Can You Eat Ferns? – Read this Before You Try

Published Categorized as Journal

Can you eat ferns safely? The answer may surprise you. Whether you’re in a survival situation and have nothing else to eat, or you’re feeling adventurous and want to try your luck at sampling nature’s free food, there’s information you should know before attempting to eat a fern plant. In today’s post, we will discuss whether or not ferns are edible, how to identify edible ferns, how to prepare them, and much more. So, let’s get started. 

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Table of Contents

can you eat fiddlehead ferns

Can All Ferns Be Eaten?

Which Ferns Can You Eat?

While it is safe to eat certain kinds of ferns, it is important to note that not all ferns are edible. Some ferns can prove toxic and even ferns that are edible should be prepared with care to ensure they won’t pose risks to your health. 

The kinds of ferns that can be eaten by humans are ferns that have “fiddleheads”. It is this fiddlehead portion of the plant that is edible for humans.

The following types of ferns are generally considered safe for human consumption: 

Most ferns are found near a water source and only contain fiddleheads for a short time during their growth period. If left untouched, the fiddlehead portion of the fern will uncoil and turn into a full-grown fern. In their coiled state, however, this portion of the fern can be eaten, and are especially tasty when the shoot is only a couple of inches high as this renders them more tender.

Can You Eat Ferns?

How Can You Tell If a Fern Is Edible?

How to Identify Edible Ferns

Ferns that are edible are best identified by their coiled fiddleheads which should appear bright green in wet or shady locations. 

Fiddleheads or fern stalks that contain black spots or white hairs should be avoided. Rather, you should go for fiddleheads whose stalk contains a deep groove in them and resembles the stalk of a bare celery stick before considering eating the fiddlehead. 

Moreover, edible fern fiddleheads will have a thin, brown, crispy, and scale-like covering that will be covering or falling off them. This is another good sign that you’ve found an edible fiddlehead fern.

Can You Eat Ferns?

Are Ferns Poisonous to Eat?

Though many ferns are indeed edible, there are some ferns that may be dangerous to human health. Ferns are particularly threatening to farm animals and pets, as they may produce a different reaction in these animals than they would humans. 

To err on the side of caution, we recommend you avoid eating ferns with black spots and with white hairs, and that you look for the deep groove previously mentioned in the plant’s stalk. Moreover, remember to only eat the fiddlehead portion of the fern after preparing it correctly (as we will explain later) in order to avoid the unsavory effects of having eaten a raw fern. 

What Happens If You Eat Ferns?

If you eat ferns that are properly cooked from the species of ferns that we’ve already mentioned (Lady Fern, Bracken Fern, and Ostrich Fern) then it is likely that nothing negative will happen to you. 

Still, it is important to place special emphasis on the correct preparation of the plant. Improperly preparing your cooked ferns can lead to food poisoning because of various bacteria and viruses that may be lurking on the plant.

Cooking kills bacteria, and therefore, it is important to avoid eating fiddleheads raw when you can.

Can You Eat Ferns Raw?

We recommend you avoid eating raw ferns as doing so may expose you to certain bacteria and viruses that could make you very sick. In addition, ferns are much tastier when sauteed with seasonings rather than eaten straight.

If for any reason, you happen to be in survival mode and need to eat fern fiddleheads uncooked, do your best to soak them first as doing so, especially with fiddleheads found on a Bracken Fern, may limit exposure to ptaquiloside (PTA), a harmful carcinogen often found in fern plants. 

Can You Eat Fiddleheads From Any Fern?

Can You Eat Fern Fiddleheads?

Most fiddleheads are considered safe for consumption. However, there are some that may be toxic to humans.

We recommend you look for ferns fiddleheads that are light green in color, that have a u-shaped groove in their stalk, that are bare (contain no hairs or black spots), and that are part of the Bracken Fern, Ostrich Fern, or Lady Fern species.

You’ll also want to look for the brown papery thin covering falling off of the fiddlehead portion of the plant, as this is also a good sign that you’ve found an edible fern.

Can You Eat Ferns?

What Do Ferns Taste Like?

