Right now these majestic native American ferns, scientifically called Matteucia struthiopteris, are unfurling in the landscape and perfect for harvesting. HOWEVER, SUSTAINABLE HARVESTING IS A MUST!!! As a rule, pick from ferns with at least 4 fronds emerging from their crowns and take no more than a 1/3 of the emerging fronds.
Make sure you have ostrich fern fiddleheads: look for a pronounced u-shaped groove running down the center of its stalk (my pointer finger explores the groove in photo below), paper-like brown scales as the frond emerges, and a smooth surface, or at least one that lacks wooly hairs. Also note last year’s brown, hard fertile fronds — the non-edible spore producing one I hold in my hand, with u-shaped groove down stalk (see last photo).
Harvest when fronds are 2-8 inches tall and still tightly coiled at the top. Eat both stem and coiled tip. Cook before eating: steam, boil, sauté, broil, bake…… or you can eat them raw; but not too many raw as they contain thiaminase, an enzyme which interferes w/ vit. B uptake, that cooking deactivates.
Look for ostrich ferns in rich moist locations: riverbanks, woodlands, or in a garden. A friend planted ostrich fern in her shade garden. After a few years it had outgrown its designated territory and she was eager to divide off some of the outer portions of the patch. We were happy recipients. I’ve planted them in our wild gardens in rich, moist soil in partial shade. Their root systems (rhizomes) remind me of something prehistoric: scaly, reptilian, lengths of dark ropey thick tendrils that run = fun handling them. Excited to see them proliferate!!!
For more info on ostrich ferns check this link: https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2540e/