HomeHerb DatabaseFern Bush Wednesday, June 19, 2024  
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Sweet Fern

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

Common Names

herbsFern bush
herbsFern gale
herbsMeadow fern
herbsSweet bush

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.

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.

Medicinal Properties

Astringent, tonic

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.

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