Common Plant, Uncommon Benefits
Many types of fern offer benefits that often go overlooked because of their commonness. The fiddlehead fern, known in most parts of the country as the ostrich fern, is a popular addition to East Asian, Indian, Nepalese, and North American cuisines. And, aside from adding a pop of color to food, the fiddlehead is a healthy side dish with a host of advantages.
In the home
Ferns are densely crowned plans with long green leaves. They do well in pots and can be used to clean stale indoor air. Ferns help negate lingering odors and emit enough CO 2 to stave off hazardous gasses from wood-burning fireplaces. Fiddleheads, like all vegetation, are revered in Chinese culture and are often used to promote positive feng shui in the home.
In the yard
Ferns have been referred to as living fossils as impressions of this leafy green have been found dating back 369 million years. And though not much has changed since the Devonian period, ferns are considered a modern classic where the landscape is concerned. Ferns do well on porches in hanging pots and make an excellent buffer between wooded areas and manicured lawns. They are easy to grow and require very little maintenance. Ferns thrive in fully shaded areas where other plants can’t take root.
In the kitchen
As previously mentioned, the fiddlehead fern is often used in the kitchen. Uncooked fiddleheads, called kogomi, are a delicacy in Japan where they are widely harvested. When the plant’s fronds – its long divided leaves – are young, they are coiled much like the scroll of a violin. Fiddleheads are similar to asparagus in taste and are packed with vitamins A, and C. Additional health benefits of the ostrich fern include:
Ferns are an exceptional source of omega-3 fatty acids – Experts agree that Americans don’t consume enough omega-3. These fatty acids are known to promote weight loss, keep cholesterol levels balanced, and enhance memory. Some research suggests that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids work to prevent metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes in adults.
Fiddleheads contain twice the antioxidants of blueberries – Antioxidants help to increase the body’s immune system. They work by preventing pathogenic agents from entering the body thus strengthening internal defenses. Ferns contain two times the antioxidant power of blueberries which are considered a superfood.
Ferns have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body – Because of their high levels of antioxidants and omega-3s, ferns help to regulate the body’s response to inflammation.
Fiber makes ferns a digestive system’s best friend – Fiddleheads contains 7g of dietary fiber in each half-cup serving. They are an ideal side dish for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome as their high concentration of texture makes them easy to digest.
Ferns contain no sodium and are full of retinol – Ferns are a naturally sodium free food and are believed to behave as an anti-hypertensive agent within the body. They additionally contain vitamin A – also known as retinol – which is essential for the healthy development of the eyes, kidneys, and mucous membranes. As an added benefit, Vitamin A helps the body fight bacterial intrusions.
They are an excellent source of macronutrients – Although their physical makeup is primarily water, fiddlehead ferns contain ample amounts of protein and carbohydrates. Ferns have over 5g of carbs and 5g of protein in every 100g of fresh foliage.
Fiddleheads are common in temperate climates throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They range between one and 2 inches in diameter with bright green fronds that protrude from the grounds and can grow to over 5 feet tall in the wild. Their vertical leaves are tapered from the bottom up making them resemble ostrich plumes. Fiddleheads release spores in the early spring from sporangia that developed in the fall. They tend to favor riverbanks and form dense colonies that are resistant to damage via floodwaters. The ostrich variety is classified as Matteuccia struthiopteris.
Other fiddlehead varieties
Aside from the ostrich fern, there are two other varieties of fiddlehead. The bracken fern grows in virtually every corner of the world. It is a hardy plant that can sustain extreme hot and cold temperatures. Bracken is considered an invasive species in some areas and contains harmful compounds that are dangerous to livestock. Lady ferns tend to grow best in damp, partially shaded areas with dappled sun. They thrive and slightly acidic soils and have sharply tapered fronds.
Fern care and maintenance
Though outdoor ferns are a reasonably hands-off addition to landscaping, potted ferns require a bit of maintenance to stay healthy. Ferns must be cleaned of dust, which interferes with the plant’s photosynthesis. They should be repotted every 2 to 3 years in a soil mix that contains up to 50% peat moss. Ferns can be thinned by dividing the plant between its fleshy roots.
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