poetry and prose about place

Sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina (L.) Coult.)

with 16 comments

Last weekend, we went on a short hike to the lake to collect some dried Sweet-fern, with the goal of making Sweet-fern sun tea.  To make the tea, fresh or dry leaves of Sweet-fern are steeped in a jar in the sun for three hours.

Unfortunately, the wind was too cold to allow the spring sun to warm the jar.  So I collected the dry leaves and, on Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed a cup of fragrant Sweet-fern tea, made the usual way, steeped in boiling water.

Later in the spring or summer, I’ll be trying the sun tea method again.

Sweet-fern(Comptonia peregrina (L.) Coult.) is a small rounded shrub with fernlike green leaves found in dry rocky waste areas, clearings or pastures.  The leaves are simple and alternate, long, narrow and deeply lobed.  The shrub sometimes grows as a weed in blueberry fields.

Sweet-fern is called Comptonie voyageus in French, since peregrina means traveller. The generic name is after Henry Compton, a 17th century Bishop of London who was a patron of botany.

The fruit is a green burr enclosing 1-4 nutlets.  These can be harvested in June or July while still tender.

Sweet-fern is a member of the Sweet Gale family.  The plant is very fragrant, particularly when crushed, due to glands on the leaves and twigs.  The tea made from the leaves is also fragrant.  To make the tea, use 1 tsp dried or 2 tsp fresh leaves per cup of water.  Remember, to always be absolutely certain of the identification before you try eating or drinking anything in the wild.


Directions for Sweet-fern sun tea

8 tsp of fresh chopped leaves

1 quart of clean fresh cold water in a jar

cap and place in sun three hours until water is dark

strain and serve



Sweet-fern sun tea

Comptonia peregrina (L.) Coult.


to quench the thirst of a traveller

and reward a hike too far


steep sweet-fern

in the solar flare


gives up fragrance to air

and to water in a sun-drenched jar



1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
© Jane Tims  2012

Written by jane tims

April 28, 2012 at 6:52 am

16 Responses

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  1. The tea sounds delicious, but I don’t think that sweet fern grow around here. My grandfather used to gather sassafras bark and make sassafras tea. Figuring out how to make sassafras tea is on my “to-do” list.



    April 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    • Hi. I have a similar goal… I want to learn how to make root beer from Wild Sarsparilla root. Jane


      jane tims

      April 30, 2012 at 7:25 am

  2. More learning, taught in such a beautiful manner. Thank you, Jane. BTW, is this it? Was Friday your last day at work? Whenever your first day of the next phase of life is, it is obvious that you will be making extremely productive and rewarding use of this new gift of time. Bonne chance!


    Jane Fritz

    April 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    • Hi Jane. Tomorrow, Monday, is my last day of work and Tuesday is my first day of work (on my ‘growing and gathering’ manuscript)!!!!! I am so happy to be able to write full time now. Thanks so much for your encouragement!!! Jane


      jane tims

      April 29, 2012 at 6:31 pm

      • Hi, Jane, I hope you let us know about your ms. … how it’s coming… here you want it to go. Sounds great.



        April 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm

      • Hi. I begin officially tomorrow, since today is my last day of work with government. I will keep everyone up to date on my process and progress… might be helpful for others. Jane


        jane tims

        April 30, 2012 at 7:21 am

  3. Mmmm……beautiful! I love the photo of the jar in the sun.



    April 28, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    • Hi Stephanie. Later, when it is not so cold, I’ll take the photo of the leaves steeping in the jar. Here, there is still morning ice on our ponds! Jane


      jane tims

      April 29, 2012 at 9:17 am

  4. Hi, Jane, I’m glad you posted a warning. Unless you know exactly what you are picking and eating you can have some serious side effects… but if you study things well enough…there can be some lovely gifts from nature



    April 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    • Hi. I’ll have to remember to stress the warning each time I post about ‘the edible wild’. I also suggest doing lots of research first. Plants once thought edible are now known to have harmful properties. The, perhaps incorrect, assumption is that the things we consume with carefree abandon from the grocery store are also completely safe! Jane


      jane tims

      April 29, 2012 at 9:16 am

      • Hi, Jane, I’m extremely sensitive to all things…even food…especially food that’s been altered or doctored. So I was very glad for your warning. Even things that are good for some people can affect others who may be sensitive to this or that thing. But it’s so good to know about these natural ways and to learn about them from people who HAVE studied the safety of each. Many thanks, Merrill



        April 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      • Hi. There is wisdom in what you say. For example, I seem to be fairly tolerant of most foods, but my Mom often reacted badly to especially wild foods. Also, we never know what subtle effects foods have, even those coming from the store! Jane


        jane tims

        April 30, 2012 at 7:23 am

  5. Wish I could smell the sweet fragrance!


    Barbara Rodgers

    April 28, 2012 at 11:36 am

    • Hi Barbara. One of the down-sides of the Internet… it will transport images and sounds, but no fragrance! Jane


      jane tims

      April 29, 2012 at 9:12 am

  6. This is beautiful Jane.



    April 28, 2012 at 8:16 am

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