Herb: Sweet Fern


Latin name: Comptonia peregrina


Synonyms: Liquidambar peregrina


Family: Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)



Medicinal use of Sweet Fern:

Sweet fern was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it especially as a poultice to treat a variety of complaints. It is still used for most of the same purposes in modern herbalism. The leaves are astringent, blood purifier, expectorant and tonic. A tea made from the leaves and flowering tops is used as a remedy for diarrhoea, headache, fevers, catarrh, vomiting of blood, rheumatism etc. The infusion has also been used to treat ringworm. The leaves have also been used as a poultice for toothaches, sprains etc. A cold water infusion of the leaves has been used externally to counter the effect of poison ivy and to bathe stings, minor haemorrhages etc. The leaves are harvested in early summer and dried for later use.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Deciduous
Shrub

Height:
150 cm
(5 feet)

Flovering:
March
to April


Scent:
Scented
Shrub

Habitat of the herb:

Dry rocky or sandy soils in clearings, pastures and poor open woodland.

Edible parts of Sweet Fern:

The young fruits are eaten as a pleasant nibble. The aromatic leaves, fresh or dried, are used to make a palatable tea. The leaves are also used as a seasoning.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves are used as a lining in baskets etc in order to preserve the fruit. The crushed leaves repel insects. They can be thrown onto a camp fire to keep mosquitoes away. The dried leaves have been burnt as an incense.

Propagation of Sweet Fern:

Seed - it has a very tough seed coat and also contains germination inhibitors and so is very difficult to germinate. It is probably best to harvest the seed "green" (after the seed has fully developed but before it dries on the plant) and sow immediately in a cold frame. If the seed has been stored then soaking in hot water for 24 hours will leach out some of the inhibitors and also help to soften the seed coat. Scarification will also help as will a period of cold stratification. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in a greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter and plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Root cuttings, 4cm long December in a frame. Plant the root horizontally. High percentage. Suckers removed in the dormant season and potted up or planted into their permanent positions. Plants can be difficult to move successfully. Layering in spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Dry rocky or sandy soils in clearings, pastures and poor open woodland.

Known hazards of Comptonia peregrina:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.