahhh plants.

As always approach eating wild edibles with caution. Every body is different so start slow and monitor your body’s reaction to the foods you consume. Have fun with it but understand the risks.

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