Bracken Fern

Plant Use(es):Food

Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Fiddleheads – Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

Frond - Photo by Pauline Eccles

Frond – Photo by Pauline Eccles

Other common names: bracken, brake, common bracken, eagle fern

Scientific name: Pteridium aquilinum  (L.) Kuhn

Family name: Dennstaedtiaceae


A large fern that is commonly more than 150cm tall. The rhizomes, or underground stems, of the fern are thick and round with a black outside and white glutinous inside. The fronds are tall and smooth, with light green stems and are triangular in shape.


The fiddleheads of the Brackern Fern were popular with the Nuu-chah-nulth and Sechelt people as well as some peoples in Washington. The rhizomes were eaten by most all Indigenous coastal groups and were dug up in late fall or winter (with the exception of Nuxalk who harvested them in the summer). Before roasting them, the rhizomes would be coiled and dried, and were ready to eat when the outer layers peeled off. The tough fibrous centres would be removed, and the fern was often eaten with eggs or oil because alone it created constipation. The Straits Salish would make a bread by pounding the rhizomes into a flour and mixing it with water to form flat-cakes of dough. The cakes were then roasted, and eaten.


  • When the Saanich ate Bracken Fern rhizomes, they did so with seal oil, from a horse-clam shell after a meat course.
  • The Kwakwaka’wakw would eat it with salmon spawn or grease but would only allow old women to dig up the rhizomes, as they believed that young women would get sick doing this.
  • Bracken Fern patches were often “owned” by individuals or families, especially among the Vancouver Island Salish.
  • Turner (1997) also notes that the leaves are known to be toxic to animals when eaten in large quantites as there is an enzyme present that destroys the animals’ thiamine reserves (p. 31). However, the rhizome and fiddleheads are widely eaten, therefore it is assumed that the enzyme is not present in those parts of the plant. There is more recent evidence that the fronds are cancer-causing.


The fern grows commonly throughout the province of B.C., with the exception of high altitude areas.


The University Endowment Lands, Pacific Spirit Park

For more information on bracken visit E-Flora:



Evans, I. A. 1976. Relationship between bracken and cancer. Bot. Linn. Soc., 73: 105-112.

Fenwick, G. R. 1988. Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) – toxic effects and toxic constituents. J. Sci. Food Agric., 46: 147-173.

Hirono, I. 1989. Carcinogenic bracken glycosides. Pages 239-251 in Cheeke, P. R., ed. Toxicants of plant origin. Vol. II. Glycosides. CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., USA. 277 pp.

Hopkins, A. 1990. Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum): its distribution and animal health implications. Agric. Can. Res. Branch Contrib., 146: 316-326.

Kelleway, R. A., Geovjian, L. 1978. Acute bracken fern poisoning in a 14-month-old horse. Vet. Med. Small Anim. Clin., 73: 295-296.

Turner, N. J., & Royal British Columbia Museum. (1995). Food plants of coastal first peoples. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Photo credits

Hans Hillewaert (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from

Marie-Lan Nguyen (Own work) [CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from

Pauline Eccles [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from

Link to e-flora

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