How to Cook Fiddlehead Ferns


Fiddleheads are the young, tightly-coiled leaves of the ostrich fern. Although all types of ferns technically have fiddleheads, only those from the ostrich fern are safe for consumption. They are considered a delicacy in areas where the ostrich fern grows natively, particularly in Maine. Edible fiddlehead ferns are identified by the papery brown scales that cover their coils. They can be harvested from the wild or purchased in spring for cooking.

Step 1

Brush off the fiddlehead ferns to remove any dirt or external debris. Trim the "tail" of the fern so that it's the same length as the coil.

Step 2

Immerse the fiddlehead ferns in a large bowl filled with cold water. Swirl the water with your hands and rub the ferns gently to remove the papery brown scales from the outside.

Step 3

Remove the fiddleheads from the bowl. Rinse well under cool, running water and set them aside on paper towels or a clean cotton cloth.

Step 4

Fill a saucepan about halfway full with water, add a dash of salt and bring to a rolling boil. Add the fiddlehead ferns to the water and boil steadily over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, just until tender.

Step 5

Remove the pan from the heat and strain by pouring the contents of the pan through a fine-mesh strainer. Serve the fiddlehead ferns immediately or refrigerate for up to two days.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not harvest fiddlehead ferns from the wild unless you are accompanied by an experienced professional. Only the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are safe to eat. Other fiddlehead ferns may cause illness. Do not eat fiddleheads raw, as they are slightly bitter until cooked and may cause an upset stomach if too many are eaten raw.

Things You'll Need

  • Large bowl
  • Paper towels or cotton cloth
  • Saucepan
  • Salt
  • Fine-mesh strainer


  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Facts on Fiddleheads
  • "Joy of Cooking"; Irma von Starkloff Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker, Maria Guarnaschelli; 1997
  • "The Arrows Cookbook: Cooking and Gardening from Maine's Most Beautiful Farmhouse Restaurant"; Clark Frasier, Mark Gaier, Max Alexander, John Kernick; 2003
Keywords: fiddlehead ferns, fiddleheads, fiddlehead

About this Author

Willow Sidhe is a freelance writer living in the beautiful Hot Springs, AR. She is a certified aromatherapist with a background in herbalism. She has extensive experience gardening, with a specialty in indoor plants and herbs. Sidhe's work has been published on numerous Web sites, including