Spring is off to a bit of a slow start this year which means you may not have missed your chance for a tasty spring time delicacy, the Fiddlehead.
Fiddlehead greens are the tightly curled, young shoots of the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They first appear from late April to early May, depending on your location and weather. Look for them in moist or wet soils, especially along the banks of creeks, rivers and swamps, throughout Ontario, the Maritime provinces and Northeastern United States. Other varieties in your area may be toxic, so get to known your plants!
When harvesting, choose Fiddleheads that are no more than 6-8inches tall, beyond that they begin to get tough/fibrous and lose their delicate flavour. Cut plants close to the ground and take only a couple from each plant (clump of Fiddleheads) to allow the plant to continue producing. Remove the brown skin, if present, and boil in one change of water until tender. Serve with butter.
So if you need another great reason to try spring camping besides avoiding the crowds and the bugs here it is – first dibs on a true delicacy. I picked these along a beaver dam just south of the Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, at the end of April last year. They were delicious, nutritious and free!
Here are two great resources to bring on your hikes to help you with plant identification:
• Forest Plants of Central Ontario; Lone Pine Publishing
• Peterson Field Guides – Edible Wild Plants, Eastern/Central North America
As with any wild plant:
- harvest/consume only those that you can identify positively
- when in doubt ask an expert in the area
- Learn to distinguish from any similar poisonous plant (if applicable)
- Sample sparingly at first to gauge individual sensitivities/allergies
- Understand which parts of which plants may be consumed as many edible plants have toxic parts/structures
- Harvest only when/where abundant
- Do not harvest plants that are endangered or in need of protection