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All about “Fern stick”

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Nutritional value of fiddlehead

  Fern crosses, boiled, drained, 100 g / about 125 ml
Calories 34
Protein 4.3 g
Carbohydrates 5.7 g
Fat 0.4 g
Dietary fiber 1.9g
Glycemic load  : No data available
Antioxidant power  : No data available

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File , 2010.

Health profile of fiddlehead


The fiddlehead , also called the violin head , is a little gem of wild, refreshing greenery that appears very early in the spring . It is particularly rich in proteins and the carotenoids it contains provide antioxidant effects . It must be picked and tasted sparingly.


The benefits of fiddlehead

Several epidemiological studies have shown that a high consumption of vegetables and fruits decreases the risk of cardiovascular diseases 6 , certain cancers 7 and other chronic diseases , 2,8 . The presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could play a role in this protection.

What does the fiddlehead contain?

A protein-rich vegetable
The fiddlehead contains a particularly high amount of protein compared to other vegetables. For the same weight, it contains about 2 times more protein than asparagus, cauliflower and broccoli, and up to 3 to 4 times more than turnip, carrot and lettuce. It should however be noted that the proteins contained in vegetables are incomplete, that is to say that they do not contain all the essential amino acids in the body.

The fiddlehead contains carotenoids, including alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. The carotenoids are compounds having properties antioxidant , that is to say they have the ability to neutralize free radicals in the body. The consumption of foods rich in carotenoids is linked to a lower risk of suffering from several diseases, such as cancer 9 and cardiovascular diseases 10 , although some results are controversial 3. No study has determined the effect of the consumption of fiddlehead in humans, but its carotenoid content, undoubtedly has an advantage for health.

Phenolic compounds
The phenolic compounds present in the fiddlehead are largely involved in its high antioxidant capacity 4 . The fiddlehead contains mainly caffeic acid (a compound also present in coffee, but different from caffeine) and homoserine. Caffeic acid is found in several fruits and vegetables whose antioxidant action has been well demonstrated 5 . Homoserine has a potential for neutralizing free radicals equivalent to that of caffeic acid 4 . It should be noted that no clinical study has been carried out on the antioxidant effects of fiddlehead.

Main vitamins and minerals

Excellent source Manganese Fern stock is an excellent source of manganese .
Excellent source Copper The fiddlehead is an excellent source of copper .
Good source Vitamin A (thiamine) Fern stock is a good source of vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene .
Good source Vitamin B3 (niacin) Fern stock is a good source of vitamin B3.
Source Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) The fiddlehead is a source of vitamin B2 .
Source Vitamin C The fiddlehead is a source of vitamin C.
Source Iron The fiddlehead is a source of iron for humans only.
Source Magnesium The fiddlehead is a source of magnesium for women only.
Source Phosphorus The fiddlehead is a source of phosphorus .
Source Zinc The fiddlehead is a source of zinc.



An unidentified natural toxin is present in the fiddleheads. To avoid the possibility of poisoning, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends taking certain precautions while preparing them (see Recipe ideas ). The symptoms of poisoning can occur from 30 minutes to 12 hours of consuming fiddleheads. They can result in diarrhea , nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headache. It is recommended that you consult a health care practitioner if such symptoms appear after consuming fern stick. Symptoms usually go away after 24 hours, but can last up to 3 days.

Recipe ideas

Preparation of fiddleheads

Basic rules to avoid intoxication

Most people don’t seem to have trouble digesting fiddleheads. However, there have been several cases of gastroenteritis in recent years , each linked to improper cooking. An indeterminate toxin is believed to be the cause of these temporary discomforts.

To avoid them, it is recommended not to consume raw fiddleheads , and to follow certain basic rules for their preparation.

– Shake them vigorously in a plastic bag to loosen the brown scales that cover them.

– Wash them well , changing the water a few times.

– Cook them for 10 to 12 minutes in boiling water or steam. This first cooking is essential even if you then intend to sauté, fry or place them in the oven.

– Discard the cooking water, as it may contain the toxin.

Trick to keep them green

To soften the fiddleheads and keep their beautiful green color, add a little baking soda to the cooking water.


