Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead Glamour

Fiddlehead ferns are one of spring’s most elusive goodies. The are available for about three weeks in May (as in right this second), and are generally harvested in the northeastern United States. A fiddlehead is the tip of an unfurling Ostrich Fern frond, quickly snapped off with the flick of the wrist by professional foragers in the wild. If you see some growing in the woods near you, take care. There are many other ferns that resemble the Ostrich Fern, some of which are considered to be carcinogenic, like the Bracken Fern. Unless you have a guide with you, leave the collecting to the professionals and pick some up at Whole Foods. They cost $6 a pound in Boston.

Their flavor is mild, and perhaps most closely resembles asparagus, and asparagus is the best substitute for the ferns. Some also say they are similar to green beans and artichokes. They are pleasently crunchy with a nutty, slightly bitter bite, which is why you’ll see so many fiddlehead recipes calling for butter and salt. Treat the fiddleheads like asparagus tips and you can’t go wrong. If you really want a treat, serve them up with some morel mushrooms; their season coincides almost exactly with the ferns and they pair well.


There are a few things you need to know about preparing fiddleheads. Most importantly, eat them immeditely. Fiddleheads do not keep well, so you should try to use them the same day you buy them. You can keep them covered for a few days in the fridge, but their flavor diminishes quickly and they will spoil soon after that. Do yourself a favor and eat them as soon as possible.

To prep the fiddleheads, any leftover “silk” should be removed. The silk is a thin, brown, papery covering that resembles a peanut casing. Most of this is taken off before distributors put them up for sale, but there are always remnants that need to be removed. You can rub it off with your fingers; I prefer to do it in a bath of cold water. Rinse them in a bowl, gently agitating them with your fingers and pouring off the water until it is free of particles. Drain well and pat dry.

People argue about how you’re supposed to cook fiddleheads. Health officials recommend that you boil them for 15 minutes or steam for 10-12 before eating. Why? Because fiddleheads have been associated with certain unpleasant G.I. sicknesses. However, the same article references three sources that claim that Ostrich Fern fiddleheads are safe to eat in any state, raw or cooked.

Personally, I have always lightly cooked my fiddleheads and I have never had an issue. If I had to boil them for 15 minutes to eat them, I wouldn’t eat them at all! The delight of fiddleheads is their delicate taste and toothsome crunch – boiling them for that long would destroy all that I love about this tender green. You should do whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Herbed Lemon "Butter" Pasta with Fiddleheads


  1. Alex Kahn

    A friend of mine recently foraged for fiddleheads and got the wrong type of fern. They looked good, but even after boiling, they were way too bitter and gritty to be tasty.

  2. greengate

    Hey Sweetie Lolo, this fiddlehead entry is gorgeous. Here in Wisconsin, I have harvested and cooked this treat in a cooking class.
    They are just right with pasta — I can almost taste the deliciousness emanating from your pics. Wonderful entry!

  3. Trina

    That’s beautiful. I have always been so intrigued by fiddlehead ferns. They’re so cool looking, and it makes me crazy to think of plant things that I’ve never eaten. Thank you for this helpful piece.

  4. Sandy


    That’s all I have to say.

    Maybe it wasn’t fiddleheads that made me sick, but if it was, you don’t want it.

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  6. mikelanders

    i found fiddleheads and ramps at a market in philly that i sell cookies to. u made me have to buy them even tho they were super expensive. they ended up giving me some for free so it worked out. Have u tried ramps? They are my favorite geen thing. Its a wild onion member, tastes like a mild scallion with the spiciness of garlic. I sauteed them together and ate them over soba noodles with sesme oil. Ramps rule!

  7. Steamy Kitchen

    Now I feel stupid. All this time, I refrained from coming to your blog because I LOVE meat. I would have felt like an illegal alien lurking in the shadows…and that’s just creepy, stalkerish.

    I promise not to bite and not mention my addiction to assorted animal proteins.

  8. ashley

    i saw fiddlehead ferns for the first time a few weeks ago at a food convention and was really intrigued. i didn’t know anything about them at all, and thanks to your post i now don’t feel so lost. :)

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  10. bam

    I have several ostrich ferns growing in my yard and would love to try some of these recipes with the fiddleheads but i have one concern—when you pick these off,are you stunting its growth for that year or hurting the plant in any way?do the tips grow back right away? any info would be appreciated!! THANKS!!!!

  11. Emily Adamson

    For bam… from my research, I believe the rule of thumb is to pick no more than three fiddleheads from each fern, in order not to hurt it or stunt its growth. For Joe, fiddleheads are usually available at farmer’s markets, specialty food stores or if you don’t live where they’re grown locally, you can buy them online at (this is where I work and we get them locally). As far as cooking fiddleheads, after boiling, make sure to throw them in an ice bath to retain the pretty emerald green color.

  12. Bryan

    My Mom talks of these ferns and I have been trying to get some but can not find anyone who ships to the west coast. Awsome pics!!!

