Growing Ostrich Ferns for Fiddleheads

Do you have a damp spot where nothing seems to grow? Ostrich ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) are very hardy (to Zone 2) and grow well in shade or even sun if they have enough moisture. They can grow as tall as six feet in ideal conditions, but are often smaller. They compete well against other plants, so they make a good ground cover for difficult locations, although they can become invasive.

For the edible landscaper, the early spring shoots of the ostrich fern, called fiddleheads, are considered a delicacy. They are especially popular in the spring on the East Coast. Although the fiddleheads of several types of ferns are eaten, those of the ostrich fern are considered the best-tasting and safest to eat. 

When the shoots emerge from the crown of the plant, the tops are curled like the scroll of a violin (hence the name fiddleheads). Harvest them when the tops are still tightly curled, and before the shoots are more than a few inches tall. Fiddleheads harvested too late become tough and unpalatable.

Although sometimes eaten raw, there is some speculation that raw fiddleheads can cause stomach upset or food poisoning. They are generally considered safest to eat after being cooked until tender (steam or boil for about ten minutes). Serve as a side dish with butter, or prepare according to your favourite recipe for a unique springtime dish!

14 comments:

  1. Yum! Here in Nova Scotia we love fiddleheads. I'm glad to have found your blog! Where are you located - just how far north are you? I look forward to reading more of your posts. :)

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  2. I see fiddleheads all the time in the grocery stores here in spring time. I've never ventured to eat them however.

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  3. I love the look of these ferns in the spring. When they start unfurling, they grow very quickly. The lush growth looks so good in the early spring garden, when most plants are not very tall yet. They end up looking a little tired by fall.

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  4. Nancy, thanks for the comment! I garden in Edmonton, which is as far north as I've ever lived.

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  5. Do people know to wash them under the garden hose to get out the gold paper, instead of picking it out? Totally necessary to be tasty, and much easier.

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  6. Do fiddleheads grow in Alberta?If not where do peopl in Alberta buy them?

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  7. As far as I know fiddlehead ferns don't grow wild in most of Alberta. If you want to purchase them, you will probably need to try a farmer's market or specialty store. The best way to ensure that you have some for eating would be to grow them yourself - they are fully hardy here and are not too difficult to grow if you have a mostly shady spot with moist soil.

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  8. Fiddleheads grow northwest of Edmonton between Edson and Whitecourt. They also transplant fairly well, they will definitely grown around the Edmonton area.

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  9. We just planted some fiddleheads in our garden. I presume we should let them get established before harvesting - but how long? Can we harvest next spring? And how many fiddleheads (i.e. what percentage of each plant) can we harvest?

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  10. Angela - You should make sure your plants are well established before harvesting from them, probably not before their third year in your garden. I planted some last spring and the largest might be ready to harvest from, but the others are not. I may try next year. You probably should harvest no more than half of the fiddleheads produced by each plant (usually about 3). This should allow the plant to continue to grow well. If a plant seems less vigorous than it should be, don't harvest from it for a year. I hope this helps!

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  11. Hi Cassandra, I am also gardening in the north, Red Rock, Ontario to be exact. It is located on the north tip of Lake Superior. I harvested some wild fiddleheads today and about a week ago. Some of them are about a meter high now. The pickings have slimmed down but there are still ferns yet to emerge from the ground. I have had success here establishing an asparagus bed this spring so the thought occurred to create an ostrich fern bed too. Two great early, and best of all perennial, spring harvests. Check out my blog, its just getting going, at http://permafarmer.blogspot.com/
    May your soil be rich.

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  12. I forgot to mention that were also absolutely delicious! I boiled them for 4 minutes and then sauted in grapeseed oil a bit of butter and some minced garlic. Then added a dash of salt and pepper and squeeze of lemon. Que Rico!

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  13. Never ate the fiddleheads, might have to try it. My ostrich ferns have done well this year.

    Ostrich Ferns Gone Wild

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  14. Likewise, it ought to be left for a really long time presented to the sun as it can make the hose extend or get harmed in the warmth. Once the watering is done it ought to be reeled in and put away in its appropriate place. https://www.homyden.com/best-pruning-shears/

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