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reccomended with chamomile or something sweet)

Sweetfern is indigenous up and down the East Coast and west of the Great Divide. It was well known to Native Americans who used it medicinally as an anti-itch treatment, an inhalant to clear the lungs, a diarrhea remedy and as a smudge to repel mosquitoes or aid in religious ceremonies

Sweet fern was employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it especially as a poultice to treat a variety of complaints. It is still used for most of the same purposes in modern herbalism. The leaves are astringent, blood purifier, expectorant and tonic. A tea made from the leaves and flowering tops is used as a remedy for diarrhoea, headache, fevers, catarrh, vomiting of blood, rheumatism etc. The infusion has also been used to treat ringworm. The leaves have also been used as a poultice for toothaches, sprains etc. A cold water infusion of the leaves has been used externally to counter the effect of poison ivy and to bathe stings, minor haemorrhages etc. The leaves are harvested in early summer and dried for later use


Sweet Fern has been long forgotten by modern medicine and over looked by many western herbalists. I find Sweet fern to be one of my most important aromatic, astringent herbs with incredible medicinal benefits.


I use Sweet fern in my medicine making for conditions of the skin. In cases of advanced poison ivy, oak or sumac rash, there is no other plant to compare with the trusted effects of Sweet Fern. Although Jewelweed is known as the antidote for poison ivy, I believe jewelweed is best used at the onset or before the rash appears. Sweet Fern is used when the rash is already present and well established.

“Sweet fern is a good remedy for poison ivy. Once I found myself blistering up. Though I caught it elsewhere, just then I was at Sunstone Herb Farm, in Ulster County, New York. There wasn’t a lot around but white pine and comptonia. The poison ivy was gone in twelve hours.”

– Matthew Wood The Earthwise Herbal

I have not yet had the opportunity to experiment with sweet fern on the hog weed rash, but I have used it on a wild parsley rash with great success. I had tried Jewelweed many years ago on hog weed rash with no success at all, in fact it made the rash worse. I am quite sure sweet fern would be effective and I look forward to trying it in the future.


I find nothing better than Sweet Fern for strong reactions to bug bites; mosquito, black fly and spider bites. For itchy, red, inflamed and open rashes caused by the scratching of bites (and poison ivy), I mix sweet fern with plantain leaf to make a wonderful Sweet Fern Herbal Cream. I find applying these plants in the form of a cream to be more useful than a compress from the tea or decoction. The thick consistency of the cream allows the plant medicine to stay on the area, relieving the itchiness and inflammation. I have had many mothers report back to me about how wonderful this plant preparation solved the rash on their child quickly and more efficiently than anything else they had ever used. Using Sweet Fern together with Plantain as a fresh poultice would be wonderfully effective as well.


I have also been experimenting with Comptonia on acne. I was visited by a woman who asked if I had anything for her sons acne. I did not have a product specific for that but suggested she try my Sweet Fern Herbal Cream. She came back a few weeks later to my market booth raving to people walking past about the wonders of my products. She explained that the cream first made the acne worse, bringing it to the surface. They continued to apply the cream and found that it resolved the acne within a week. I have used it in the same way with my teenage son. I find it does not completely resolve the acne. It must be applied daily and when used this way it greatly reduces the boils, redness and inflammation. The acne becomes less noticeable; it is subdued and kept under control. Diet must be addressed with acne, and I find using a topical treatment like Sweet fern along with daily intake of dark leafy greens, probiotics, burdock infusions and fish oil as a supplement to be the best approach to treating acne. Drinking Sweet fern tea would be of great benefit as well.

Sweet Fern

Latin name: Comptonia peregrina and Comptonia asplenifolia

Botanical family: Myricacea, Bayberry family

Common names: Sweet fern, meadow fern, sweet bush, fern gale, sweet ferry, spleenwort

Medicinal properties

Plant Properties: tonic, astringent, digestive tonic, immune tonic, lymphatic tonic, nutritive (Wood), anti-inflammatory, emollient, antibacterial, antiviral, anti fungal, anti-tumor, anaphylactic, antimutagenic, choleric, bronchodilator, free radical scavenger, inhibits insulin degradation and has slight muscle relaxing properties as well. (Hoffman: tannins)


Sweet Fern contains a fair amount of tannins which account for its astringency and many medicinal actions.

Applications of Tannins: from Medical Herbalism – The Science and Practise of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffman

  • protect inflamed mucous membranes
  • Exert a drying effect on mucous membranes, reducing hypersecretion
  • Reduce inflammation and swelling accompanied by infection
  • Prevent bleeding from small wounds
  • Reduce uterine bleeding
  • Relieve symptoms of diarrhea or dysentry through binding effects in the gut
  • Used externally for astringent action in douches, snuffs and eyewashes

Energetics: aromatic, astringent, spicy, warming, stimulant, drying, bitter, slightly sweet (Woods p. 125)

Plant Uses: Internal: Diarrhea, diverticulitis, Chron’s disease, weak digestion. Sweet fern has an affinity for the intestinal tract.
External: Poison ivy, oak and sumac, eczema, acne, sprains, swellings, inflammation.
Matthew Wood recommends Sweet Fern for lymphatic swellings, diarrhea, poor digestion, weakened immunity, emaciation and poor bone development and worms. Indications for use he states are; black rings under the eyes and sunken eyes. (Wood p.125, 126)


Custom Sweet Fern

  • Please consult with physician if never taken before or worried!

    The leaves are astringent, blood purifier, expectorant and tonic. A tea made from the leaves and flowering tops are used as a remedy for diarrhoea, headache, fevers, catarrh, vomiting of blood, rheumatism etc. The infusion has also been used to treat ringworm.

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