Adiantum pedatum (the five-finger fern or Northern maidenhair fern)
|Powered by Zoomify|
Painting by Meta Carr
The tiny, paw-shaped petals of this gorgeous fern captured my attention, as well as the graceful arcs of the gleaming black stems.
This variety of maidenhair fern, locally abundant, grows in shaded soil, most often in limestone-rich areas. Included historically in the “Doctrine of Signatures,” it was believed to be sanctified by God’s presence. The delicate hairs of the roots lent the plant its “signature,” and it was used as a treatment for baldness. The English herbalist John Gerard (1545 – 1612) wrote, “It consumeth and wasteth away the King’s Evil and other hard swellings, and it maketh the haire of the head or beard to grow that is fallen or pulled off.” One hundred years later, the English physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpepper wrote, “This and all other Maiden Hairs is a good remedy for coughs, asthmas, pleurisy, etc., and on account of it’s being a gentle diuretic also in jaundice, gravel and other impurities of the kidneys. All the Maiden Hairs should be used green and in conjunction with other ingredients because their virtues are weak.” Native American tribes used the stems of maidenhair to create hair wash to make their hair shiny. They also used it as a topical poultice: the fronds were chewed and then applied to a wound to arrest bleeding. Whole plant infusions were used as emetics. Decoctions of the root were applied to painful rheumatic joints.
Highly valued in the 19th century as a medicinal plant, in modern times the maidenhair is still used as a holistic alternative for the treatment of hair loss. The plant contains mucilage but also high levels of tannins which give it its astringent properties.