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Fiddleheads are primarily a New England and Pacific Northwest spring delicacy that you might be lucky enough to see in farmer’s markets and on some restaurant menus in early spring.

They are young, wild fern fronds that have not yet opened and must be picked during a two-week window before the fern unfurls.

Fiddleheads are named for their appearance, which resembles the scroll at the head or top of a fiddle. The ostrich fern is one of the New England species that produce these edible shoots with a divinely unforgettable texture and taste that’s even better than fresh spring asparagus.

Fiddlehead foragers tend to be environmentally conscious folks who honor the unwritten ethic, which is to take only three violins tops out of the five to nine fronds per growing season. This restraint prevents jeopardizing the fern’s survival and next year’s crop.

If we are very lucky, we might find some fiddleheads available in restaurants during this year’s American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS) meeting in Boston the last week in April.

They are my most favorite wild-gathered food, and a perfect mental and physical antidote to most everyone’s excessively GMO-laden vegetable intake.

Wild Fiddlehead Ferns with Garlic and Herbs

Ingredients

  • One pound fiddlehead ferns
  • One or two garlic cloves, peeled and minced.
  • Two or more tablespoons of fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, or basil)
  • One or two tablespoon olive oil and squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Directions
Wash the fiddleheads. Remove any fuzz found in the curl. Blanch fiddleheads for five to six minutes, plunge into ice-water bath to retain color, drain and dry in a salad spinner or on paper towels.

Heat oil in large skillet, add garlic and sauté until golden, add fiddleheads and fresh lemon juice, and stir until just soft with a bit of crispness still left. Taste often so you don’t overcook.

Add herbs, salt, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Nutritional Information
Fiddlehead ferns are low calorie, wild edibles that include both omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, and vitamins A, C, D, and B12. The minerals included in this wild plant are calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, and the Biosyntrx staff

A slightly different type of fiddlehead ferns are available in Hawaii year round. A few are now being shipped to the West Coast on a fairly regular basis.