Fiddlehead warning issued by chief medical officer

New Brunswick's fiddlehead season is starting early and the province's chief medical officer is warning people to be careful when they wash and cook the vegetable.
Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province's chief medical officer of health, has issued a health advisory over cooking and handling fiddleheads. (CBC) ((CBC))

New Brunswick’s fiddlehead season is starting early and the province’s chief medical officer is warning people to be careful when they wash and cook the vegetable.

Dr. Eilish Cleary said people need to remember to boil fiddleheads for at least 15 minutes or steam them for 10 to 12 minutes.

Fiddlehead safety tips

  • Remove as much of the brown, papery husk as possible
  • Wash the fiddleheads well using fresh, cold water
  • Cook fiddleheads for 15 minutes
  • Or, steam fiddleheads for 10 to 12 minutes
  • Discard the water used in boiling or steaming fiddleheads

Source: Health Canada

The water used should then be dumped out.

Cleary said these steps are necessary to avoid any potential illnesses.

Eating raw fiddleheads can cause a variety of symptons, including nausea, diarrhea and headaches, according to Health Canada.

"Although it is unknown exactly what causes this temporary illness, Health Canada believes that it is most likely the result of an unidentified natural toxin present in the fiddlehead," Cleary said in a statement.

"Symptoms of illness appear within 30 minutes to 12 hours of eating raw or undercooked fiddleheads and typically last for less than 24 hours but may last as long as three days. Symptoms may include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and headaches."

Fiddlehead season normally starts in early to mid-May.

Fiddleheads are the young coiled leaves of the ostrich fern. Fiddleheads emerge in groups of three to 12 on the banks of rivers, streams and brooks, and are harvested when they are one or two inches above the ground

They are a source of Omega 3 and Omega 6. As well, fiddleheads are high in iron and fibre.

Karen Love has written a cookbook of 75 Ways to cook fiddleheads and she knows just how important it is to clean and boil them before eating.

"Well one of the things you should do, especially if you've just gotten them from the side of the riverbank is to bounce them up and down on a screen to get rid of all the debris and everything else that's there, and get the brown casing, there's like a film, or a casing that's on them — get that off," she said.

If you feel sick after eating fiddleheads, you can treat it like any other stomach bug — stay hydrated and rest, says Dr. Denis Allard, deputy chief medical officer with the provincial health department.