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32 responses to “Bracken Fern: Food or Poison?”

  1. Melissa

    I didn’t know you could find this in the US. A fantastic Japanese dessert is mochi made with bracken flour called Warabimochi. It’s a very expensive treat, but worth it for its delicious earthy complexity. I would suspect the starch-making process decreases toxins as well.

  2. Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife

    Interesting stuff. I’d never even heard that there was any carcinogenic attribute to these ferns. I’ve been using them over the past year or so as a bi bim bap ingredient. They come dried, so I prepare them by pouring over boiling water several hours before I want to use them, and changing the water once or twice. Frankly, I was changing the water because the initial boiling water took on a sort of funky, marshy smell from the dried ferns, which didn’t really appeal to me. Good to know that my method was getting rid of some potential nasties in the process of getting rid of that odor.

  3. marie

    Beautiful photos and great information! I’ve wondered about bracken fern; we have loads of it growing here in the forest. I’ll try some this year… carefully. 😉

  4. Island Vittles

    Thanks for the interesting post — I have been put off eating bracken because of all the contradictory info on the web, but I think it’s time to give them a try. After all, I live in a temperate rainforest, with ferns literally surrounding me. Once or twice certainly won’t kill me! Theresa

  5. Stephanie - Wasabimon

    Potentially poisonous foods are always more fun to eat. 😉

  6. Peter van de Pol

    Thanks for this Interesting read, it gives answers to a question I always forget to look up. Let’s see if there is still any young bracken fern around here!

  7. Marsha

    Thanks Hank for taking the time to read the original research papers, I appreciate that – now I don’t have to ;o) But, I do want to point out that the practical conclusions you draw from them may be premature. First, I assume that the characteristics described by the researchers are for the free, purified ptalquiloside they used in their experiments, and that in the natural state in the plant it may be complexed in such a way that just soaking in water may not free it up enough to leach out of the plant to dissolve. The same holds true for the “volatile at normal temperatures,” they are describing a free compound sitting open on the bench – not bound up in the plant. This is NOT to say that your conclusions are not valid, just that the only way to know would be to measure the amounts of ptalquiloside left in the water-soaked and/or sauteed fiddle heads. Keep up the great work, you have a great site here!! I never heard of bracken fern, but now I’m going to be on the look out for it on my next walk in the woods!

  8. Summersweet Farm

    Thanks so much for posting this, Hank. We have a veritable bracken fern farm out here – an entire hillside stand of it. I’ve wondered what it is and whether it’s edible – and now I know. I think next Spring we’ll try it at least a few times!

  9. la domestique

    Great post! Much to the annoyance of my friends/family, I’m always asking “and where did you hear/read that?” Knowing your source is so important, it’s one of the lessons from school that sticks with me the most. Do your own research, ask questions, and don’t take something as truth just because it’s on wikipedia. :)

  10. Joshua

    “But just as you would not rationally decide to drink a case of beer every day for a month…”

    Well, it’s obvious YOU didn’t grow up in Rio Vista.

  11. anna

    Hank, what we do here in Japan, at least in my home, is soak them in water with a little ash added to it. This seems to be a common treatment for a lot of sansai (wild edibles). Warabi mochi is delicious– you’ve gotta try it, although I think it’s made with the roots if I’m not mistaken.

  12. Frackin’ bracken | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

    […] as they unfurl until either I or the roots run out of energy.  Perhaps risk from bracken fern is overstated–but I wouldn’t eat poison blowfish at the sushi joint, either. This entry was […]

  13. Sandy

    What a wonderful article. I had no idea fern bracken contained carcinogens. My family is Korean American, and, as you mentioned, it’s pretty much a staple in some of my favorite dishes, especially Yuke-jang (fiery hot beef soup).

