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This feature and the illustrations are courtesy of ©Huntingtower©. You can see his Web site here.
Practical Use of Ferns in Scotland
Fern, considered a pest by many, and often viewed as just an adornment in botanical displays, once played an important part in the rural life of Scotland, where the local inhabitants put it to good use. It was found in great abundance in the wooded wilds of particularly the Highlands, where it was in the Gaelic called 'raineach'.
Utilised in the old craft of thatching roofs of cottages, it could last between 15 and 20 years before replacement, some homes are still occasionally thatched with fern.
It made good bedding for animals, as well as humans, due to its ability to repel insect pests. When green and in full fruition, ferns were also burned to produce an alkali mixture used in the bleaching process. The burning of ferns also allowed from its ashes; potash, used as an essential ingredient in soap making, and soda, used in the making of glass, which was an industry of significance in Scotland in the 19th century. The ashes too made good fertiliser for potatoes.
Ferns were also used as a compound in manure or for covering corn stacks at harvest time to protect them from the elements, and played an important part in protecting the potato crops from frosts.
Collecting and bringing in the ferns was heavy, backbreaking work, and as the menfolk were often away either hunting or sea and loch fishing, or before modern mechanical innovations in agriculture took place, were busy with the labour intensive farming, this strenuous task was left to the women, as was also the uses of fern within and around the domestic hearth.
Like enough, nowadays, we would regard these labours of the women as degrading to themselves, as they carried great bulks of the ferns from and over the wild landscapes to their homes.
The women also preferred carrying out this task barefoot, because they felt that shoes cramped their style, and found it easier to traverse the rough ground of the heathlands by this method.
Ferns played their important part in the life of our forebears, but their use became redundant with the inventions of modern industry.
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