Spring in North America is high season for fiddleheads, the sprouts of a new fern stalk that has not yet unfurled it's fan of leaves. Fiddleheads are a wild, lush, crisp vegetable very high in antioxidants, they are incredibly plentiful and easy to find all over the world.
I was lucky enough to be invited for a walk with a friend at her cottage near the treeline on the mountainside of Vancouver, British Columbia's North Shore. A trail near her home proved to be excellent ground for foraging for fiddleheads. The variety we were collecting is Bracken Fern, a different variety from the perfectly coiled rosettes you may have seen in the supermarket, instead Bracken Fern has several bunched tight coils at the top of the stalk.
Once collected, Bracken fiddleheads must be soaked in water overnight to wash away the rusty fuzz and bitter coating. This variety is very popular in Asian cuisine, and can be prepared by steaming, sautéing, boiling, or can be preserved by drying, salting, or pickling. They are often reported as having twice the anti-oxidants as blueberries.
Some types of ferns are not edible and Bracken Fern has small amounts of a chemical that is a carcinogen in large doses, it's classified at the small level as coffee in terms of it's cancer causing properties and not considered harmful in small servings. Both of these points have led to some confusion and fear of this amazing wild and edible plant. So if you do want to forage for your own fiddleheads, it's probably best to head out with a guide who can teach the you correct variety and to enjoy them in moderation.
Photos from left (by Kathryn Wright): 1. Detail of Bracken fiddlehead on the trail 2. Mature Bracken Ferns 3. A Bracken stalk about to emerge from the ground 4. A view of Vancouver from the trail 5. Detail of a Bracken Fiddlehead