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Pteridium aquilinum - (L.)Kuhn.

Common Name Bracken, Western brackenfern, Decomposition brackenfern, Hairy brackenfern
Family Polypodiaceae
USDA hardiness 4-7
Known Hazards There are a number of reports regarding the possible health risks of this plant. The huge quantity of spores released by large areas of bracken are suggested to be implicated in stomach cancers. A recent study suggests that this is not such a problem in Britain as was once believed, the spores are not produced in such high quantities nor do they travel so far due to our normally humid atmosphere. The leaves and roots contain substances that deprive the body of vitamin B1 if they are eaten raw, though they are possibly alright cooked[102]. The leaves are also said to be carcinogenic[65, 76].
Habitats Heath, woodland and grassland. A common and highly invasive weed of acid soils[9], it is rarely found on limestone or wet peats[17].
Range Most areas of the globe, including Britain, but absent from the Arctic and temperate S. America.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (3 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Well drained soil Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Pteridium aquilinum Bracken, Western brackenfern, Decomposition brackenfern, Hairy brackenfern

Pteridium aquilinum Bracken, Western brackenfern, Decomposition brackenfern, Hairy brackenfern


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The plant is a course fern with long, creeping, woody, branched, hairy rhizomes and solitary fronds. The large, pinnately compound, 3 divided frounds are stout and erect to reclining, with a feltlike covering near the base. Form: Irregular or sprawling

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of fern
Pteridium aquilinum is a FERN growing to 1.2 m (4ft) by 2 m (6ft 7in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 4. The seeds ripen from July to August.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Pteris aquilina.

Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Meadow;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves  Root  Shoots
Edible Uses: Sweetener

Root - cooked. It can be dried and ground into a powder[2, 13, 46, 55, 66, 94, 95, 102, 257]. The root is very fibrous so traditionally it was baked after being dried, the outer skin was peeled off and the roots pounded into a powder with sticks so that the inner fibres could be removed[173, 256]. The dried root will store for years[173]. The root contains 60% starch[74]. The dry weight content of starch is between 43 and 72%[173]. This starch can be extracted from the roots and is used in making dumplings which are eaten with soya flour and sugar as a delicacy[183]. The root has a somewhat constipating effect upon the body so is best eaten with foods that have a laxative quality[256]. Young shoots, harvested when still unfurling, can be eaten raw or cooked[2, 13, 55, 62, 94, 102, 183, 257]. They can be used like asparagus or like spinach[9, 257]. Somewhat flavourless, though they are considered to be a delicacy in Japan[4]. The fronds should be used when less than 20cm long, longer ones have a terrible taste[9, 213]. The shoots are somewhat bitter so they are often blanched for a few minutes in boiling water, then left to soak in cold water for two hours before being cooked[4, 9]. Although this might well improve the flavour, it will greatly reduce the nutritional value[K]. The shoots should be steeped in lye first[55]. Occasional use should cause no problems, but regular consumption is not advisable because the shoots might be carcinogenic[9, 65]. The plant yields an edible saccharine substance[55]. (from the cooking root??).

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

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Anthelmintic  Antiemetic  Antiseptic  Diuretic  Poultice  Refrigerant  Tonic

The young shoots are diuretic, refrigerant and vermifuge[4, 46, 94, 218]. They have been eaten as a treatment for cancer[257]. The leaves have been used in a steam bath as a treatment for arthritis[257]. A decoction of the plant as been used in the treatment of tuberculosis[257]. A poultice of the pounded fronds and leaves has been used to treat sores of any type and also to bind broken bones in place[257]. The root is antiemetic, antiseptic, appetizer and tonic[257]. A tincture of the root in wine is used in the treatment of rheumatism[218]. A tea made from the roots is used in the treatment of stomach cramps, chest pains, internal bleeding, diarrhoea, colds and also to expel worms[4, 46, 94, 222, 257]. The poulticed root is applied to sores, burns and caked breasts[222, 257].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Adhesive  Basketry  Biomass  Compost  Dye  Hair  Lining  Mulch  Packing  Repellent  Soap  Soap making  Stuffing  Thatching  Tinder

A glue can be made from the rootstock[74]. A brown dye is obtained from the fronds[6, 67, 141]. It is green according to another report[141]. The fibrous remnants from edible roots make a good tinder[99]. The rhizome lathers readily in water and can be used as a soap[74]. A decoction of the root has been used as a hair wash[257]. The roots have been rubbed into the scalp in order to promote hair growth[257]. The roots have been pounded to remove the bark, then split into flat bands and used as the black strands of cheap baskets[257]. The ashes of the plant are rich in potassium and could be used as a fertilizer[4]. They are also used in the manufacture of glass (when mixed with sand) and in making soap (when mixed with vegetable oil)[4, 74]. The roots contain up to 20% potash in early summer, but this reduces to about 5% in the autumn[4]. The whole plant is a very valuable addition to the compost heap, it is rich in potash and makes an excellent compost for tree seeds[67, 94]. Cut twice a year if you want the plants to continue growing, three cuts annually will weaken and eventually kill off the plants. The dried ferns produce a very durable thatch[4]. The leaves are used as a packing material for fruit, keeping it fresh and cool without imparting any colour or flavour[4, 66, 99]. They are also used as a lining for baskets, fruit drying racks etc and as a bedding[66, 99]. The leaves repel insects and can help to prevent rot in the fruits etc[99]. Dried bracken fronds are very useful in the garden as a mulch for somewhat tender plants. This will keep the soil warmer, protect from wind damage and also keep off some of the rain[4, K].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Landscape Uses:Border, Foundation, Rock garden, Woodland garden. Prefers a light, acid, deep sandy soil[1]. Dislikes shade according to some reports[13, 17] whilst another says that it tolerates full sun but prefers light shade[200]. Prefers a pH in the range 4 to 6[200]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. This is an extremely invasive plant and is a noxious weed. It is one of the most widespread plants in the world, being found in all parts of the globe other than the extreme north and south[4]. Plants can be cut down twice a year to provide compost material, this will not kill the plants. If the plants are cut down three times a year this will gradually weaken and eventually kill them. Special Features:Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Invasive, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, There are no flowers or blooms.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Spores can be surface sown in the same way as other ferns but this plant really does not need any help in spreading itself about. Division is also possible but usually totally unnecessary.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Pteridium aquilinum esculentumBrackenFern1.2 4-8  LMHSNDM223

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


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Readers comment

peter.l.lewis   Tue Nov 9 10:59:50 2004

Live on a holiday caravan park and surrounded with this Bracken(Pteridium aguilium) and a high degree of residets in autumn complain of,sneezing, also of allegy type symptoms.It may be irrelevent but we have 5 cases of cancer (two have died).

Joe Stevens   Sun Dec 27 2009

Hi: Specifically, How do I cook with Pteridium Aquilinum?? Thank you. Sincerely, Joe Stevens Chicago

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david   Sun Dec 27 2009

Several books recommend "remove the 'wool' from the young fiddlehead, cook for 20-30 minutes until tender, season with cream sause or butter, good on toast" use only fiddleheads, once they have uncurled they are toxic, late spring is the time to collect/find them (Sources: 'Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants' (Brill & Dean) 'Euell Gibbons' Handbook of Edible Wild Plants'. Both recommend the fiddleheads highly, I've not tried them, I generally find fiddleheads passable. I cant find anything about preparing the roots, perhaps seen as too envirnmentally damaging to take from the wild.

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