In Ojibwe, waagaagin, ostrich fern is the usual fern called fiddlehead. It’s a traditional dish in Quebec and New Brunswick and the sprouts are a delicacy called kogomi in Japan. It’s the first fern in our edible and medicinal plants series!

Growing 2-6 feet tall, this popular fern may even be found in grocery stores around here when they are in season. Not to be confused with cinnamon and interrupted ferns, which have woolly coverings and are much less palatable. The fiddlehead of the ostrich fern is glossy or may have a very fine fuzz or powder on it. Not all ferns with fiddle-shaped heads are edible. The stem is U shaped, somewhat like celery. The best way to get familiar with the appearance is to join virtual foraging groups. You’ll be inundated with pictures if you’re active (in May), and it won’t be long until the fiddlehead is familiar to you.

Edible Uses of Ostrich Fern (Fiddleheads)

Ostrich Fern (Fiddleheads) - Matteuccia Struthiopteris
Ostrich Fern (Fiddleheads) – Matteuccia Struthiopteris

The fiddlehead coils taste somewhat like asparagus. Harvest when the fronds get 6-8 inches tall. You can remove any brown scales, but you don’t have to.

If you take more than 3 coils from a plant you might kill the rhizome, so be sure to conserve the patch. (The rhizome is also edible once peeled and roasted.) If you share your dish on the aforementioned foraging groups, be sure the location tags are off on your camera. There are people who swoop in and cull entire areas of edibles like this.

While disputable, it’s recommended you boil fiddleheads for at least 10-15 minutes. They freeze and can well too.

Rich in vitamins A and C.

Medicinal Uses of Ostrich Fern (Fiddleheads)

Ostrich Fern is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Reproductive

Medicinal tags are rather vague in this instance. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the leaf stalk base from sterile fronds used in a decoction for afterbirth. Common is probably not the most apt word. Fiddleheads have a few seemingly random medicinal uses attributed to them.

Alternative Uses of Fiddlehead Fern

It’s also a popular decorative plant!

Growing Fiddlehead

And as a popular ornamental plant, you can probably find it at a local nursery.

Warnings

Not all ferns with fiddleheads are edible.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored. Herbalists do not have an official certification yet, but that may be in the works.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

REFERENCES

wiki/Matteuccia

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants

The Edible Wild

Field Guide to North American Edible Wild Plants

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

Ontario Nature Guide

Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada

The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

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