When you walk down the produce aisle of your grocery store, you see a lot of familiar fare. Potatoes, broccoli, carrots, they're all there. Once in a while, you see some exotic stuff like bok choy or rutabaga. But if you crave variety, something really gourmet, here's a treat you can grow in your own yard. You just may not recognize it as food, or at all. We're talking ostrich fern, or, more specifically, the baby fronds of ostrich ferns that are just about ready to open up in the spring. They're called fiddleheads.
About Ostrich Ferns
Ostrich ferns sprout in the spring in woodland areas. That's when epicureans get excited. Foragers harvest the fiddleheads for restaurants, some as far away as Japan. The taste is a mix between asparagus and mushrooms. The plant is very hardy, and can tolerate Zone 3 temperatures, shade, full sun, and wet or dry soil. Ideal conditions would be dappled shade with moist soil. You can enjoy big ostrich ferns, which can grow to 6 feet, in your shade garden after you harvest your fiddleheads.
Growing Ostrich Ferns
This is one easy plant to grow. It can grow up to 6 feet high, and is hardy to zone 3. You can grow it in full sun, almost full shade, wet or dry soil. If your soil is sandy, add a little compost and your fern should do fine. All you need to do to help it become established is to keep the ground moist. You can find nurseries online that sell ostrich ferns. Just remember that digging them up in the wild to transplant is generally discouraged and may be illegal.
You want to harvest fiddleheads before they open up into fronds. Fiddleheads don't grow back, so always leave a few for the plant.
Fiddleheads have a scaly membrane, which you scrape off under running water. Then simply sauté, steam, or boil them. If they seem dry for your palate, prepare your favorite sauce. You can find a simple fiddlehead recipe here. By the way, fiddleheads are a source of many minerals, including potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc, and copper.