Braken Fern
Dried and Boiled Ferns [Brake Fern, Fernbrake; Gosari (Korea); Warabi (Japan); Pteridium aquilinum]

A common fern in temperate climates, immature Bracken fronds are eaten as a vegetable in many parts of the world and particularly in Korea, Japan and parts of China. Native Americans dug up, cooked and ate the rhizomes from which the fronds sprout. These are still used in Japan, Sichuan, China and elsewhere, as a starch source (see noodles, below).

Bracken Fern is toxic to livestock when a significant part of their diet. For humans, fresh fern should be cooked (simmered 10 minutes) and eaten in moderation. One of the toxins is a thiamine inhibitor that can cause a vitamin deficiency if consumed for an extended period.

Bracken also contains a substance identified as a carcinogen (ptalquiloside), and has been placed in the same risk category as Coffee and Sassafras by the American Cancer Society. Study is ongoing, and there appears to be some cancer correlation for Korean and Japanese populations who eat fernbrake on practically a daily basis. Ptalquiloside is volatile and destroyed by heat. Currently there is insufficient data as to how much may remain in fresh boiled fernbrake, or dried, boiled, soaked and cooked fernbrake. Basically, cooked fernbrake seems safe enough for occasional use. Some varieties of fernbrake, particularly in New Zealand, do not contain this substance.

The photo specimens are water packed and dried examples from a local Korean market. The dried is most used in Korea, because young fernbreak fronds are seasonal.

Water Packed   These were up to 11-1/2 inches long and the largest stems were just under 0.25 inch diameter. I have found it best to trim fronds to 9 inches because beyond that they are likely to be hard and fibrous.

Dry Fernbrake:   These were purchased from a Korean market in Los Angeles in a 6 ounce plastic bag, at 2015 US $3.99 for 6 ounces ($10.64 / pound). They take boiling and a long soak (see below), but provide an interesting flavor.

Yield:   Dried fernbrake, boiled and soaked by the method given below: one ounce dried produces 6.1 ounces rehydrated. The fernbrake is reasonably tender after the boil and cool, but the yield is 5.4 ounces per ounce, so it clearly can still benefit from the 8 hour soak.

Korean cooking maven Maangchi recommends this procedure:

  1. Put the Dried Ferns in a pot with plenty of water to cover and bring to a boil for 30 minutes.
  2. Set the pot aside, covered, and let cool for about for 2 or 3 hours.
  3. Drain Ferns, place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak 8 hours or overnight, changing the water 2 or 3 times.
  4. If the fernbrake is still not soft, boil for another 30 minutes and let it sit until soft.

Fern Root Noodles
Black Noodles We found these noodles, made from starch extracted from bracken fern root, in one of the large Asian markets here in Los Angeles. The strands were 0.063 inch diameter and 20 inches long, folded in the middle. Cooked, they resemble large, dark colored bean starch noodles, but have a lightly earthy flavor, while been starch noodles are pretty neutral. These come from Sichuan China, ingredients: fern root starch, rapeseed oil.

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