Cooking Fiddleheads The Easy Way || Simple Side Dish For Spring

Today, we’re cooking fiddleheads the easy way. This tasty fern frond is a really great simple side dish for spring. So, let’s get familiar with it … shall we?

cooked fern fronds on a dish

For the most part when one refers to fiddleheads, they are referencing the fern frond gathered from the ostrich fern. But it is important to take note that there are other fiddleheads out there. And there are some people who gather and eat those types as well.

I’m not familiar with any of them, and will be writing this post solely on the frond of the ostrich fern.

Can fiddleheads make you sick?

Yes, fiddleheads can make you sick. Most wild foods, even those considered safe to eat, can cause symptoms of food borne illness if they are not properly prepared.

It is my understanding that these instances are rare. And I personally have never had an issue with consuming well-identified wild harvested food. But I am always careful to research preparation guidelines and follow any precautions I find.

With that said, it is important to note that the first time you eat any wild food you should go lightly on the portion and see if it settles well with you.

It is also important to note that fiddleheads need to be thoroughly cooked. Many recommend boiling them for 10-15 minutes before cooking them for this very reason.

I do not boil them before I sautee them. I feel like boiling them negates most of their flavor.

Although, I do make sure they are cooked well. I never eat them until they are nice and tender.

You must use your own discretion concerning whether or not you want to follow this recommendation.

When is this wild food in season?

Fiddleheads are best known as a springtime delicacy. And, now that I’ve been up in northern Maine for a few years, I found that this spring they were on my mind.

3 fern fronds lined up in a row on a table

My mouth was watering in anticipation. They are a wild food I truly enjoy.

I read somewhere once that this tasty little wild delicacy can be harveted in the fall as well. However, I don’t believe that’s true of northern Maine. I’m not even sure where I read that. Maybe it was but a dream.

Best to expect to enjoy them as an early spring treat only.

What do fiddleheads taste like?

I’m always a little hesitant to answer this question about wild food, or any food really. I feel like the answer is highly subjective. Two people can taste the very same dish and yet have different descriptions of what they’re tasting.

garlic press, garlic, and spices set out on a table

When I first ate fiddleheads, I thought they tasted much like asparagus. That’s what I tell people now when they ask, because it is the closest comparison I have.

However, now I really just think they taste like fiddleheads. I’m sure you’ll have your own opinion.

So …. I googled it to see what others think and here’s what I got … fiddleheads taste like one or a combination of the following; spinach, broccoli, green beans, artichokes, and asparagus.

Hmmmmmm … best to just try them for yourself!!!

They are not just another green veggie. I can tell you that for sure. They are an exceptionally tasty treat.

Are they good for you?

Fiddleheads are good for you. They are very good for you.

overhead view of cooked fiddleheads on a dish on a table

If the fact that they are a widely accepted wild food is not enough to make your brain go … ‘give me some’, than here is a list of some of the good for you things that fiddleheads contain …

  • vitamin A
  • vitamin C
  • potassium
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • fiber
  • copper
  • iron
  • manganese
  • niacin
  • antioxidants

Wild food eaten shortly after it has been harvested contains optimum levels of nutrients. This is true of all food.

So, if you are gathering your own fiddleheads eat them shortly after bringing them home. And if you are going to process some of them and put them up to eat later in the year do it as quickly as you can.

How to clean fiddleheads

Local folks where I live have the cleaning process for fiddleheads down pat. I admittedly have no idea what I’m doing.

uncleaned fiddleheads in a bowl on a table

This year is the first that I’ve had to clean them and it went poorly at best.

Fiddleheads have little papery husks on them that need to be removed before cooking. It looked too time consuming to me to pick those husks off by hand.

So, I threw the fiddleheads in some water thinking that most of the husks would float to the top. That’s not what happened.

The water filled with husk ‘floaties’ and they stuck to EVERYTHING. They didn’t necessarily rinse off the fiddleheads though because as you pulled them out of the water the wet husks stuck to them too.

I got as many of them off as I could since I was sitting there looking at a bucket full of fiddleheads immersed in water anyway. I felt I should make the most of it.

But ultimately I ended up rinsing each one individually by hand. This worked really well. It just took A LOT of time.

I know that local folks somehow rig up drums from washing machines to clean them. I’m not certain how they do that, but it seems I should find out.

I’ve heard that one of the ways they do this is to suspend the washing machine drum in a free flowing stream, and allow the running water to turn the drum, while simutaneously washing away the husks.

Sounds great to me! Perhaps next year I’ll do just that. This year I am missing both a free flowing stream and a washer drum!

Can fiddleheads be frozen?

Fiddleheads can be frozen. As a matter of fact, I don’t know of a better way to preserve them. And it’s so easy to do.

a dish of fern fronds

Blanching them before you freeze them is the way to go. This is done by dropping them in boiling water for 2 minutes, then straining them, and allowing them to cool.

You can then pack them in freezer bags and toss them in the freezer.

And when you find yourself feeling like you want to eat a little spring sunshine on a plate, pull a bag out and enjoy!

Because fiddleheads aren’t around for very long each year, it is in your best interest to put some up to last you at least through the summer season.

How to cook fiddleheads

Cooking fiddleheads is quickly becoming a highlight of my spring season up here in northern Maine. It’s something to look forward to for sure.

cooked fiddleheads on a dish

And it can take just minimal effort. Or if you prefer it can be a bit more involved, a labor of love if you will.

The simplest way to cook them is to toss them in a pan with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh garlic. Then sautee them until they are tender.

Once they are cooked through, pour a minimal amount of red cooking wine in the bottom of the pan (just enough to cover it) and allow that wine to steam up through the fiddleheads, imparting it’s incredibly decadent flavor as it does.

That’s it. So simple. So delicious!

You can also boil them until they are cooked through and then use them in omelets, stir frys, and wraps. They make a great addition to any style pasta sauce. And they can be breaded and deep fried as well. Serve them this way with a really great dip as an appetizer … YUMMY!

If you cook fiddleheads in your area of the country let me know what your favorite way to prepare them is in the comments. I’m new to this and would love the opportunity to learn from others.

If you have never cooked them before, but this post has inspired you to do so, drop in the comments and let me know how it goes for you. It would be great fun to share this new experience with other ‘fiddlehead newbies’!

To learn about wild harvesting these delicious spring delicacies, I’ve included a link to an article by the University of Maine Extension Program here.

pinnable image for fiddleheads


  1. We grew up on fiddleheads. My mom foraged for them every spring. I thought they tasted a lot like spinach. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. I have never heard of eating these! I’m not sure we have them native here in Ohio, but I am definitely going to check into it! Thanks!!

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