Early spring is bursting with all its wild edible glory right now. The woods are filled with fiddleheads, trout lily, morel mushrooms, wild ginger, field garlic, dock and white lettuce leaves. The fields have violets in bloom for salads and sunshine yellow dandelions ready for dandelion wine. Invasive edible plants like Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard still have some small patches that can be gathered for wild food meals like stir-fry and pesto.
One of my favorite early season wild edibles is the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddle head. The fiddleheads can be found in damp, wetland areas of the woods. To identify, first look for last year’s fertile fronds. This will help you locate the central crowns where you will find the fiddleheads. About 5-9 fiddleheads emerge from central crowns, covered in a brown and thin papery sheathing. The u-shaped indent in the stem differentiates them from the bracken fern. To harvest sustainably, trim only a couple from each crown using a sharp hand knife or kitchen shears.
How to eat: First clean the fiddleheads, removing the brown sheathing and any dirt that may cling to the plant. The fiddleheads should first be cooked in boiling water for about 10 minutes to neutralize the compounds that make them inedible raw (skip this step and risk stomach upset). The ostrich fern fiddleheads retain their firmness even when cooked — similar in texture and taste to asparagus. Add them to pasta with a garlic mustard pesto or cream sauce, or topped onto a wild foods pizza. Or simply eat them as a side dish; drizzled with olive oil, salt and a bit of lemon and served with a local salmon lox. Add a nice crisp Michigan white wine for ambiance.
What is spring unfurling for you?
We’re a bit behind up here near Traverse City, but I picked enough dandelion buds to pickle last night and the ramps have been… well… rampant this spring so far. Much will unfurl in the next week to be sure!