- Comptonia peregrina L.
- Comptonia asplenifolia
- Bayberry family
Parts Usually Used
The whole herb, mainly the leaves
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.