Fiddleheads are the edible young fern fronds (crosiers) that rise from the plant each year in the spring. They are called fiddleheads because they are usually tightly coiled and resemble the head of a fiddle. Three edible fiddlehead species grow in the United States. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, is the species most commonly harvested and commercially marketed, but it does not grow in the Pacific Northwest. Bracken fern, Pteridium aquilinum, and lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina are the two edible fiddlehead species in the Pacific Northwest. The fiddlehead is and has been an important food and medicine for Native Americans, Asians, and many other people throughout the world. Other parts of these ferns, such as the rhizome are also edible, and the mature fronds can also be used in many ways.
After the necessary steaming or boiling fiddleheads are delicious sautéed in butter, fried
, made into soup, tossed into risotto (or pasta) or grilled. They are extra delicious paired with their seasonal buddies – morels (or other kinds of mushrooms) and ramps or spring onions. Fiddleheads pair nicely with new potatoes and eggs.
Fiddleheads of various species are also eaten in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indonesian, Hawaiian, Thai and Indian cuisines. In Korean cuisine, fiddleheads are eaten in a variety of ways: in bibimbap (a dish of rice, vegetables, eggs and sometimes meat
, traditionally made with bracken fern fiddleheads (gosari) or with royal ferns (gobi namul) or sautéed. The Japanese eat bracken fern fiddleheads (warabi) as a vegetable and in soup. Warabi can also be found in Hawaii, where it is used in dishes like this warabi salad. Indonesians make a dish called gulai pakis that combines fiddleheads with coconut milk, lemongrass and turmeric, while the Thais eat ferns (pak kood) in soups, salads and steamed. Fiddleheads of various species are also part of traditional Himalayan cuisine in India (called nigro or lingra); dishes include fiddlehead curry, a sautéed fiddlehead dish with cheese, fiddlehead pickles
, and served as a vegetable.
Bracken fern rhizomes (roots) are also eaten – they are made into a type of super pricy starch in Japan and were traditionally roasted in ashes by many Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest.