Native uses of the Western Sword Fern

Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

Walking through any western woodland you are bound to find the evergreen Western Sword Fern, usually in large quantities. Because of its prevalence, native peoples could count on its availability year-round and developed many uses for the plant. 

Western Sword Fern rhizomes were roasted, peeled and eaten when other food sources were scarce. At other times of the year, the fern’s fronds were used to infuse other foods with flavor. Perhaps because of the number of fronds that could be easily gathered, the fronds were used as for lining food storage boxes, berry picking baskets, drying racks, earth ovens and steaming pits. The fern fronds have a natural non-stick quality that led to them being used as a mat under fish when they were being cleaned and cut. Sometimes the fronds would be used for bedding or a floor covering. 

The Sword Fern was also used for its medicinal qualities.  Infusions of the stems, or poultices of chewed leaves were used to treat skin sores and boils, a decoction of rhizomes could be used as a wash for dandruff.  Some indigenous women chewed the leaves to hasten childbirth, and other tribes would chew leaves as a remedy for sore throats or tonsillitis.