Fiddlehead Ferns: A Vegetable with Character

Normally I steer clear of anything that resembles a caterpillar when it comes to what I’m eating. (Perhaps I shouldn’t start my post with a comment about insects and then encourage you to dive into a bath of fiddlehead ferns, but too late). Let’s just say the fiddlehead’s unique look shouldn’t be a complete turn off. Remember Mom always said not to judge a book by its cover…

Fiddlehead Ferns are one of spring’s most prized vegetables as they come and go in the blink of an eye.   Fiddleheads are actually young fern fronds that haven’t been opened yet and they must be picked within a two or three week window before the fern unfurls. So get your butt to the farmer’s market before spring’s delicacy veg quickly disappears off the shelves. Usually fiddleheads begin to pop up the beginning of April and may linger until May depending on the weather. When shopping for shoots keep an eye out for fiddleheads with tight coils and short tails. The uber-seasonal specialty should be brightly colored with no yellow or wilting.

The flavor of the little nibbles is compared to asparagus or okra with the delightful crunch of a green bean.  While strange looking, the green vegetable has some amazing nutritional benefits. Fiddlehead ferns are rich in vitamins A and C while also being chock full of other vitamins, minerals and macronutrients. The young ostrich fern is also fat-free and low in cholesterol.

How do you begin to eat this distinctive, coiled green? Fiddlehead ferns can be served raw or cooked, but the raw form may cause you some unpleasant stomach aches so cooking is advised. Remove the yellow/brown skin and then blanch the sprout twice (changing the water between boiling) to reduce bitterness and any toxins. Then cook the veggie with character the same way you would prepare asparagus. Really the possibilities are infinite, but here are some ideas to tantalize your taste buds:

  • Transform the springy fiddlehead ferns by sautéing them with a bit of garlic or compliment the grassy, fresh flavor by simply steaming the fiddleheads for about 5 minutes and topping with a bit of butter and pepper. If it is your first fiddlehead experience you may want to make a sauce to go with them like this horseradish scallion sauce that pairs nicely with the coiled up green.
  • Make a spin on eggs Florentine and serve the spiraled greens alongside your eggs and hollandaise sauce.
  • Fiddleheads are a fun addition to stir-frys, frittatas, quiches, risottos or pasta dishes like this light, spring shrimp and fiddlehead linguine.
  • You can’t go wrong with a fiddlehead fern ragout and all of its herby goodness.
  • Make a fresh fiddlehead fern and edamame salad that will definitely get you out of the “normal” salad rut and up your green intake.
  • If you can’t get enough of ‘em, freeze them in Ziploc bags or pickle the little buggers (no pun intended) so you can enjoy fiddleheads no matter the season!

The odd vegetable demands attention so your greens will automatically be coined gourmet when you have the versatile fiddlehead ferns on your plate. Or, maybe just encourage playing with your food because after all, the vegetable is named for resembling a fiddle. Either way…enjoy fiddlehead ferns while they are in season!

Have you ever tried fiddlehead ferns? Let’s chat about your experience and recipes!

Feature photo courtesy of GlennFleishman via Flickr (CC BY 3.0)
Photo 2 courtesy of kthread via Flickr (CC BY 3.0)
Photo 3 courtesy of Special*Dark via Flickr (CC BY-SA 3.0)


  1. They taste like asparagus and green beens!? ok that was all I needed to hear — done and done! Trying them stat! <3 Hopefully I'll be able to find them at my not-so-stellar grocery store! lol — thanks for introducing another new veggie to me!!!!

  2. Well, I am not into caterpillars either! In fact, I will take snakes before caterpillars…and I really hate snakes. However, I have to say that I love beautiful food and that dish looks gorgeous with those fiddlehead ferns on top. Hey, health benefits to boot, thats cool! Alas, I have never seen them here in the Pacific Northwest but if I run across them I will now know what they are and how to use them. Sounds like a fun adventure!

    • They are difficult to find as there shelf life is only a few weeks long, but I hope if you see them that you pay attention to a new green! So good to hear from you as always, Jana!

    • I know! That is why I said it may encourage playing with your food 🙂 Thanks for stopping by BSW. It is so great when readers say hello!


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