Also the newest VisitVortex spring guide has a great section on other edible plants: Solomon Seal (which when harvested early, can be cooked like asparagus) , Cat Tails (harvest the heart in late May and eat it like a cucumber), and Wood Violets (can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach). Pick up a free copy of the spring guide for detailed instructions on harvesting these and other unexpected edibles.
Fiddleheads, probably Braken (Pteridium aquilinum).
"The ostrich fern, or fiddlehead, is a Maine delicacy that appears in the early spring-April and May. The botanical name for the ostrich fern is Matteuccia struthiopteris.
Grown ostrich fern leaves taper in width from the middle to both ends. There is a deep groove on the upper side of the big stalk, and the distinctive brown to black shoots that grow from the center of the clump of leaves look somewhat like ostrich plumes.
In the spring, the ostrich fern's distinctive "fiddleheads," the young, coiled fern leaves about an inch in diameter, are mostly green, but have papery brown scales. Nearly all ferns have fiddleheads, but the ostrich fern's are unlike any other. These fiddleheads have a paper-dry, parchment-like sheath that usually has started to peel. Most other fern fiddle head sheaths are fuzzy or woolly.
You can also tell it's an ostrich fern if you see the previous year's leaves, broken to the ground, dead and brown, but still well attached to the root stock. Also, last year's "plumes" (the spore-bearing fronds that are still erect) are often there to identify the plant.
Gather fiddleheads in early spring, as soon as they appear within an inch or two of the ground. Carefully brush out and remove the brown scales. Then wash the heads, and cook them in lightly salted boiling water for at least 10 minutes, or steam for 20 minutes. Serve right away with melted butter."Although I found some other recipes that sounded fantastic:
"Philip McGuire, head chef of the Blue Strawberry in Portsmouth, N.H., also makes fiddlehead soup. But after sauteing the ferns with leeks in butter, Mr. McGuire adds champagne, cooks the soup to remove the alcohol, purees it and finally adds a touch of cream. He also makes a pesto with olive oil and garlic, substituting fiddleheads for basil, and uses it to stuff veal or, with cheese and nuts, mushroom caps." From the article in The New York Times.
Yum! Seriously, I'm salivating.
The end of that New York Times article list restaurants that feature fiddleheads on their menus, when available in early spring.
According to Wikipedia these are other species of edible ferns:
- Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum, found worldwide
- Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, found in northern regions worldwide, and the central/eastern part of North America
- Cinnamon fern or buckhorn fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, found in the Eastern parts of North America
- Royal fern, Osmunda regalis, found worldwide
- Zenmai or flowering fern, Osmunda japonica, found in East Asia
- Vegetable fern, Athyrium esculentum, found throughout Asia and Oceania