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  14. DaBlu

    I picked some in the woods around Lake George yesterday. Dredged them in flour and sauteed them – served them with fresh home make Lemony Dill mayo for lunch today – A wonderful annual treat

  15. andrea

    we own a home in waterville maine.

    part of the property is bog-like and there are thousands of ostrich fern. just 2 weeks ago, one of our neighbors was selling FIDDLEHEADS for $3 a lb.

    since we are only weekend residents, the fiddlehead seller was shocked to see that we arrived early and saw hi HARVESTING his crop from our land.

  16. Deborah

    I would like to know where I can go on here to order some fiddleheads, I live in Mich and I know I use to drive to Canada to a store there to get them fresh or frozen and now I can’t drive so I was wondering where I can go on here to find out about ordering some from here.

  17. Katiebee

    My husband and I LOVE fiddleheads and wish we could have them year round. I wonder if you can blanch them and then freeze them? Has anybody tried this?

  18. yvonne

    I saw receipe where it said to blanch/simmer for a few min , drain and rinse then back in pot they go with fresh water cook as desired. Said it got the bitterness off. Also someone said to me that they thought it was illegal to pick in NYS?? does anyone know if that is true? Hey with price of food going up , foraging may become the thing to do

  19. Seattle Suz

    29. Katiebee:
    That’s the preparation used when I was introduced to these lovelies 20 years ago in Maine. I’ve been ISO since and occasionally am rewarded. Like right now- The Mr. found some at the Eugene OR Trader Joes and I couldn’t wait long enough to blanch and freeze. Yum, indeed!

  20. Dennis

    Just bought a few handfuls of these in Fairway in Manhattan last night. Jeepers! They’re expensive. But I have a great memory of eating them up in Vermont years ago, so whenever I see them, I try to reproduce that experience. Haven’t done it yet.

  21. Nicole

    In other countries, fiddleheads are steamed in water and get sun dried over two days or so. In those countries these are never eaten immediately. :)

  22. Daryl Ann

    I read that the best/safest ferns (Ostrich ferns) are easily identifiable because they’re the only fiddlleheads with hairless stems. True? Next spring, I’ll be hunting for them! I know we’ve got them here in the U.P. (Michigan’s upper peninsula), but in the sringtime I’m never sure which fiddleheads are the good ones.

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  25. Sarah

    I think it is a risk not to boil your fiddleheads – they can make you sick (see Sandy’s comment) – and then you will be sad, even though it is pretty and springtime out.

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  27. Jim

    Few notes from a lifetime fiddleheader. Pay through the nose or find your own. Look alongside rivers, streams and brooks as the spring water runoff receeds. Can be found about any shady spot though, I have them growing on the northside of my barn! The best are found in a spot that’s absolutely miserable and wet to try to get to, wear gum rubbers and lots of fly dope. Some things to look for, Ostrich’s will be the only fern out there with a deep groove in the stem. No hair/fur. Brown ‘paper’ shells. Beware any ferns with hair, and/or those with round stems. I blanch mine for about two minutes, then freeze them in quart freezer bags. Never had a problem. Best cleaning method I’ve found: Give each fiddlehead a short burst with a garden hose. This dislodges dirt, bugs and brown stuff quite nicely.

  28. Mary

    I have a Peterson field guide for edible wild plants and aparently I have maybe fifty ferns growing in the backyard here in Maine. Fiddleheads that is. I had never tried them before, we just bought this house in November so this was a bit of a surprise.
    I think I cooked them enough…….I sauteed them in olive oil and salt and pepper with a little butter for flavor and made an omelette with them.Thanks for the article, I had no idea they were so popular. My favorite wild food is still moose.

  29. bev

    We have been eating fiddle head ferns for years, around this part of NYS we always refered to them as brake greens,(don’t really know where that name came about. It is not illegal to pick them in NYS as far as we know. The season here starts around the middle of may for areas that get a lot of sun, but sometimes we get lucky and find a spot that has other vegetation growing that “hides” the fiddle heads from the sun so if one spot is gone, we move to another. We have blanched and frozen then, the same way you would do with anyother similar type of vegetable according to the Ball Blue Book. Also, my sister has canned some, just like any other vegetable. I was amazed by the comments, that they are sold in stores! I have taken them to work to show my friends and they seem to think they are disgusting looking, “they look like worms!” Also, when we eat ours, we add butter and a little bit of cider vinegar! YUMMY! Have a recipe for fiddle head quiche but have yet to try it.

  30. nathan olson

    Just picked about 45 pounds to freeze, can, pickel. Always love this time of year in the minnesota northwoods. Morels are almost ready… Yum

  31. sandra brown

    Every year I cut the ferns back because they take over.I have thrown them in piles & they will still grow. I didn’t know you could eat the tips until today. I have so many of these plants ,wish I knew how get rid of them. Can’t wait to start cooking!

  32. sandra brown

    Just steamed them about 5 min or less ,then sauteed them w/ olive oil & garlic. They were good!!!!!!!!!

  33. Jack Simpson

    While teaching at the American-British Academy in Muscat, Oman, I found frosen fiddleheads processed by McCains. Im from northern Maine where they thrive and I can’t tell you how happy I was to find them in another corner of the world. They were delicious!

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