Latin name: Pteridium aquilinum
Synonyms: Pteris aquilina
Family: Polypodiaceae (Polypody Fern Family)
Medicinal use of Bracken:The young shoots are diuretic, refrigerant and vermifuge. They have been eaten as a treatment for cancer. The leaves have been used in a steam bath as a treatment for arthritis. A decoction of the plant as been used in the treatment of tuberculosis. A poultice of the pounded fronds and leaves has been used to treat sores of any type and also to bind broken bones in place. The root is antiemetic, antiseptic, appetizer and tonic. A tincture of the root in wine is used in the treatment of rheumatism. A tea made from the roots is used in the treatment of stomach cramps, chest pains, internal bleeding, diarrhoea, colds and also to expel worms. The poulticed root is applied to sores, burns and caked breasts.
Description of the plant:
Habitat of the herb:Heath, woodland and grassland. A common and highly invasive weed of acid soils, it is rarely found on limestone or wet peats.
Edible parts of Bracken:Root - cooked. It can be dried and ground into a powder. The root is very fibrous so traditionally it was baked after being dried, the outer skin was peeled off and the roots pounded into a powder with sticks so that the inner fibres could be removed. The dried root will store for years. The root contains 60% starch. The dry weight content of starch is between 43 and 72%. This starch can be extracted from the roots and is used in making dumplings which are eaten with soya flour and sugar as a delicacy. The root has a somewhat constipating effect upon the body so is best eaten with foods that have a laxative quality. Young shoots, harvested when still unfurling, can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be used like asparagus or like spinach. Somewhat flavourless, though they are considered to be a delicacy in Japan. The fronds should be used when less than 20cm long, longer ones have a terrible taste. The shoots are somewhat bitter so they are often blanched for a few minutes in boiling water, then left to soak in cold water for two hours before being cooked. Although this might well improve the flavour, it will greatly reduce the nutritional value. The shoots should be steeped in lye first. Occasional use should cause no problems, but regular consumption is not advisable because the shoots might be carcinogenic. The plant yields an edible saccharine substance. (from the cooking root??).
Other uses of the herb:A glue can be made from the rootstock. A brown dye is obtained from the fronds. It is green according to another report. The fibrous remnants from edible roots make a good tinder. The rhizome lathers readily in water and can be used as a soap. A decoction of the root has been used as a hair wash. The roots have been rubbed into the scalp in order to promote hair growth. The roots have been pounded to remove the bark, then split into flat bands and used as the black strands of cheap baskets. The ashes of the plant are rich in potassium and could be used as a fertilizer. They are also used in the manufacture of glass (when mixed with sand) and in making soap (when mixed with vegetable oil). The roots contain up to 20% potash in early summer, but this reduces to about 5% in the autumn. The whole plant is a very valuable addition to the compost heap, it is rich in potash and makes an excellent compost for tree seeds. Cut twice a year if you want the plants to continue growing, three cuts annually will weaken and eventually kill off the plants. The dried ferns produce a very durable thatch. The leaves are used as a packing material for fruit, keeping it fresh and cool without imparting any colour or flavour. They are also used as a lining for baskets, fruit drying racks etc and as a bedding. The leaves repel insects and can help to prevent rot in the fruits etc. Dried bracken fronds are very useful in the garden as a mulch for somewhat tender plants. This will keep the soil warmer, protect from wind damage and also keep off some of the rain.
Propagation of Bracken:Spores can be surface sown in the same way as other ferns but this plant really does not need any help in spreading itself about. Division is also possible but usually totally unnecessary.
Cultivation of the herb:Heath, woodland and grassland. A common and highly invasive weed of acid soils, it is rarely found on limestone or wet peats.
Known hazards of Pteridium aquilinum:There are a number of reports regarding the possible health risks of this plant. The huge quantity of spores released by large areas of bracken are suggested to be implicated in stomach cancers. A recent study suggests that this is not such a problem in Britain as was once believed, the spores are not produced in such high quantities nor do they travel so far due to our normally humid atmosphere. The leaves and roots contain substances that deprive the body of vitamin B1 if they are eaten raw, though they are possibly alright cooked. The leaves are also said to be carcinogenic.
Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.