    Bracken comes second to my all time favorite though…sweet potato stems. I hope there’s nothing lurking in them as well. 😉

  14. A Fun Project with Herbs

    […] You should never use a plant unless you are certain it is correctly identified. There are a number of species that may have ugly twins. One is beneficial and the other is toxic. If you are experimenting with native foods and herbs, make sure you know how they are prepared. In my area the natives used to eat bracken fern, however the fern must be boiled first to make it safe to eat. Oh, and by the way, bracken fern (fiddler heads), grows almost everywhere except the most arid deserts and the tundra. If you want to know how to prepare it and a little more information, I found a great article at […]

  15. Jeana Lynde

    By the way, the plant is very poisonous to animals that eat it, especially horses (and I sure wouldn’t want my meat animals eating it, even if it didn’t kill them). If you have animals who forage in bracken areas, PLEASE see

  16. neco

    The heads can be removed as an extra precaution. Here is how I (Japanese) prepare bracken before the main cooking.

  17. Melissa Poe

    Hank, I found this post to be very interesting and I’m working on a paper write now for an academic journal. I can site your web discussion, but I’m also wondering if you would share the citations or links to the studies your reference …??

    Thanks. Melissa
    PS — I know you’re onto other edibles, but you might also find these studies by my colleagues on bracken uses in Southern CA interesting:

  18. summer

    A really interesting read, i look forward to giving this a try in 2013 x

  19. Sam Schaperow

    Wow, neat post! I just got referred to read it when I had posted on PlantForagers about Sam Thayer’s write-up about bracken fern (, and saw WildFoodGirl’s post ( referring to here. As best as I can tell, boiling them releases the substance that’s of concern, such that seared meat is more concerning.

  20. Marlon Jones

    Thanks for this very thorough and readable post. I think we have bracken growing nearby here in Dorset, UK and will look forward to trying your cooking method soon.

  21. Diana

    How very interesting and informative! I grew up in Ontario, where we picked our own fiddleheads from the Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), and although I know bracken was eaten by the indigenous peoples (I live in BC now), I never thought much about how they were eating it. Another great wild food to forage for! Can’t wait for spring.

  22. Chen in HK

    WOW, what a string of interesting, informative and educational responses on the plant. Although a lover of good and interesting food and one who has sampled all eatables and unusuals in different corners of our planet, I’ve certainly not heard of bracken fern, neither its English name nor its Chinese equivalent ?? (jue cai). A quick check in my Oxford Dictionary gives bracken as a large fern, but the word ? as “faint, lose consciousness or fall into a coma”. Hence by the same token, ?? would mean “vegetable that makes one faint, lose consciousness or fall into a coma.” Having been introduced by some of you of the extraordinary taste of bracken fern, I’ll brave myself to try warabi mochi, the next time I visit a Japanese restaurant.

  23. dave jelley

    I am from New Zealand and bracken fern is a traditional Maori food; they also eat young shoots but use the roots of the fern also. The roots are safer and more versatile. If you want to learn how to use bracken as a food then you need to check out traditional Maori food in New Zealand. Enjoy, Dave

  24. Hai Nguyen

    I been eating bracken fern all my life and still alive at 43 yrs old . So people’s like Andrew Zimmer said if it looks good eat it. Enjoy good dish.

  25. Bruce

    Damn! I just found a great source in Hilo and now this. I’ve never seen it up here in Volcano, must be too high. I won’t be eating it as much as I want to.

  26. Kim Tuyen ho

    I had bracken fern last year when I visited a good Chinese friend of mine. It was very good. A year later, I am on my second trimesters and I am crazy craving for that bracken fern dish. My friend made it for me and ate it very well. After doing some reacher, I am little bit nervous. Is it safe for a pregnant lady to eat it.

  27. Shane smith

    I have recently completed a military survival course and they told us that you can eat the baby tips of the plant without any problems. Maybe they figure it will keep you alive today so you can fight 2morrow and whatever happens to you later on, we’ll you get that.

  28. Frank

    I stopped smoking because of the carcinogens in smoke. And though I only drink occasionally, alcohol is not a carcinogen. I’m sorry, but even if it tastes like pumpkin pie, the fact that carcinogens even existed in bracken is enough for me to politely decline the offer to consume it. I tend to stay away from carcinogens and don’t really want to mess around with them.

  29. Arthur S

    I’m making Korean Mung bean and bracken pancakes tonight. The recipe I am following recommended boiling for 30m and letting it soak for 24 hours after so it seems like I should be pretty safe. Thanks for the info.

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