Fiddleheads are the curled, edible shoots of the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). They are considered a seasonal delicacy in many parts of Canada. Fiddleheads are collected in the wild, sold as a seasonal vegetable or served in restaurants. They are also sold in cans or as a frozen product.
A number of outbreaks of foodborne illness from eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads have been reported in Canada and the United States since 1994. Studies to date have not determined the cause of these illnesses.
Under no circumstances should fiddleheads be eaten raw. Proper handling and thorough cooking of fiddleheads can reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Before eating fiddleheads, make sure to follow these steps:
Before freezing fiddleheads, you should follow these steps:
Preserving fiddleheads with a pressure canner is not recommended, as safe process times have not been established for home-preserved fiddleheads.
Symptoms of illness from eating fiddleheads typically appear within 30 minutes to 12 hours after eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads. As is the case with other foodborne illnesses, the symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches. Illness generally lasts less than 24 hours but can last up to three days. The adverse symptoms can result in dehydration, particularly among older people, infants and those with underlying medical conditions.
If you experience adverse symptoms after eating fiddleheads, you should seek the advice of a health care professional and contact your local public health unit.
The Government of Canada is committed to food safety.
Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.