Even though 6-12 inches of snow is predicted for today in Northern Wisconsin, spring is officially here!
Early spring just after the snow has melted is the time to start looking for and harvesting waagaagin – the tightly curled shoots – or fiddleheads – of fern fronds. Ojibwe people traditionally made use of many of the early spring greens including waagaagin. Springtime greens were a reminder of new life after the long northern winters.
If you like the taste of asparagus and broccoli, you will probably like the taste of waagaagin. Waagaagin are most delicious when eaten fresh though they can be canned or frozen for later use. They taste great steamed or sautéed and work wonderfully in soup.
Some tips for harvesting waagaagin:
- Do not take more than 1/3 to 1/2 of the young waagaagin from each plant in order to not deplete the plant. Leave some so the plant can grow and replenish for next spring.
- Choose small, firm, brightly colored waagaagin with no signs of softening or yellowing.
- Harvest the waagaagin when they are 2″ – 6″ tall so you can get some of the tasty stem but while the fiddlehead is still tightly curled. Once the head starts to unfurl the taste can be bitter.
- Fresh waagaagin do not last long once harvested so they should be eaten or preserved within one to three days of harvesting. They can be kept in cold water for up to 3 weeks but the taste may be compromised.
Eating traditional foods is a healthy way of eating! Waagaagin are fat free, cholesterol free and have no sodium. In addition, they are an excellent source of vitamin A. Vitamin A does many important things for you:
- Protects lungs against the development of lung cancer and emphysema.
- Helps prevent the build up of cholesterol in the body – helping to keep the heart healthy and risk of heart attack and stroke down.
- Reduces the stress on the heart that is caused by diabetes.
There are many recipes online for fiddlehead soup. Here is a favorite from Tribal Cooking: Traditional Stories and Favorite Recipes , 1996. This cookbook is a compilation of recipes from Ojibwe tribal members throughout Wisconsin and was published by the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council in Lac du Flambeau, WI.
Waywaagain Naboob (Wild Fern Soup)
To cook one kettle full for supper!
One grocery bag full of wild ferns (4 inches).
Cut into 1 inch pieces or break up.
4 slices of salt pork – cubed.
Boil for 1/2 hour or until tender. Make little dumplings and put in kettle. Let continue boiling for 15 minutes. Stir so it won’t stick to bottom of kettle.
Very, very delicious!!
P.S. These can be picked anywhere in the woods.
Note: Waagaagin should be thoroughly cooked before eating. Never eat them raw! In 1990 a food-borne illness outbreak in British Columbia was connected to consuming lightly cooked and raw fiddlehead ferns .