Wild Edibles: Fiddlehead greens

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

Fiddlehead greens

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!

fiddlehead_on_fork_1

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.IMG_1738

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
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Wild Edibles: Sweet Fern

Perhaps after a few days in the woods you’re getting a little tired of the Peppermint Tea that you packed for your canoe trip and are looking for some variety, or you just like to sample from what nature has to offer.  One of my personal favorite beverages (herbal infusions) in the wild is steeped Sweet Fern leaves.   This time of year is best as the leaves have already dried on the plant so the flavour, when steeped, comes out immediately, and they are easy to harvest.

Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina) is a deciduous shrub with fern-like leaves that reaches about 2-3 feet high (the Peterson Field Guide to Edible Plants describes it as 3-5 ft tall although I have personally never seen it grow that tall in my region).  It grows best in dry soil so you will tend to find it growing right along side blueberries and service berries.  The autumn is the best time to harvest Sweet Fern as the leaves have dried on the plant and are easily picked.  Just grasp the stem gently and drag your grip up the stem pulling the leaves off.  You can have enough leaves for several pots in a matter of seconds.  Stuff the leaves into a zip-lock bag and take it back to camp.

For a quick look at how easy these leaves are to collect have a look at my very short youtube video.

Preparation is easy.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove from heat.  Place a handful of dried leaves into the water and allow to steep for 3-4 minutes and serve.  I generally pour using the pot lid as a strainer, either that or you can just pick the leaves out of your teeth later (it’s camping, no one’s looking).

Yes, earlier in the season you can harvest the green leaves.  While camping I might dry the green leaves briefly over the fire so that the flavour is more potent once steeped, but you can use the green leaves fresh as well.

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

Happy trails!