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Sweet Fern

    Scientific Names

    Sweet Fern
    Sweet Fern
    • Comptonia peregrina L.
    • Comptonia asplenifolia
    • Myricaceae
    • Bayberry family

    Common Names

    ivyFern bush
    ivyFern gale
    ivyMeadow fern
    ivySweet bush
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    Parts Usually Used

    The whole herb, mainly the leaves
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    Description of Plant(s) and Culture

    Sweet fern is a strongly aromatic, fernlike deciduous shrub; its slender, reddish-brown branches grow up to 5 feet high and bear alternate, short-petioled, linear-oblong leaves that are deeply pinnatifid with lobes that are broader than they are long. The leaves are soft-hairy, lance shaped; 3-6 inches long with prominent rounded teeth. Male flowers grow in cylindrical catkins, female in egg-shaped catkins that develop into clusters of brown, shining, ovoid, burrlike, nutlets.
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    Where Found

    Found on dry hills from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, Georgia mountains; Ohio, Nebraska, Illinois to Minnesota, Manitoba. Grows in infertile soils near shores, but it is also a common weedy shrub of dry roadsides, gravel banks, and woodland clearings.
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    Medicinal Properties

    Astringent, tonic
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    Legends, Myths and Stories

    Sweet fern is not actually a fern; rather, it is a member of the Bayberry family. The flowers are not showy, and the fruits resemble small, slender cones. For the species C. peregrina, the name peregrina means “foreign”. This is a misnomer from an American perspective: although the plant was foreign to the European botanist who first named it, it is native to North America. Some references refer to sweet fern as belonging to the Wax-myrtle family, but Webster’s Dictionary clearly states it belongs to the Bayberry family.

    Native Americans used the leaves in smudge fires, and lined their baskets with them when gathering highly perishable berries. In 1854, Howard wrote that the leaves make a very pleasant tea, with the addition of cream and sugar, children rarely refused it.
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    The primary use has been to relieve diarrhea. Also can be used for skin problems. Native Americans soaked the leaves in water to make a was for poison ivy irritation. Also, Native Americans used it as a beverage, as a poison, and to stop bleeding: a strong decoction was used externally for rheumatism and bruises. Folk remedy for vomiting of blood, leukorrhea, rheumatism.
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    Formulas or Dosages

    Infusion: steep 1 tsp. plant in 1 cup boiling water. Take 1 to 2 cups per day, a mouthful at a time.

    Tincture: a dose is 1/2 to 1 tsp.
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    Buy It! American Folk Medicine/i>, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, 1973

    Buy It! Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke., Houghton Mifflin Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10000

    Buy It! The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, copyright 1988, fifth printing, 1994

    Buy It! The Herb Book, by John Lust, Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY. copyright 1974.

    Herbal Gardening, compiled by The Robison York State Herb Garden, Cornell Plantations, Matthaei Botanical Gardens of the University of Michigan, University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley., Pantheon Books, Knopf Publishing Group, New York, 1994, first edition

    Buy It! Old Ways Rediscovered, by Clarence Meyer, Meyerbooks, publisher, PO Box 427, Glenwood, Illinois 60425, published from 1954, print 1988

    Buy It! Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, New World Dictionaries: A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 15 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10023

    Buy It! The Rodale Herb Book: How to Use, Grow, and Buy Nature's Miracle Plants (An Organic gardening and farming book), edited by William H. Hylton, Rodale Press, Inc. Emmaus, PA, 18049., 1974

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