I've always been fond of ferns. Their buds pop through the soft soil, then gently unfold as "fiddleheads" and turn quickly into graceful fronds as spring becomes summer.
My house has a space next to the foundation, shaded by trees, under an overhang and subject to run-off from the roof. I've planted a few perennial flowers there in the past, but we always seem to step on the flowers or drag the hose over them.
This year I'm determined to do something about this eyesore. With help from Robert, I started by adding rocks in a border row. I pulled up the chickweed, clawed the compacted soil and moved some wild purple violets from the lawn to the garden. Instantly the spot looked more attractive.
Wanting a hardy perennial that could tolerate roof run-off, I added some ferns. I found ferns that were near my walking paths and selected those that were unfurling rather than those with full fronds. I placed them as close as possible to the exterior wall. They look a bit bleak now, but eventually the ferns will make a beautiful back border. It's taken only a couple of decades to take care of that eyesore.
Andrea Lee Lambrecht
Now on to thinking more about ferns and cooking up some fiddleheads, which refers not to a type of fern, but rather the compactly curled top of immature fronds.
There are about 12,000 fern species worldwide. For centuries fiddleheads have been part of traditional diets in much of Asia, Australia and New Zealand, as well as among Native Americans. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are a traditional dish of New Brunswick, where the village of Tide Head bills itself as the Fiddlehead Capital of the World.
According to "Ferns of Minnesota" by Rolla Tryon, there are 72 species of ferns and fern allies native to Minnesota. If you add in varieties, forms and hybrids, the total comes to 98.
I like to saut small amounts of fiddleheads. At this time of year some grocery and gourmet stores sell fresh ferns, which are a good source of vitamins A and C.
To harvest your own ferns, select small, tightly-coiled fiddleheads of 1- to 1-1/2 inch in diameter and only an inch or two of stem beyond the coil. Do not take more than three tops per shoot, as over-picking kills the plant.
Remove the chaff. Wash the fiddleheads in several changes of cold water to remove dirt or grit. Drain the fiddleheads completely. Cook them soon after harvest.
According to the Wild Harvest web site, fiddleheads have a mild taste reminiscent of asparagus with an added nutty bite all their own. The flavor goes well with cheeses, tomato sauce and oriental cuisine and is excellent with Hollandaise sauce.
Saut, stir-fry or steam briefly to retain their crunchy texture and bright green color. Do not overcook. Martha Stewart's web site has an easy recipe for preparing and sauting fiddleheads.
Remember: eating wild edibles carries some risk. Fiddleheads should not be served raw, as they have a slight bitterness until cooked and may cause stomach upset if eaten raw in quantity. Health Canada advises that fresh fiddleheads must be properly cooked before being consumed. There are some reports bracken fern has caused some illness.
Please don't remove ferns from public land. Instead, check a nursery for cultivated ferns that are conducive to shade, sun, rock or bog gardens, ponds and flower borders.
ANDREA LEE LAMBRECHT, naturalist and outdoors photographer, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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