Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Equipment | Techniques | Cookbook Disambiguation Pages | Ingredients

Fiddleheads, also known as fiddle greens or crosier,[1] are the coiled growing tips of ferns used as a vegetable.[2][3][4]



All fiddleheads emerge from the ground as tightly coiled green shoots—hence the name[1][2]—with tiny immature leaves.[4] The flavor is unique and vegetative, being somewhat like asparagus, green beans and artichokes.[5][6][7] The texture is pleasantly chewy, with a slight crunch.[8]

However, despite the general similarities and visual appearance, note that there are several commonly available species.[2]

Ostrich fiddleheads

Ostrich fern


Generally speaking, ostrich fern fiddleheads are considered the safest for consumption,[3][5][9] though they are still quite toxic when raw. These fiddleheads have a stem with a u-shaped groove running up the length—they are not rounded.[9][10] They have a brown papery covering, not an all-over white or woolly coating.[9][10] These ferns are common from the American midwest to the east.

Cinnamon fern


Cinnamon ferns are often mistaken for ostrich ferns, though they are easy to tell apart if one knows what to look for. Their fiddleheads have silver to white hairs on the surface.[2]

Lady fern


These fiddleheads are those most commonly eaten in the American Pacific Northwest and West Coast.[11]

Bracken fern



Bracken ferns fiddleheads, also called fernbrake, warabi, or gosari, look slightly different from the others above. They have brown scales and a flavor described as "nutty".[7] Significantly, bracken fiddleheads are disputed as a food source, as many sources consider them carcinogenic and recommend against eating them at all.[3][7][9][12] Certainly, as with all fiddleheads, bracken should never be eaten raw.[12] Some sources say that bracken may be safe as long as it is well-prepared (i.e. sufficiently boiled) and only occasionally consumed.[12]

Reconstituted bracken

In Korea, bracken fiddleheads are pre-cooked, then dried for long-term storage. They are then typically reconstituted by repeated boiling and soaking before use.[13]



As a seasonally foraged vegetable, fresh fiddleheads are only available in the spring.[1] During the off-season, fiddleheads are only available in preserved forms, like dried,[13] canned,[2] or frozen.

Selection and storage


If foraging for fresh fiddleheads yourself, make sure that you can confidently and positively identify them—not all fern species are safe to eat.[6] The best way to ensure this is to identify a mature patch of ferns the year before and then return during the following sprouting season.[2] You'll want to pick tightly-coiled fiddleheads with a firm texture and bright green color under any external covering.[1][4][9][10] Avoid shoots that are significantly unfurling, as well as any that are yellowed or wilting.[4][9][10] Harvest the shoots by snapping or cutting cleanly with a knife. Do not harvest more than half of the shoots from a given crown, and harvest only from crowns that have at least four shoots total—taking too many will kill the fern in the long term.[14]

Fresh fiddleheads should be eaten quickly,[9] although they may be stored for a couple days, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator.[1][9] If you want to freeze them, briefly blanch them before doing so.[1] Dried fiddleheads can be stored in an airtight container away from light, heat, and moisture.



Begin by removing any papery coating, scales, or hairs from the fresh fiddleheads.[2] With ostrich ferns, you should be able to simply rub it off with your fingers.[15] Next, trim off the base with a knife,[4][8] and scrape any protruding fronds from the sides.[8] Finally, submerge the fiddleheads in water and rub them gently to remove any residual debris.[4][9][15]

Due to their toxicity, fiddleheads cannot be eaten raw.[1][5] Even sautéing them from raw can be insufficient. As a result, they should be boiled or steamed first before further use.[16][17] When doing so, make sure the fiddleheads are not crowded in the pot,[17] and cook for at least 5–10 minutes—longer is safer.[1][5] Their texture is best when cooked to the safe minimum.[9] Brackens will require longer cooking, often with multiple changes of water.[2] Pickling fiddleheads is also an option.[6]

Korean-style bracken (gosari namul)

Fiddleheads are often prepared simply, either hot or cold.[2] The cooked fiddles may be sautéed or dressed very simply, much like young asparagus.[4][6] Served with real butter, and salt, some people also like to add a little cider vinegar. In Korean cuisine, bracken is often stir-fried or made into a banchan.




  1. a b c d e f g h Kipfer, Barbara Ann (2012-04-11). The Culinarian: A Kitchen Desk Reference. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-544-18603-3.
  2. a b c d e f g h i Lyle, Katie Letcher (2016-09-15). The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts: Finding, Identifying, and Cooking. Falcon Guides. ISBN 978-1-4930-1864-2.
  3. a b c Gibson, Mark (2018-01-04). Food Science and the Culinary Arts. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-811817-7.
  4. a b c d e f g Gisslen, Wayne (2015-03-12). Essentials of Professional Cooking, 2nd Edition. Wiley Global Education. ISBN 978-1-119-03072-0.
  5. a b c d "Everything You Need to Know About Fiddlehead Ferns". Food & Wine. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  6. a b c d "Pickled Fiddlehead Ferns Recipe". Serious Eats. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  7. a b c Davidson, Alan (2014-01-01). Jaine, Tom (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acref/9780199677337.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-967733-7.
  8. a b c "How to Prepare Green Spring Produce". Serious Eats. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  9. a b c d e f g h i j 707360569313722 (2020-02-24). "How to Cook Fiddleheads, the Vegetable That Tastes of Spring". Food52. Retrieved 2024-07-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. a b c d Bergo, Alan (2013-03-14). "Fiddlehead Ferns: Identifying, Harvesting and Cooking". Forager | Chef. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  11. Bergo, Alan (2013-03-14). "Fiddlehead Ferns: Identifying, Harvesting and Cooking". Forager | Chef. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  12. a b c "On the edibility of fiddleheads". Elisabeth C. Miller Library. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  13. a b Maangchi. "Fernbrake (Gosari) - Maangchi's Korean cooking ingredients". Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  14. "Bulletin #2540, Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads, Matteuccia struthiopteris - Cooperative Extension Publications - University of Maine Cooperative Extension". Cooperative Extension Publications. Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  15. a b Canada, Health (2011-04-12). "Food safety tips for fiddleheads". Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  16. "Ostrich Fern Poisoning -- New York and Western Canada, 1994". Retrieved 2024-07-20.
  17. a b "Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads - Cooperative Extension Publications - University of Maine Cooperative Extension". Cooperative Extension Publications. Retrieved 2024-07-20.