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The history and ethnobotany of bracken

Botanical journal of the Linnean Society 1976 v.73 no.1/3 pp. 151-176
Pteridium, composts, economic valuation, employment, ethnobotany, foods, forests, fossils, fuels, glass, herbs, humans, industry, pests, soaps, thatch, woodlands, Scotland
The fossil record shows that Pteridium has been present in all the temperate stages of the Quaternary, but that for most of this period it formed a component of the herb layer of deciduous woodlands. Bracken did not begin to reach its present abundance and importance until widespread forest clearance began with the arrival of Neolithic man about 5000 years ago. Some of the factors that have played a role in the history of bracken are illustrated by a discussion of the spread of bracken in Scotland that occurred contemporaneously with the change from cattle- to sheep-farming in the 18th century. It is shown that man has played a dominant role in influencing the spread of bracken in Scotland, but that bracken was considered of great positive economic value. The ethnobotany of bracken is discussed, and it is suggested that it was once an important source of potash for the glass, soap and bleaching industries. The use of the plant as fuel, thatch, litter, compost and food, and for medicinal purposes is considered, and mention is made of various minor uses of the plant. Unfortunately it is difficult to estimate the amount of bracken consumed by these various employments, but it is suggested that the increased abundance of the plant may have been exaggerated because what was once a useful resource has now become a pest.