Jeju's ferns, a favorite royal tribute, are in season. Ferns that are growing recently with the spring rain are the softest and most delicious. For this, the Jeju islanders call the frequent rains during April and May "the Fern rains." Around this time, the edible stems are still tender and soft because the leaves are yet to be spread open. At the end of May, the stem hardens and makes the ferns less tasty to eat.
Around this time, people gather around the ranches and oreum (small volcanic mountains) in Jeju. Whether they're young or old, people take the hike to collect these succulent sprouts in season. Not only are they delicious, but the ferns are also quite fun to pick. According to those who have the experience, there's something special about the sound it makes as it breaks.
The novice pickers, most of them tourists, pick them off vast fields or woods that can be seen by anybody. But the true masters have their own ideal spots. In Jeju, such spots are carefully guarded secrets, not even told to daughters and daughters-in-law.
As they try to find their treasured spots, many also get lost. While looking down for ferns that grow mostly in the middle mountainous areas, they lose their ways in the midst of forests. According to the Jeju Fire Safety Department, there were 111 cases of people being lost while picking ferns between 2016 and 2018. It's much higher than those related to dulle trails (35) or oreum hiking (19) within the same period.
Called "beef of the mountains," ferns are rich in nutrients. They're filled with protein, calcium, iron, and other minerals, and were sent as a tribute gift to the court in the name of "gwolchae." It's also useful that they can be dried and used all year long. Dried ferns from Jeju are traded at over 10,000 KRW per 100 g in retail price.