Fiddlehead Ferns

Matteuccia Struthiopteris

AKA: Ostrich fern, shuttlecock fern


Many ferns in their immature state can be considered fiddleheads due to their tightly coiled fronds, but we are specifically talking about Ostrich ferns. Most other fern species vary from inedible to not recommended to toxic.

Fiddleheads are often one of the first plants to start coming back to life in the spring, shooting up in groups of nice green vertical shoots, furled up kind of like a pinwheel. The fronds should be tightly curled and will likely have a brown papery husk on them. You may not notice the stem on some as they are still very close to the ground. They will have a little groove or “trough” that runs along the inside stem.

Coolness Factor:

Fiddleheads are rich in omega-3 and 6 fatty acids as well as vitamins and minerals including A, C, B3, magnesium, potassium and phosphorous.

Where Found:

Fiddleheads prefer lower land areas, often next to swamps, streams, river banks and muddy areas.


Timing is crucial for fiddleheads! They grow rapidly and will go from a perfect little furled up delicious fiddlehead to a tall expansive fern in only days. In the Midwest, late April and May are usually about right, but it is recommended to check your spots regularly once Spring hits!

Also, while this fern is very populous, it is still recommended that you harvest no more than half of the fiddleheads of any given plant to ensure it continues to live and grow for future years. If you can resist being greedy, you will have fiddleheads for many years!


Peel off the brown papery covering as present. Some will still have a thin layer on them and others it will be flaking off. Rinse as necessary to get any dirt or bugs off.


After cleaning, you can either proceed either right to sauté with butter and/or oil, or blanch first and then sauté. Blanching/boiling will soften them and therefore be less fibrous. Many folks will liken them a bit to asparagus or green beans.

Steaming fiddleheads is also a good method.



Most folks recommend doing a quick blanch with your fiddleheads prior to preserving. After cleaning, blanch in boiling water, dry and then freeze.

Pickling is also a good option but should be done after cooking.

Look Alikes:

Cinnamon fern – similar in most respects to the edible ostrich fern but with one HUGE dead give away… it is covered in white fuzz!