Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fiddlehead Season: Return of the Swamp People

Fiddleheads are in the shy stage of life pausing before unfurling into ferns. Ostrich fern (atteuccia struthiopteris) fiddleheads are edible, forragable, and pretty much free, if you know where to look.  They come up in April and May and like alluvial, sandy soil. In western MA, they have been known to grow near the oxbow or on the west side of the Connecticut River in the upper reaches of Hatfield. Usually water is near by. Be sure to identify the ostrich fern, which has smooth stems with a line down the inside and papery brown scales, as opposed to the ferns with a fuzzy white exterior. If foraging, get land owner permission (if possible) and refrain from harvesting more than half of the plant to insure re-growth. If you don't have a chance to forage, shy ferns have been spotted at River Valley Market and Serios Market in Northampton as well as Atkins in Amherst for around $4 per lb. Those who forage fiddleheads and bring them to the market are called the swamp people by certain sectors of society. It isn't the easiest way to make a buck.  

Health Note: Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamins A and C, niacin, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus. They are known to be 'clean the system' meaning that they can be tough to digest, depending on what kind of diet you maintain. Fiddleheads have a lot of fiber, as does asparagus which makes both good for you. As Michael Pollan says, eat food, mostly plants. This is pure plant.  (Drawing by Bobbi Angell)