Sweet Fern

Comptonia peregrina (L.) Coulter.

Synonyms: Comptonia asplenifolia Gaertn.; Myrica asplenifolia L.; Liquidambar asplenifolia L.; Liquidambar peregrina L.

Other common names: Fern gale, fern bush, meadow fern, shrubby fern, Canada sweet gale, spleenwort bush, sweet bush, sweet ferry.

Habitat and range: Sweet fern is usually found on hillsides, in dry soil, in Canada and the northeastern United States. It is indigenous.

Description: The fragrant odor and. the resemblance of the leaves of this plant to those of a fern have given rise to the common name "sweet fern." It is a shrub with reddish-brown bark, growing from about 1 to 3 feet in height, with slender, erect or spreading branches, the leaves hairy when young. The thin narrow leaves are borne on short stalks and are linear oblong or linear lance shaped, about 3 to 6 inches long and from one-fourth to half an inch wide, deeply divided into many lobes, the margins of which are generally entire or sparingly toothed. The catkins expand with the leaves.

The staminate or male flowers are produced in cylindrical catkins in clusters at the ends of the branches and are about an inch in length, the kidney-shaped scales overlapping. The pistillate or female flowers are borne in egg-shaped or roundish-oval catkins, the eight awl-shaped bractlets persisting and surrounding the one-seeded, shining, light-brown nut, giving it a burlike appearance. The whole plant has a spicy, aromatic odor, which is more pronounced when the leaves are bruised. Sweet fern belongs to the bayberry family (Myricaceae).

Collection, prices, and uses: The entire plant is used, but especially the leaves and tops. It has a fragrant, spicy odor and an aromatic, slightly bitter, and astringent taste.

The present price of sweet fern is about 3 to 5 cents a pound.

It is used for its tonic and astringent properties, principally in a domestic way, as a remedy in diarrheal complaints.


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