Dennstaedtiaceae - Bracken family
When mature Bracken fern are usually 1 to 3 feet tall with a long brownish stem and a large grass green fan at the top. Mature Bracken fern contains toxic levels of vitamin A, making the mature plant highly toxic to humans. There have also been cases of cattle poisoning which have been traced back to Bracken Fern.
When Bracken fern fronds first emerge in early spring the stems are covered in a dense silvery wool that easily be wipes off between your fingers. The curled up leaves, or fiddle head as it is called, resembles the closed talons of a bird, and are covered in the same wool as the stem. At this stage the plant is actually quite good tasting, and highly nutritious. The taste reminds me of asparagus. The rule of thumb I use when gathering Bracken is if the leaves are still curled into a fiddlehead, and the stem breaks freely without any strings attached, it is safe to eat.
2 to 6 ft tall.
Single frond growing from rootstock
Single stem. deciduous in colder climates
Wide creeping rootstock
Spores are contained in structures called sori, which are located on the underside of the frond.
Bracken grow throughout most of the world. The only places you will not find them are extremely cold, or extremely hot regions. They grow in open areas, along roads and highways, on mountain sides, in dense woods, at forest edges, and even right up into yards in rural areas. Bracken is the most hearty and prolific of the delicate fern family.
Closed Fronds - Early to mid Spring. Gather before frond opens up, and can be easily snapped off without any fibrous attachment. Once the leaves open, or the stem becomes fibrous Bracken Ferns contain toxic levels of vitamin A. There have been cases of cattle poisoned by eating mature Bracken Fern.
Wild Food Uses:
Cooked Vegetable. They have a taste similar to asparagus. I love to sauté fronds in a little butter and bacon grease. They are a treat that will make you look forward to spring.
Note: Bracken fern has been shown to contain the carcinogenic glycoside Ptaquiloside. Japan is a country which has a long history of eating Bracken Fern. I was recently contacted by a Botanist with Michigan State University, who informed me that there is evidence that consuming Bracken has led to an inordinate number of stomach cancer cases in Japan. The plant also contains Thiaminase, which can deplete Thiamin levels in the body. The general consensus appears to be that cooking Bracken renders the Thiaminase harmless. I can say on a personal note that I have eaten Bracken every spring for the better part of 40 years without suffering any ill effects. I am in no way trying to tell you that is is 100% safe for you to consume Bracken Fern. As a matter of fact, being as that there are so many other wild edibles, perhaps one should steer clear of Pteridium aquilinum.
The following text is meant for informational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness or injury. Always consult with a physician or other qualified medical care provider concerning the diagnosis and treatment of any illness or injury.