By David Fuller, Extension Agriculture, and Non-Timber Forest Products Professional
Fiddleheads from ostrich ferns are an iconic spring edible in Maine. Native Americans were the first to eat them, and their popularity continues to this day. Fiddleheads are so named because of the similarity in shape to the curled scroll of a violin. Fiddleheads are also known as crosiers or croziers, after the crook-shaped pastoral staff of a bishop. In the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet languages, the word for fiddlehead is “mahsus”; in Penobscot, they are “mahsosi.”
Fiddleheads are important to Maine’s economy, with pickers, retailers, and woodland owners earning extra income from them each spring. Fiddleheads are also an important part of Maine’s culture and heritage. The double-curve motif that Wabanaki people sometimes use to decorate artwork bears a strong resemblance to a fiddlehead. Generations of Maine people have made fiddlehead harvesting a rite of spring. It’s important to know which fern fiddlehead to pick and how much to pick so that this valuable resource can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Reprinted with permission from University of Maine Cooperative Extension, bulletin #2540, Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads, Matteuccia struthiopteris extension.umaine.edu/publications/2540e/. For more videos from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, subscribe to the University of Maine’s YouTube page.