Wildcrafting Fiddleheads

Cinnamon ferns are named for their spore fronds, which appear later in the year.

I have lived in New Hampshire for twenty years now, and have only gotten around to looking for fiddleheads this year. I’m not sure why – I certainly wildcraft enough with other things, both obvious and obscure. Partly I believe it is because they are only available for a few weeks, if not days, in early spring. And also because unlike most of my other wildcrafting, I have had no mentor. I use my field guides extensively, and have quite a collection of wild eldible guides at this point in my life, but for fiddleheads… well, the most charitable word I can use is vague. And I will not feed my family foods that are identified vaguely. Here on Stonycroft we have close to a dozen species of fern, and up until yesterday I didn’t think we had the edible kind. Glady and I took a walk, and I was taking pictures. Then I spotted what looked like the Ostrich Fern fiddleheads and decided I would bring a few up to the house for identification and inclusion into dinner.

Christmas Ferns remain green year-round

An unidentified fern, I will have to go back later to put a name to it.

The two types of fiddleheads I collected.

Back at the house, I delved into my books, and the internet for pictures and descriptions of edible fiddle heads, and realized that the little guys on the right in the above picture were correct. I had found them growing in a damp, shady area below an active spring. It was still cool enough there to have them tightly enough curled to harvest. Fiddleheads are edible, fern fronds are not. I discarded the wrong ones, and threw the handful of good ones, with a little cleaning off of the papery caul, into my pad thai for dinner. Along with some dandelion leaves.

Pork Pad Thai with rice noodles and fiddleheads.


Whose Mouth First Puckered?


This photo was taken last year, but I was talking to Dad about Rhubarb yesterday and it got me thinking. Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated with wild edible foods. I learned what I could eat, what I wanted to eat (not always the same thing!) and how to safely identify those plants. In my Dad’s Air Force Survival Manual, I read about the techniques you can use to identify unfamiliar wild plants. They read something along the lines of taking a bite and holding it in your mouth, then spitting it out and waiting to see if your mouth went numb or tingly. So now I want to know… who, confronted with a lush, lovely rhubarb plant, tasted the stems and decided it would be just yummy cooked with lots of sugar?

The leaves and roots of rhubarb are not at all edible, and I’d be willing to bet a bite of oxalic-acid loaded rhubarb leaf would most emphatically make your mouth both numb and tingly. Only the stems are edible, and eaten raw out of hand will make you pucker like few other substances. Yet they have become a beloved part of our spring ‘fruit’ line-up. I personally make rhubarb jams, pies, and cakes every spring. We have a 60 foot long bed of rhubarb in the garden. I have found old farms that have no standing buildings by the still -thriving clumps of “pie plant” that always grew near the kitchen door. So far as I know there are no records of who first tried rhubarb, or what the results were. Too bad – I’ll bet it was a fascinating tale!

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