Fern, (class Polypodiopsida), class of nonflowering vascular plants that possess true roots, stems, and complex leaves and that reproduce by spores. The number of known extant fern species is about 10,500, but estimates have ranged as high as 15,000, the number varying because certain groups are as yet poorly studied and because new species are still being found in unexplored tropical areas.
The ostrich fern (Matteuccia) of northeastern North America is frequently eaten, apparently with no ill effect, but the two ferns most commonly consumed in East Asia (Osmunda and Pteridium) have been shown to be strongly carcinogenic.
The minute aquatic mosquito fern (Azolla) has become a valuable plant, especially in Southeast Asia; a blue-green algae (Anabaena azollae) is always found in pockets on the leaves of Azolla and helps convert nitrogen to a form usable by other plants, thus greatly increasing the productivity of rice paddies where the fern occur
Fiddleheads or fiddlehead greens are the furled fronds of a young fern. They are bright green and have tightly coiled tips that are about one to two inches long. The fiddleheads of certain ferns are eaten as a cooked leaf vegetable. The most popular of these are:
- Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum, found worldwide (Toxic if not cooked fully)
- Ostrich fern, Matteucciastruthiopteris, found in northern regions worldwide, and the central/eastern part of North America.
- Lady fern, Athyriumfilix-femina, throughout most of the temperate northern hemisphere.
- Cinnamon fern or buckhorn fern, Osmundacinnamomea, found in the eastern parts of North America, although not so palatable as ostrich fern.
- Royal fern, Osmundaregalis, found worldwide
- Midin, or Stenochlaenapalustris, found in Sarawak, where it is prized as a local delicacy
- Zenmai or flowering fern, Osmunda japonica, found in East Asia
- Vegetable fern, Athyriumesculentum, found throughout Asia and Oceania
Fiddleheads’ ornamental value makes them very expensive in the temperate regions where they are not abundant.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that one ounce (28 grams) of raw fiddleheads contain the following:
1.6 grams carbohydrates
1.3 grams protein
0.1 gram fat
1,013 international units vitamin A (20 percent Daily Value(DV)
7.4 milligrams vitamin C (12 percent DV)
1.4 milligrams niacin (7 percent DV)
0.1 milligrams manganese (7 percent DV)
0.1-milligram copper (4 percent DV)
0.1-milligram riboflavin (3 percent DV)
104 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
28 milligrams phosphorus (3 percent DV)
0.4 milligrams iron (2 percent DV)
9.5 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
0.2 milligrams zinc (2 percent DV)
Scientific studies of Fern
Studies have been conducted on the Fiddleheads of the young shoots of the ostrich fern, or Matteucciastruthiopteris:
- Vitamin A Loaded
Just agrain of fiddleheads contains over 20 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A, so it’s a great way to supply the body with disease-fighting, anti-aging antioxidants. There is no doubt that vitamin A acts as a powerful antioxidant in the body, and it plays a critical role in maintaining healthy skin, vision and immunity. One study by Dawson(2000)demonstrates that the carotenoids in vitamin A foods work to decrease free radicals that cause DNA damage. The study further agrees that the nutrient also works to reduce inflammation, improve cholesterol and support bone health.
- Vitamin abundance
Eatingvitamin C foods is a good way to promote healthy aging, boost immunity, neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of inflammation. Vitamin C has a powerful antioxidant properties that play a central role in health and disease.
For instance, one study by Padayattyet al.,(2003)demonstrates that a higher intake of vitamin C foods may be linked to a reduced risk of diverse chronic conditions.
- Niacin Production
Links(2018) explains that the niacin in fiddleheads plays an important role in health. It’s needed by the body to convert food into energy and boost brain, skin and heart health. A study by Gasperiet al.,(2019) found that Niacin also plays a vital preventative role in neurodegenerative diseases.
- Low in Calories
Ruggeri (2020) asserts that lightly cooked fiddleheads is good for a nutrient-dense, low-calorie snack or side dish. Hence, there is the need to incorporate low-calorie foods into every meal especially those who want to lose or maintain weight. Additionally, the nutrients available in the fern leaf help boost energy and reduce inflammation, which contributes to overall health.
- Healthy Side Dish
Due to the antioxidant content, anti-inflammatory effects, low-calorie count, and micronutrients, Ruggeri(2020) agrees that it’s safe to say that eating these young fern shoots is a healthy choice for soups, salads, and more.
Many ferns can be toxic, so don’t pick fiddleheads without an experienced guide. Eating the shoots raw can be toxic, and eating the shoots from a poisonous fern would be problematic too, of course. This is why shoots from only the ostrich fern should be cooked lightly and consumed according to Ruggeri(2020).
Ruggeri further recommended not eating the shoots raw due to potential bacteria and toxic effects. Plus, consuming too much of them can cause stomachache.
Fiddleheads are young, coiled shoots from the ostrich fern plant. The shoots are safe to eat but should be cooked lightly. You can do this by sautéing, steaming or boiling the trimmed coils.
Fiddlehead ferns are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, niacin, and other important micronutrients. They also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They are a source of antioxidants and dietary fiber. They are low in sodium, but rich in potassium, which may make them suitable for people who need a low-sodium diet. Many ferns also contain the enzyme thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine. This can lead to beriberi if consumed in extreme excess. They can help boost immunity, fight free radicals, promote healthy aging and boost energy levels.
NB: The writer is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips, scientific herbs and healthy recipes in the world.
DISCLAIMER: This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnosis and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counseling, guidance, and treatment about a specific medical condition.
Prof. Raphael NyarkoteyObu is the president of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine and final year LLB Law student. He also holds an MBA and is a Chartered Management Consultant in the natural health industry. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Raphael NyarkoteyObu, PhD