Elisabeth C. Miller Library logo Miller Library Home UW Botanic Gardens Home UW Botanic Gardens Home book graphic

3501 NE 41st Street, Seattle, WA 98195 | (206) 543 0415 | Open Monday 9-8; Tuesday - Friday 9-5; Saturday 9-3

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Search Results for ' Edible wild plants'

PAL Questions: 3 - Garden Tools:

Display all answers | Hide all answers


 

Keywords: Matteuccia, Pteridium aquilinum, Edible wild plants, Poisonous plants

PAL Question:

Are Bracken fern fiddleheads edible? The very old Euell Gibbons edible plant books say it's o.k. but I've heard rumors that it is toxic and shouldn't be eaten. Also, do the edible Ostrich Ferns grow in the Sultan, WA area?

View Answer:

The fern whose fiddleheads are most commonly (and perhaps most safely) consumed is the ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris. According to Sue Olsen's Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns, this plant will grow "in the severe and forbidding climates of Newfoundland and Alaska," but they do not do well in areas with hot summers. I imagine you would have little difficulty growing this type of fern in your area.

Here is an article from Edible Toronto about culinary use of fiddleheads. Note also, this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention page on Ostrich Fern Poisoning.

This article in Fine Gardening discusses which fern fiddleheads are safe to eat.
Excerpt:
"Throughout the world, several types of fiddleheads are eaten, though most contain toxic compounds. The most commonly eaten and most esteemed fiddlehead is that of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris, USDA Har­diness Zones 2-8), often simply called fiddlehead fern. The ostrich fern is the safest fern to eat, even though it, too, can contain toxins. The fiddleheads of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) can also be eaten, but all are at least mildly toxic and can cause nausea, dizziness, and headache, so it's probably best to avoid them. The safest way to eat fiddleheads is to stick to ostrich ferns and to eat them in small quantities."

Below is information specifically about bracken fern, Pteridium aquilinum.
Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants by Lewis Nelson et al. (New York Botanical Garden, 2007) says that all parts of the plant are toxic. The toxin is thought to be ptaquiloside, a sesquiterpene.
From the Earl J. S. Rook website:
"Most commonly used today as a food for humans. The newly emerging croziers or fiddleheads are picked in spring and may be consumed fresh or preserved by salting, pickling, or sun drying. Both fronds and rhizomes have been used in brewing beer, and rhizome starch has been used as a substitute for arrowroot. Bread can be made out of dried and powered rhizomes alone or with other flour. American Indians cooked the rhizomes, then peeled and ate them or pounded the starchy fiber into flour. In Japan starch from the rhizomes is used to make confections. Bracken fern is grown commercially for use as a food and herbal remedy in Canada, the United States, Siberia, China, Japan, and Brazil and is often listed as an edible wild plant. Powdered rhizome has been considered particularly effective against parasitic worms. American Indians ate raw rhizomes as a remedy for bronchitis.
Bracken fern has been found to be mutagenic and carcinogenic in rats and mice, usually causing stomach or intestinal cancer. It is implicated in some leukemias, bladder cancer, and cancer of the esophagus and stomach in humans. All parts of the plant, including the spores, are carcinogenic, and face masks are recommended for people working in dense bracken. The toxins in bracken fern pass into cow's milk. The growing tips of the fronds are more carcinogenic than the stalks. If young fronds are boiled under alkaline conditions, they will be safer to eat and less bitter."

The book Ecosystems and Human Health by Richard Philp (CRC Press, 2001) states that "considerable evidence exists that bracken fern produces bladder cancer in cattle that eat excessive amounts when better fodder is unavailable, and in rats fed large amounts of it. Because the young shoots, called fiddleheads because of their curled shape, are eaten as a delicacy in many parts of the world, including Canada and Japan, there has been concern over potential for carcinogenic effects in humans. At one point, it was suggested that the relatively high incidence of bladder cancer in Japan might be related to consumption of bracken fern. Epidemiological studies, however, have failed to demonstrate such an association, and it is now felt that eating fiddleheads does not constitute a risk factor for cancer."

This Northwest gardener, Paghat, also discusses the toxicity and edibility of bracken fern:
Excerpt:

"While causality for human illness from eating bracken is not proven, plausibility is present. Toxins break down in cooking, but the traditional light frying or quick parboiling is insufficient to break down potentially harmful chemical components. Bracken should be cooked at high temperatures to be safe, and are quite easy to prepare correctly in woks.

