Rymer (1976) reviewed the ethnobotany of Pteridium aquilinum. Historically, dried fronds of bracken were used to stuff mattresses, as other bedding, and as litter to cover floors, because of their insecticidal properties. Whole plants were used in thatch for houses and fronds were used to shade and cover other items. The fronds also decay quickly when mixed with urine, dung, or other organic material; thus the species has been used in composting. Bracken was burned historically to produce potash, which is used in the manufacture of soap and glass, as well as in dyeing, bleaching, and wool scouring. It also was a fuel for cookfires and lime kilns. Minor uses included as a tanning agent for leather and as a substitute or adulterant for hops in beer brewing.
The emerging young fiddleheads are collected for human consumption in most regions where the fern is abundant, especially in portions of Asia. This practice is to be discouraged, however, because of the strong link between heavy ingestion of fresh or dried bracken leaves and the incidence of stomach cancer (see also under toxicity).
According to Rymer (1976), bracken had a number of medicinal uses in Europe. As with many ferns, the rhizome was used as an anthelmintic. The rhizomes and leaves also were used in various tonics and even as an aphrodesiac.
Moerman (1998 and http://herb.umd.umich.edu) noted a number of medicinal uses among North American Indian tribes, including: the use of rhizomes as an antiemetic, antihemorrhagic, analgesic, tonic, and for skin problems; an infusion of fronds used as a gynecological aid, antirheumatic, and for liver, urinary, and venereal problems; and a poultice of leaves for skin sores. Plants also were used in basketry and sleeping mats, to cover produce and fish, and cooking aid.
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