Fresh fiddleheads will soon be reappearing on grocery store shelves. Here are 11 facts about these springtime favourites:
1. Fiddleheads are essentially baby ferns
The delicacy is the tightly coiled fronds of a young fern. You can forage them from moist and shady areas, such as near rivers or streams, typically starting in April. They have a very short season, which is why they are often expensive.
2. All ferns have fiddleheads, but not all fiddleheads are edible
Steer clear of the fiddleheads from foxglove and bracken ferns, which may be toxic or carcinogenic. It’s ostrich fern fiddleheads that you’ll usually find on your plate.
3. Fiddleheads get their name from the scrolled shape at the end of a violin
They are also sometimes called a “crosier,” which is a stylized staff carried by bishops.
4. The “Fiddlehead Capital of the World” is located in New Brunswick
In the village of Tide Head, plentiful crops of fiddleheads can be found growing along the shores of the Restigouche River and its islands.
5. The largest commercial producer of fiddleheads in North America is located in Ontario
With thousands of acres to forage, Port Colborne’s NorCliff Farms has become famous for handpicking and selling wild fiddlehead greens.
6. Fiddleheads are rich in vitamins and antioxidants
Packed with iron, riboflavin, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, fibre, and vitamins A and C, it’s almost hard to believe that they can be found in nature for free.
7. Fiddleheads may also have magical qualities
Well, at least according to Shakespeare. In Henry IV, the character Gadshill the thief credits the “fern-seed” for rendering him invisible. (It’s also worth mentioning that some of the residents of Tide Head think that fiddleheads are responsible for a very different type of magic—one that results in higher than average birth rates.)
8. Fiddleheads have been consumed since well before Shakespeare’s time
The First Nations people in Western Canada have eaten them for centuries, as did Europeans in the Middle Ages.
9. Fiddleheads are popular worldwide
From Russia’s Far East, to Nepal, to Japan, they are eaten fried, roasted, and pickled. Their taste has been described as a combination of artichokes, asparagus, and pine nuts. The recipes are endless, but we think they are best fried with butter.
10. Fiddleheads should never be consumed raw or undercooked
While some recipes may call for the vegetable to be sautéed or fried, Health Canada advises that they should be steamed or boiled first.
11. The reason they should be steamed or boiled first? They can cause food poisoning
If fiddleheads aren’t stored, prepared, or cooked properly, they can make you very sick. So enjoy, but be careful.