It is not recommended to eat rare bracken under any circumstances because of the statistical increase in cancers in countries where brackens are a consumed in high numbers. Ostrich Ferns are of such low toxicity as to be far preferable to meet the dietary interest in fiddleheads. But as a well-cooked food item eaten only occasionally, there is no indication of risk from bracken. Plausible risk is restricted to the accumulative effects over time from consumptions of high amounts of bracken parboiled or so briefly cooked as to still contain toxins."

Season All Season
Date 2009-05-01
Link to this record only (permalink)


Keywords: Allium tricoccum, Edible wild plants

PAL Question:

Could you tell me about wild garlic, or ramps? What is the best planting location for it, and how is it used in cooking?

View Answer:

Ramps, or Allium tricoccum, is sometimes referred to as wild leek or ramsons (which may also refer to Allium ursinum). Here is an article about this plant, from North Carolina State University. It describes cultivation methods, and mentions ramp or ramps festivals, most of which are held in the southeastern U.S., where this plant is native. According to Alliums: The Ornamental Onions by Dilys Davies (Timber Press,1992), ramps thrive (or grow rampantly) in damp woodlands or hillsides. The author says that neither Ramps nor Ramsons "should be introduced into the civilised areas of the garden unless a takeover is acceptable."

Another consideration is that the leaves resemble lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), which is poisonous, so you would not want to grow the two plants close together. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, this Allium itself has toxic properties (but relatively low toxicity), and should only be consumed in small quantities. The leaves, bulbs, and bulblets all have edible uses:
"Gather leaves during spring and fall. Gather bulbs in the second year when they are large enough to use like cultivated onions. Flower stem bulblets are collected during the summer. Use as domestic onions, for seasoning or raw in salads. Bulbs can be used raw, boiled, pickled or for seasoning. Their strong taste can be reduced by parboiling and discarding the water. [...] use flower bulbs to flavor soup or for pickling." (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)

Season All Season
Date 2010-05-01
Link to this record only (permalink)


Keywords: Aquilegia, Edible wild plants, Poisonous plants, Edible landscaping

PAL Question:

I've been reading up on permaculture and exploring the edibility of common ornamental plants. Several books I've looked at suggest that columbine flowers (Aquilegia canadensis and Aquilegia vulgaris, specifically) are edible. I have my doubts, since columbine is in the family Ranunculaceae, which I would generally consider poisonous. What do you think?

View Answer:

I think you are right to question your sources. Although some species of Aquilegia have ethnobotanical uses as food, you should still proceed with caution. I found information about edible and medicinal uses of Aquilegia formosa. Daniel Moerman's Native American Food Plants, Timber Press, 2010, mentions that the Miwok boiled and ate the early spring greens, and that children of the Hanaksiala tribe sucked nectar from the flowers. In her book Ethnobotany of Western Washington (University of Washington, 1979), Erna Gunther mentions medicinal and edible uses of this species of columbine. The Quileute tribe used the sap to aid in healing wounds, and Chehalis children sucked "honey out of the flowers." However, The North American Guide to Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms by Nancy Turner and Patrick von Aderkas (Timber Press, 2009) lists Aquilegia species as toxic:
"Most [members of the Ranunculaceae] contain irritant protoanemonins; columbines contain cyanogenic glycosides."

Columbine is included in University of Vermont Extension's list of "Potentially Harmful Perennials." St. Olaf College's page on wild columbine points out a common confusion between the blossoms of honeysuckle and columbine:
"Young children often mistake Columbine for Honeysuckle, pulling off the flowers and biting the spurs in search of nectar. Though no official records of toxicity have been reported for Columbine, it belongs to a family which contains other toxic species. Caution is advised."

The Plants for a Future database of edible and medicinal plants lists a number of species of columbine. Here is their page on Aquilegia canadensis. I don't find myself convinced by the statement that "the flowers are probably perfectly safe to eat." The entry for Aquilegia vulgaris says that the flowers are "rich in nectar, they are sweet and delightful, they make a very attractive addition to mixed salads and can also be used as a thirst-quenching munch in the garden. The flowers are also used as a tea substitute." It is worth looking at the sources cited at the end of this entry, to decide if you feel they are trustworthy. To summarize, when in doubt, don't eat the columbines (or any other plant whose edibility is debatable)!

Season All Season
Date 2011-12-30
Link to this record only (permalink)


 

Didn't find an answer to your question? Ask us directly!

Browse keywords or Search Again:

We are continually adding new questions, so be sure to keep coming back.

June 24 2013 12:55:25