Soyez prudent(e)s: Toxicité des
crosses de fougère
Les crosses de fougère (la partie non-déroulée ou la feuille de
cette fougère comestible) font vraiment partie de notre patrimoine
naturel et culinaire. Elles représentent une composante habituelle du
régime alimentaire des Néo-
Brunswickois(es) depuis au moins la fin des années 1700 et les fougères
ont été un légume printanier important pour les autochtones de l’Est
de l’Amérique du Nord depuis bien plus longtemps encore.
L’auteur Jim Goltz nous explique que les rapports concernant les toxi-infections
alimentaires causées par les crosses de fougère ont mené à la
recommandation que cet aliment soit complètement cuit avant la
Une "cuisson complète" signifie bouillir, ou cuire à la
vapeur, pendant au moins 10 minutes. Prévenir la maladie pour votre
famille et vos ami(e)s est plus important que la perte nutritive un peu
plus élevée et la texture un peu moins ferme qui résulte d’une
cuisson plus longue.
Jim fait remarquer qu’il nous faut être prudent(e)s de ne pas
cueillir trop de crosses de fougère d’une même plante afin de s’assurer
que cette ressource naturelle excellente puisse continuer à se
is a delicious and nutritious sign of spring and a New Brunswick tradition
Fiddlehead (Ostrich Fern) Toxicity
NB Protected Natural Areas Coalition
Previously published in the N.B. Naturalist
Volume 22, Issue 1, March 1995
fiddlehead, crosier, or tête-de-violon, enjoyed by so many
persons in the Maritime Provinces and the northeastern United States, is
actually the unfurled frond or leaf of the Ostrich Fern.
(photo: NB Image Bank)
truly a part of our natural and culinary heritage, having been a regular
component of the diet of New Brunswickers since at least the late 1700s
and an important spring vegetable for aboriginal people in eastern North
America for considerably longer. In recent years, other geographic areas
have begun to share our appreciation for this delicious spring
"green", and the consumer market continues to expand.
Most reference books indicate that fiddleheads are safe to eat either
raw or cooked. However, several outbreaks of food poisoning associated
with eating raw or lightly cooked (sautéed, par-boiled or microwaved)
fiddleheads occurred in western Canada and New York State in 1994. The
affected persons experienced diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps,
vomiting and/or headache, usually within a few hours after consuming
fiddleheads. In most of the 64 persons who were affected, the symptoms
had abated within 30 hours after their onset. The majority of
individuals who became ill had eaten fiddleheads in restaurants, but a
few had purchased them at local markets and prepared them at home. Since
the publication of these outbreaks, other anecdotal retrospective
reports of fiddlehead food poisoning have surfaced. (With some
embarrassment, I must report that one of my dinner guests once became
sick shortly after eating stir-fried fiddleheads. Two other guests were
Although the specific cause of illness in these disease outbreaks
could not be determined, epidemiological studies determined fiddleheads
to be the source of the problem. Given the short incubation period
between eating fiddleheads and becoming sick, it was hypothesized that
the fiddleheads must have contained an unidentified toxic substance. In
all cases, the fiddleheads had been collected from sites located some
distance from any development or industry, there had been no pesticide
spraying in the areas, and storage and handling could not be faulted.
Laboratory testing failed to reveal any significant bacteria, bacterial
toxins, pesticides or other chemicals that might have caused the
illness. It is interesting to note that rats and mice remained healthy
after being fed raw and cooked fiddleheads from the same sources.
(photo: NB Image Bank)
The reports of fiddlehead food poisoning have lead to the
recommendation that fiddleheads be thoroughly cooked before eating.
Medical experts suggest that "thorough cooking" means boiling
or steaming for at least 10 minutes. Preventing illness among your
family members and friends is worth the slight increase in nutrient loss
and the soggier texture that occurs with longer cooking times.
Incidentally, the unfortunate dinner guest to whom I made reference
above, has since found that he can eat well-cooked fiddleheads with
abandon, but consistently becomes ill if the fiddleheads have not been
well-cooked! My fiddlehead ice cream, fiddlehead quiche, and curried
fiddlehead soup have caused her no digestive upset.
Since the ingestion of some fern species, e.g. bracken fern, has been
linked with certain types of cancer, persons who gather fiddleheads
should be certain that they are harvesting the correct species.
Inexperienced "fiddleheaders" should accompany seasoned
On a final note, we must take care that, in our zealous harvesting
adventures, we refrain from taking more that a few fiddleheads from each
plant so that our bountiful natural resource will be sustainable. The
fiddlehead is a delicious and nutritious sign of spring and a New
Brunswick tradition worth preserving (in both senses of the word!)
Reference: Morgan, P., et al 1994. Ostrich Fern
Poisoning - Western Canada and New York, 1994. Canada Communicable
Disease Report 20 (18): 160-162.