Pill Identifier App

Ostrich Fern

Scientific Name(s): Matteuccia struthiopteris (L.) Tod. Family Aspleniaceae (Athyroideae)

Common Name(s): Ostrich fern

Uses

Ostrich fern has been used as a seasonal delicacy.

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to support specific doses of ostrich fern.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Adverse effects due to undercooking ostrich ferns include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and GI illness.

Toxicology

Severe food poisoning from raw or undercooked ostrich ferns have been reported.

Botany

The ostrich fern is a common fern that grows in the northeastern US and in large parts of Canada.

History

Fiddleheads (the young shoot tops) of the ostrich fern are a seasonal delicacy, harvested commercially throughout the northeastern US and coastal Canadian provinces. This spring vegetable had been a regular part of the diet of Canadian settlers by the early 1700s. 1 Unlike some ferns that have been considered carcinogenic or toxic, this fern had been considered to be nontoxic. Recent experience, however, indicates that it has the potential to induce severe food poisoning when not cooked properly. The ferns are available canned, frozen or fresh.

Chemistry

Little is known about the chemistry of the ostrich fern. As described in the Toxicology section, poisonings due to this fern are believed to be caused by a heat-labile toxin that has not been characterized. The ostrich fern has been reported to accumulate heavy metals. 2

A protein identified as matteuccin has been characterized in the fern. It is a small basic protein consisting of two small disulfide-linked polypeptides, 3 but there is no indication that this protein is responsible for the toxicity of the plant.

Uses and Pharmacology

The fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are generally considered to be edible following steaming. One field guide indicates that wild greens may have laxative properties and recommends boiling them and discarding the first water, to limit this effect. 4 No other significant pharmacologic properties have been ascribed to the fern.

Dosage

There is no clinical evidence to support specific doses of ostrich fern.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Symptoms were reported within 12 hours; nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping were the most commonly reported adverse events. Consumption of fiddlehead soup was also associated with gastrointestinal illness.

Toxicology

Boiling the young fiddleheads of the fern is believed to deactivate the potentially toxic properties of the plant. Recently, several outbreaks of severe food poisoning were reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Affected individuals had eaten raw or lightly cooked fiddleheads of the ostrich fern in New York and western Canada. 5 The ferns associated with toxicity had often been eaten in restaurants, where the fiddleheads had been blanched or sauteed for only two minutes or less. However, when the ferns had been boiled for ten minutes prior to being sauteed, no illness occurred at the same restaurants.

Bibliography

1. vonAderkas P. Economic history of ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, the edible fiddlehead. Economic Botany . 1984;38:14.
2. Burns LV, Parker GH. Metal burdens in two species of fiddleheads growing near the ore smelters at Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol . 1994;40:717.
3. Rodin J, Rask L. Characterization of matteuccin, the 2.2S storage protein of the ostrich fern. Evolutionary relationship to angiosperm seed storage proteins. Eur J Biochem . 1990;192:101.
4. Tomikel J. Edible Wild Plants of Pennsylvania and New York . Pittsburgh: Allegheny Press, 1973.
5. Bills D, et al. Ostrich fern poisoning-New York and Western Canada, 1994 MMWR . 1994;43:67, 683.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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