You may be surprised to learn that edible ferns have a unique, complex, and delicate taste similar to many of your favorite green vegetables. When properly prepared, tannins from the plant are removed and result in a tender and mellow tasting delicacy that’ll please your taste buds.

For example, the Bracken Fern is described as tasting like broccoli, spinach, and asparagus– all in one! Lady and Ostrich ferns may taste like a blend of almonds, kale, and asparagus. If these flavors suit your fancy, then you are in for a real treat when consuming fern fiddleheads.

Note: At the end of this article, we’ll be sharing with you our favorite way to prepare fiddleheads, and trust us, you won’t be disappointed! 

Which Part of a Fern Plant Could Be Eaten By Humans?

The part of a fern that is safe for human consumption is the fiddlehead portion. This is the coiled part of the fern usually found at the top of the plant. The fiddlehead will be bright green and may be covered by a brown paper-like scale. 

How Do You Eat Fiddlehead Ferns?

To eat a fiddlehead fern, you’ll first want to ensure proper harvesting. 

When picking your fern, look for fiddleheads only 1-2 inches above the ground as these tend to be the most tender. Snap the fern at around one inch below the coiled fiddlehead.

 If there are fiddleheads around the ones that you’ve harvested, be careful not to damage them, as these will produce new fiddleheads at the next harvest. Damaging or harvesting all fiddleheads at once will no longer produce a harvest next season.

Once harvested, it is time to prepare your fiddleheads. This can be done in a variety of ways including sauteing, boiling, and steaming. When doing either of these methods, be sure to cook thoroughly as cooking can reduce tannins, PTAs, bacteria, and viruses from the freshly picked plant. 

Can You Eat Ferns?

Fiddlehead Fern Recipe

Sauteed Fiddlehead

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups of rinsed fiddlehead ferns
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil (or our favorite cooking oil)
  • A dash of lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic (minced)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter (optional)

Directions:

How to make Fiddlehead Ferns

  1. Boil

    Before sauteing your fiddleheads, you’re going to want to boil them to tenderize them. To do so, place your ferns in a pot of boiling water and allow them to cook for 7 minutes or until tender. Drain the water and remove them from the pot.

  2. Fry

    Heat your oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add your ferns and quickly cook them along with your salt, pepper, minced garlic, and lemon for about 3-4 minutes.

  3. Serve

    Once slightly browned and cooked through, stir in your pat of butter (if using) and serve. 

Boiled Fiddlehead

To boil your fiddleheads, simply fill a pot large enough to cook the number of fiddleheads you desire to cook and bring it to a boil. Salt the water generously, and add your fiddleheads to the pot. Boil the fiddleheads for 10-15 minutes, depending on the amount of fiddleheads you are boiling, before draining and serving. Add additional salt, pepper, and other seasonings such as lemon juice or butter as you see fit, according to your taste preference. 

Steamed Fiddlehead

To steam fiddleheads, place them in a steam basket with water and steam for 10-12 minutes until tender. Once fully steamed, you may toss the fiddleheads in olive oil and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, garlic, and add a dash of lemon juice according to your taste preference and the amount of fiddleheads cooked. 

Can You Eat Ferns?

FAQs

Can You Eat Christmas Fern?

Christmas fern fiddleheads can be edible. But you’ll want to boil them for 10-12 minutes before consuming them to remove any bacteria, toxins, or other harmful compounds from the plant first. 

Can You Eat Fern Shoots?

Fern shoots are called “pohole” or “hō’i’o” in Hawaiian culture, and are in fact edible.

Can You Eat Ferns? Surprisingly…Yes!

Most fiddleheads on ferns are safe for consumption as long as you follow proper protocol when cooking them. When harvesting fiddleheads, always look for bright green color, brown hulls, and a bare, u-shaped groove down the center of the fern stalk. 

If you are able, always do your best to cook your fern fiddleheads thoroughly as this greatly reduces any chances of viruses or bacteria entering your body. Allow the fiddleheads to cook well until completely tender, usually around 10-12 minutes depending on the method of cooking used. 

Hopefully, you’ve found this helpful… until next time!

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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