Fiddleheads sauteed with sesame
  • Season -the simply a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice and serve with wild rice.
  • Make them come back , as is done in Matapedia, in a little butter and serve with poached salmon.
  • In salads . After cooking them, refresh them in ice water and wring them out.
  • Present them on canapes with cream cheese.
with fiddleheads
  • In soup, cream or velouté . Season with curry or the spice of your choice.
  • Cook them in tempura with other vegetables and, if desired, seafood.
  • Add them, with leeks, in omelets , soufflés and quiches. Season with nutmeg.
  • Coat them with a sauce made of tahini, mustard, miso, garlic and yogurt. Mix the ingredients and mount in olive oil, like a mayonnaise.
  • After cooking, marinate them for a few hours in the refrigerator with finely chopped sweet onion and a vinaigrette. If desired, serve with a boiled egg and chopped chives.
  • Make a pesto by blending them with olive oil, nuts, lemon juice and garlic.
  • Serve them on pasta after adding them to a sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, mushroom slices, onion, garlic and pine nuts. Cook for about 15 minutes.
  • Prime them with young seasonal vegetables (baby carrots, green onions, peas) and morels. Bring each of the vegetables to a boil, keeping them firm, then simmer them all together in vegetable or chicken broth. Add the morels (soak them if they are dried), thyme, bay leaf and garlic. If desired, bind with a little cream at the end of cooking.
  • Add to the muffin batter or serve in the pancakes with a béchamel.
  • Daring gourmets make it ice cream .

Choice and conservation

To choose

The fresh sticks , which are found on the market in May and June, must be firm and very green. Their brown scales must be present. Wash them only when ready. Frozen or marinated stocks are available year-round.


Fridge. Two days. Wrap them in paper towels and put them in a plastic bag.

Freezer. Blanch them for 2 minutes in boiling water, refresh them in ice water, drain them and put them in a freezer bag. Be sure to cook them well when preparing them.

The little history of fiddlehead

Common names: ostrich fern stick, Matteucie stick, violin head.
Scientific name: Matteuccia struthiopteris.
Family: polypodiaceae.

The term ”  stick  ” designates the bishop’s pastoral staff, the upper end of which curls in a volute, as does the curved part of the violin . By analogy of form, it has come to also designate the frond (curled leaves still wound on themselves) of the fern in its first stage of development. For the same reasons, the latter is called the ”  violin head  “, especially in Quebec. In Europe, the preference goes to ”  fiddlehead  “. The ostrich fern gets its name from the resemblance of its leaves to the feathers of this bird.

The Ferns are ancient plants that grow on all continents and there is no doubt that human beings consume ever since their young fronds spring. This habit is well established in Scandinavia, Central Europe, Russia, Asia, as well as in the United States and Canada. They are part of the traditional diet of the Amerindians who, at a time when modern conservation methods were non-existent, appreciated their value all the more because they had access to them only for a few weeks in the spring. In fact, as soon as the sling unrolls and opens out, it ceases to be edible.

Not all fern species are edible, some being toxic , others possibly carcinogenic . In Canada, it is the most commonly harvested and commercially available ostrich fiddleheads . They are recognized by their brown scales rather than silver. For the past 20 years, the popularity of this local product has grown steadily, so that Canada now exports it to the United States and Europe.

Organic gardening

The fiddlehead is cultivated without much difficulty, but it is necessary to have a lot of space , because it is a plant with large deployment. It multiplies by root division or by sowing spores. We will establish it in a shaded part of the garden or north of the house, and we will ensure that it never runs out of water. On the other hand, it readily dispenses with fertilizer. Space the plants 60 cm to 90 cm apart. The fern produces 4 to 8 fronds annually. Pick less than 50% of the fronds each year.

Ecology and environment

The growing popularity of fiddleheads with consumers since the 1980s could seriously endanger wild populations . In Quebec, more than 70,000 kilos are harvested each spring 11 . Two researchers from the Department of Biology at Laval University studied the impact of this intensive harvest . They were able to observe that the removal of more than 50% of the fronds from the same plant led to a reduction in its starch reserves and its yield the following year 12 .

There is currently no legislation limiting the intensity and frequency of picking fiddleheads . In order to prevent, in the more or less long term, the disappearance of the species, we tried to cultivate it , but the results turned out to be disappointing. For the moment, this culture remains expensive and its financial profitability has not been demonstrated. The survival of the species therefore rests essentially on the will of the gatherers to discipline themselves and to respect the limits imposed by nature. The researchers recommend taking a maximum of between one third and one half of the fronds of each plant to ensure the sustainable use of this resource 12 .

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