Friday, November 18, 2011

Progress with Bracken Ferns

A 7' long Bracken Fern

More Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) experimenting….  I harvested several rhizomes from Dad’s property in rich loose soil under Red Alder (Alnus rubra).    The fronds are mostly dead and are starting to topple over.  I stretched one upward to its full extent and it measured 7’ tall.  The rhizomes are also quite large, but I wasn’t able to unearth an entire one although I got a few pieces that were more than 2’ long.  I washed the rhizomes and brought them home to cook.  I initially steamed about 1/3 of the rhizomes for an hour.  When they cooled they had a molasses like aroma and I peeled one with a carrot peeler and found the peelings to be very sticky on the inner surfaces.  Without further preparation I chewing on the rhizome and found the initial flavor sweet.  As I chewed an unpleasant bitter flavor dominated and I spat it all out.  So far the smell and the taste are similar to my limited experiences with Wood Fern (Dryopteris expansa) rhizomes.

Bracken Fern rhizome cross section
Using the base of a heavy wooden spoon, I pounded the remaining portion of the peeled rhizome and was easily able to separate the dark central fibers from the rest of the rhizome.  I picked through the pounded rhizome strands and tasted some pieces that didn’t have any dark fibers and found their flavor agreeable, which leads me to believe that the bitter flavor is concentrated in the dark colored fibers in the rhizome.  I finally feel like I am making some progress on the Bracken Fern front.

Peeled Bracken Fern rhizome
I continued steaming the remaining rhizomes from my first batch for another hour and peeled them.  They now have a smell reminiscent of potato chips.  I will let them dry for a day or two in the hope that the dry starch will pulverize into flour while the dark fibers remain intact enough to be separated with a sieve.

Pounded Bracken Fern rhizome
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  1. While experimenting with Bracken, please consider that it is widely recognized as carcinogenic.

  2. Eat the fiddleheads. Much better. And read this first on how to process them:

  3. Hi Hank,
    Thanks for the link. I enjoy your writing immensely and your article on bracken ferns is the most thorough and disarming account I've ever read. Like you I have waded through many of the scientific papers on bracken fern carcinogens and am very disappointing with the research methods. Why bother testing a plant that is harvested at the wrong time of the year and isn't properly detoxified? Some day, I'll do my own bracken fern toxicology research.... I do eat bracken "fiddle heads" on occasion but am trying to learn how to eat the starchy rhizomes because they are of traditional importance to the Coast Salish diet here in Western Washington. I hear the Japanese also use bracken fern flour.