CALABOGIE HIKER: Fiddleheads, Ostrich Fern (Spring Walk Series)


BLOG 8: Fiddleheads of the Ostrich fern (Pteretis pensylvanica) are a sure sign of spring for foragers. The young unfurled fern leaves are a proven delicacy in our region and can be very pricey at market. They will show up at your local grocery store soon and will likely come from fiddlehead farms of southern Ontario. Wild fiddleheads are free and far tastier than farmed varieties. Fiddleheads are quickly emerging right now in the Gatineau and Madawaska Highlands and can be found in rich, moist soil near riverbanks, streambanks and swampy areas. The fiddleheads above were found (and picked) along the Gatineau River. I was fortunate to pick some before the damaging flooding came to my area. As in the photo above, they seem to erupt from it's rootstock. The rootstocks burst with striking green fiddleheads and stand out from the decaying leaf litter. They are covered in brown paper-like scales that should be removed as you pick them. When you harvest the fiddleheads they should be under 6 inches tall. Ethically, you should find a large area full of fern rootstocks and pick only two or three fiddleheads per clump to guarantee the fern will come back next year. Be sure to follow your fern crop area for at least a year, simply because you are using it at a very young stage and need to ensure you have the right plant. It also buys you time to investigate if your ferns are growing in a safe, uncontaminated environment. The mature Ostrich fern can grow over 6 feet tall, with a circle of leaves shaped like giant feathers and looks similar to giant palm leaves. This fern is truly a site to behold and make our Canadian forests look like something out of the tropics. They are an awesome backdrop for hiking portraits because of the enchanting quality about them. You can eat your fiddleheads raw with a salad or boil them for 10-15 minutes. If you eat them raw please only eat a small amount less than two times a week because one of it's enzymes depletes vitamin B's from your system and you may suffer a stomachache. Boiling fiddleheads kills that enzyme. Pick them, remove the papery scales, wash well in cold water but do not saturate them. Pat them dry and refrigerate till ready to eat. Fiddleheads are full of nutrients ( Vits A, B, & C, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and antioxidants) so stream them or use very little water to boil them to limit the loss of their nutrients. Do not add salt to the water as this will kill the nutrients also...add the salt after cooking if need be. I toss in butter and add a little lemon juice. Hmm, time to go pick some for yourself.

(Sources: A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Lee Peterson. 1977 pp.232. Wild Edibles. Sergei Boutenko. 2013. pp. 138-141.)

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