Herb: Ostrich Fern

Latin name: Matteuccia pensylvanica

Synonyms: Matteuccia struthiopteris pensylvanica, Struthiopteris pensylvanica

Family: Polypodiaceae (Polypody Fern Family)

Edible parts of Ostrich Fern:

Young fronds - raw or cooked. Used before they fully unroll, they are thick and succulent. Sometimes sold in speciality markets according to one report, whilst another says that they are a famine food that is only used when all else fails. Rootstock - peeled and roasted.

Description of the plant:


60 cm
(2 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

Low open ground, alluvial thickets and rich woods.

Propagation of Ostrich Fern:

Spores - surface sow as soon as they are ripe in mid-winter and keep the soil moist. It is best to keep the pot in a sealed plastic bag to hold in the moisture. Pot up small clumps of the young plants as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow on in light shade until large enough to plant out. Division during the dormant season between October and March. Larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Low open ground, alluvial thickets and rich woods.

Medicinal use of Ostrich Fern:

None known

Known hazards of Matteuccia pensylvanica:

Although we have found no reports of toxicity for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable. Many ferns also contain thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.