Saturday, May 18Food Security Matters

Fern (Fiddleheads) Farming: How to Plant and Grow Pako

Pako or paku fern farming is the process of edible fern cultivation to harvest its fiddleheads and consume them as food. This process is not widely popular in the Philippines as pako is a wild plant and most fiddleheads available in the market are harvested from the wild. Due to the decreasing habitat of the plant, they could be extinct shortly and fern farming seems to be a great option to preserve the species.

Few people cultivate edible ferns and many of them become very successful as pako fiddleheads are highly sought-after by hotels and restaurants in bigger urban cities. A kilogram of pako fern can cost anywhere from 160 to as high as 350 making it one of the most expensive vegetables in the country.

Successful pako farmer Nick Bognot from Santa Rita Pampanga

What is Pako Edible Fern

Pako fern (sientific name: Diplazium esculentum), fiddleheads, or the vegetable fern, is an edible fern found throughout the Philippines and other Asian countries including Oceania. It is probably the most commonly consumed fern out of many edible ferns.

Pako fern is found in most Philippine forests and places near the rivers but the decreasing habitat of the plant alarms the government and only time can tell when the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) will restrict the harvesting of wild pako fiddleheads. Other fern species like the Philippine tree fern (scientific name: Alsophila heterochlamydea) are already illegal to harvest and are considered endangered species due to overharvesting. The Philippine tree fern is used in orchid cultivation. Pako fern farming not only helps the edible fern to survive but also provides sustainable income since it is easy to grow.

Edible Fern Farming and Domestication

Pako fern is not difficult to plant and manage and does not require a lot of effort like other food crops.

The best place to plant and cultivate pako fern is under the shades of other trees like bananas, coconut, and other perennial crops like coffee trees, abaca, cacao, and other fruit trees. Pako will not survive if planted in areas with full sunlight. It also prefers a cooler climate and will thrive in areas near the river. Pako needs enough water so it must be planted in areas with abundant water supply.

Edible fiddleheads don’t need their land to farm rather they can be planted with other crops as mentioned above.

Pako ferns don’t have seeds and reproduce via spores – microscopic seed-like units generally adapted for dispersal and survival in poor environmental conditions. Mature fern leaves usually house several spore sacs (sporangia) underneath. Ferns can also reproduce asexually with the use of their rhizomes – modified stems that also function as roots for the plant.

Pako can be replanted by taking its rooted shoots. It can multiply fast and can be harvested all year round but it produces more fiddleheads during rainy seasons when the weather is cooler.

Harvesting Pako Ferns

Pako edible ferns provide fiddleheads all year round but production can peak during rainy seasons. Harvesting is done by picking fiddleheads or furled fronds of a young fern. Although it can be harvested by handpicking, using tools like knives or scissors can reduce plant damage.  From the top of the fiddlehead, take around 20 to 30 centimeters inches down and cut without damaging the plant by leaving a longer base.

Marketing Pako Ferns

Marketing edible fern is not difficult as this vegetable is in high demand and can be sold fast by posting it online through Facebook. If your harvest every week is more than 50 kilograms, you may also contact hotels and restaurants so you can have regular customers. Pako fern is considered an exotic food and is loved by many Filipinos.

Is Edible Pako Fern Farming Profitable?

Fern farming is highly profitable. A pako farmer named Nick Bognot from Santa Rita, Pampanga claimed to have built a big and beautiful house just by farming pako fern. His story is featured in Agribusiness How It Works channel and is available online. Watch below.

The government encourages farmers to farm pako fern not just for additional profit but also to help the plant survive as its natural habitat is fast decreasing.

Questions Related to Pako and Edible Fern Farming

What is pako fern in English?

Pako fern as fiddlehead fern, edible fern, or vegetable fern in English. Pako is just like any fern as it reproduces via spores, allowing it to thrive even without the help of humans. It is also called pako in Hiligaynon and Cebuano.

What are the benefits of pako leaves?

As a vegetable, paco leaves are rich in fiber, which is a perfectly healthy diet for people who are losing weight, have heart problems, and even those with diabetes. Fiber takes time to digest thereby allowing people to feel full and lose the craving to eat.

What is the purpose of pako?

Studying pako fern, the plant has shown antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticoagulative, antidiabetic, and immunosuppressive properties. Young fronds are eaten as a leafy vegetable, raw or cooked; or as an ingredient in salads or stews. Edible pako fern is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron, and vitamin B.

What is pako in the Philippines?

The Fiddlehead fern, locally called pako in the Philippines, is a vegetable fern. It is often listed among the several kinds of edible ferns mostly found all over Asia and Oceania. Fiddlehead or furled fronds of young leaves are collected as vegetables and cultivated in a few countries, including the Philippines.

Is eating fern good for your health?

Fiddlehead ferns are high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, which are often found in so-called “superfoods.” They can be especially good for people who don’t eat fish, which is also high in essential fatty acids. Potassium. One serving of fiddlehead ferns provides about 11% of the daily potassium you need.

How do you harvest pako?

When harvesting, collect only from healthy groups of plants. Select the semi-mature fronds that are at the stage when it is unfurling or when half the frond has already unfurled. Cut the leaves by the stalk at about 20 to 30 centimeters above the base. Avoid damaging the rhizome so the plant can regenerate.

Is fern poisonous to humans?

Some ferns are poisonous and toxic and there are also edible ferns – pako is an edible fern. It is important to buy only pako ferns from farmers and not harvest it yourself since you may pick a poisonous species if you are now knowledgeable about ferns.

Can pako be eaten raw?

It is not uncommon to eat it raw but cooking it is highly suggested. If you eat raw, just make sure that you wash them thoroughly or better yet, soak them in cold or iced water for some minutes, then wash them. You can also blanch them in boiling water and then soak them in iced water if want to be sure.

Are fern leaves medicinal?

Ferns are an important phylogenetic bridge between lower and higher plants. Historically they have been used in many ways by humans, including as ornamental plants, domestic utensils, foods, and handicrafts. In addition, they have found uses as medicinal herbs.

Is Pako Salad healthy?

Pako leaves are not just delicious for salads and menus, but very nutritious too. It contains a B-vitamin complex, 40% of vitamin C, 72% of vitamin A, beta-carotene, 3% calcium, 8% magnesium, 10% potassium, and 7% iron (based on an RDA of 100g). It is very beneficial for people with diabetes, heart problems, and anemia.

What part of pako is edible?

Pako is a healthy food source. Care must be taken when harvesting the young fern fronds (called fiddleheads) as this is the only edible part of the plant. The fiddleheads can then be prepared and eaten in several ways, mainly as a vegetable.

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