Maiden Hair Fern
This time of year, the most common form of disease is the cold and flu. Maiden hair fern can help in creating some balance and harmony because it is a gentle, subtle herb that can help soothe and cleanse your system.
Maiden hair fern grows in the dark, moist forests here in Western Washington, up into Canada and into southern Alaska. It likes the rocky areas near stream banks and cliffs in the spray zone of waterfalls. I have found it up to middle elevations, in shady, sheltered, rich loamy sites. It has long, delicate, dark stems that divide into two stalks then divide again and which resemble a hand or “palmate.” The delicacy of this plant is sure to catch your eye. With its fine leaflets that are oblong, alternate and are cleft into rectangular lobes, it will cause you to stop and catch your breath. Every time I find this plant in the woods, it is a reminder to stop and smell the air, to admire its simple beauty and note the colors on the stalks.
Maiden hair fern stalks are used for design in baskets. When they are fresh, the stalks are split, the pith removed and the fragile stalks are then woven into the basket as an overlay. When they are dried, the stalks need to be soaked for a time in order to make them somewhat pliable again. The native peoples used them in beautiful, intricate basket designs.
I am told the leaves were used by many native peoples here in this area (Northwestern Coastal First Peoples) as a hair rinse. One method was to soak the leaves for an infusion and another was to use the ashes from burnt leaves on the hair to make it shiny. Today, when combined with yarrow or chamomile and made into a tea, the results are luster and shine and will surely have people asking what shampoo and rinse you use!!
In Europe and Latin America a related species has been used for stimulating slow and crampy menses and helping the menses become more regular. It is very useful in young women for regulation after childbirth and also for nursing mothers.
Maiden hair fern has a very subtle strengthening effect on the connective tissues, especially those under chronic stress. When combined with other herbs that contain silica, it helps to clean the filtering organs, such as the kidneys and liver.
The most common use today is for coughing and lung ailments because of the mucilaginous and tannic properties. It has proven helpful to drink a cup of tea each day if you are exposed to air pollution or smog. This herb has subtle effects and should be used when you think maybe you might be getting a small cough or irritation. It is more for a preventative soothing tea than for use during the height of cold. Also, I am sure it will help at the tail end of a cold to cleanse the tissues of the lungs and soothe the throat and airways.
One of the changes I made was to gather this herb in the neighbor’s garden. I have discovered that when I find it in the wild, it is a rare beauty and is there to admire. I have also found that it is not always in abundance – just a plant or two that should be left to spread and grow. My neighbor knew that I wove baskets and asked if I would like to harvest her plant because she was going to transplant it in the spring to another location. I was delighted. I cut the stalks low to the ground, bound the ends and hung them to dry in my kitchen. I found them to smell like the rich loam of the forest as they dried, but after they dried, they smelled like cat urine. So I completed the harvest, put the stalks in a dark cool place, so the color wouldn’t change and am making tea from the leaves for external and internal use.
When you are out wandering, thinking of the changes you have made, take note of Adiantum pedatum. This is the plant that made the Maiden’s Hair so beautiful and lush. Get to know Maiden Hair Fern.
Remember to keep things simple. Happy New Year!