English Name—AMERICAN MAIDENHAIR.
French Name—Capillaire du Canada.
Officinal Names—Capil Veneris, Herba Veneris.
Vulgar Names—Maiden-hair, Rock-fern, Sweet-fern.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Michaux, Pursh, Schoepf, Charlevoix, French Dispensaries, &c. not in Barton nor Bigelow.
Genus ADIANTUM—Fern with divided Frond. Fructification in small interrupted marginal lines. Integument univalve, opening below.
Species A. PEDATUM—Petiole glossy pedate dichetome. Frondules pinnate, folioles alternate, petiolate, oblong, trapezoid, entire before and below, jagged and fructiferous on the upper margin, obtuse and crenate at the end.
Description—Root Perennial, large, fibrous, brown. Frond about a foot high; stems or petioles of the Frond smooth, compressed, contorted, shining or glossy chesnut color, forked upwards, and each branch bearing upwards from four to seven frondules, the first being the largest, which gives the pedate appearance. These frondules are pinnate, elongated, having each from twenty to sixty distichal folioles, which are inserted by a corner, and a small petiole. The shape is oblong quadrangular, the outside or end being rounded and crenate, while two sides are square and entire; but the upper side is jagged and bears the fructification. Color pale green, surface smooth, with many oblique nerves.
The fructification is marginal on the upper border of the folioles, of a pale yellowish color, formed by unequal and irregular marginal lines. The integument is membranaceous, growing from the margin in transversal lines, which extends under it, and open transversally below, showing the cluster of small granular capsuls which they inclose.
History—The Adiantum Capilveneris of Europe is the type of this genus, and has long held there a rank in medical plants, as a mild pectoral. The specific name meaning hair of Venus, is of old standing; the English, French and German names derive from it.
A. pedatum possessing the same qualities, being larger, and more common, has long been an article of exportation from Canada, &c. to Europe; where it has gradually superseded the other, although it is less fragrant. The specific name indicates the pedate appearance of the Frond or foliage, the whole of which is used and being very easily dried, like all ferns, is packed up in bags. It is from Canada and Nova Scotia that most is sent, and spread all over Europe; but it could be sent from many other quarters since it grows all over the United States from New Fngland to Missouri and Virginia. It becomes more scarce in the South, being confined to the mountains. It delights in rich soil and deep woods, but is also found on hills and among rocks. It may be collected at any time; but must not be mistaken nor blended with the Sweet fern shrub, Comptonia Asplenifolia, which is a shrub with fragrant leaves.
This genus belongs to CRYPTOGAMIA Filices of Linnaeus. The natural order of Ferns or FILICES is very easily known by having a Frond or flat foliage, bearing an inconspicuous fructification in lines or dots without flowers. All the ferns have a peculiar smell, rather grateful, and more or less fragrant; it is very perceptible in the Brake or Pteris aquilina, the Thelipteris, Driopteris, &c. Although but slightly unfolded in the A. pedatum, yet it gives a flavor to its decoction or syrup.
Qualities—The active qualities of this fern, reside in its mucilage united to a small portion of aroma and tannin. The same principles are found in various proportions in all the other medical ferns.
Properties—Pectoral and expectorant, mucilaginous, subastringent, subtonic. It is used in decoction or syrup. The celebrated Syrop de Capillaire of the French is made with it, which is a pleasant summer drink, and popular pectoral remedy throughout Europe, although little known in America except among the French and Germans. It is found useful in all coughs and hoarseness, also in asthma and tickling of the throat, and even in pleurisy and all disorders of the bronchia, larynx and breast.
Its properties as a promoter of secretions, and a cure for the jaundice are doubtful. But it strengthens the fibres and promotes expectoration. It is a very good vehicle and auxiliary for pectoral remedies, and even for cathartics, such as Croton-oil, Castor-oil, &c. which are rendered palatable by it. Liquorice may be added to the decoction, instead of sugar, to render it more efficient.
Influenza is often cured by using some of the syrup to sweeten its own decoction or any other suitable herb tea. It has the advantage that it may be used ad libitum, or in any chosen dose. My own experience has tested the value of this plant and its syrup, in cough and influenza, and I can recommend the following cathartic, as one of the most effectual and withal pleasant to the taste: One single drop of Croton Oil dissolved in a spoon-full or cup-full of this syrup.
Substitutes—Althea officinalis or Marsh Mallow—Agrimonia—Violet flowers—Gaultheria procumbens or Mountain Tea—Tussilago or Coltsfoot—Pulmonaria Virginica or Lungwort—Inula Helenium or Elecampane—Evonymus atropurpureus or Wahoon—Crategus crusgalli or American Hawthorn—Marrubium Vulgare or Horehound, and many sweet Filices, &c. &c
Remarks—In Henry's herbal the figure of this plant is nothing like it; perhaps the A. capilveneris is meant; which, however, does not grow in America.
Additions and corrections
2. ADIANTHUM PEDATUM—Also corroborant and diuretic, useful in obstructions. The A. trapeziforme is its substitute in the West Indies, a pectoral syrup is made from it.
ADIANTUM PEDATUM, Add, Mrs. Gambold says that the Cherokees used a strong decoction of it as an emetic in agues! this would indicate greater activity in this plant.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.