(Pteridium aquilinum) It will protect the house from lightning if hung up inside, but if it is cut or burnt, it will bring on rain. And if you tread on the plant it will cause you to become confused, and to lose your way (Waring). Cut in two, the root was supposed to show the initial letters of a lover's name, a quite widespread superstition (see Leather, Courtney, Forby). And initial letters are evident in the Guernsey belief that if you want to win at cards, gather bracken in the early morning of St John's Day, and make a bracelet of it in the form of the letters MUTY, the bracelet to be hidden under the sleeve while playing (Garis). MUTY must be the first letters of some forgotten cryptogram. A lover's faithfulness could be tested by taking a stem and plucking off the fronds one by one. If the result was an odd number, everything was OK (Stevens). It used to be said in Shropshire that bracken flowers only on Michaelmas Eve at midnight, when it puts forth a little blue flower, which vanishes at dawn. But in Germany it was said that fern seed shines like gold on St John's night (J Mason).

Once established, bracken is very difficult to remove, and in the green stage is actually poisonous, though perfectly harmless once it has turned brown, when it makes an invaluable bedding for farm stock (Mabey. 1977). There are a few 'snake' names for bracken, to reinforce the toxic qualities. Perhaps it is only toxic to stock, for Tynan & Maitland insisted that the young fronds are edible, with a flavour that has been compared to asparagus. The Japanese certainly eat it (Rackham. 1986). Perhaps the toxicity is eliminated by cooking.

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