Fern doubled as tea substitute and laxative

David Wren of Lancashire emailed with a query, an observation, and a splendid photograph.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 4:45 pm
Maidenhair spleenwort

He said: “I am emailing you on behalf of my mother who read your recent column.

"She is convinced she has some of the rare ‘rustyback’ ferns you mentioned in the article growing in a shady spot in her garden – pictured above.

“She brought these back home as cuttings from the west coast of Scotland a number of years ago.

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“Any feedback would be greatly appreciated to try and determine whether she is indeed the custodian of a rare species.”

Well it is always nice to hear from readers and especially to receive pictures too.

The fern in question, however, is another species that is currently recolonizing garden walls and other suitable habitats.

This is the maidenhair spleenwort and, while not so rare, is actually very pretty indeed.

According to Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal, rustyback was called ‘common spleenwort’ and was a ‘wort’ used to treat problems of the spleen.

Common maidenhair proved a tea that was expectorant and therefore beneficial for pulmonary problems.

On Arran, it was apparently used as a tea substitute and was a laxative – please don’t try these at home.

Prof Ian D Rotherham, a researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues, is contactable on [email protected]

Follow his Walk on the Wildside blog at ukeconet.org

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