FR: Adranthe, Capillaire commun, Cheveux de Venus GER: Kapillarkraut, Venushaar IT: Capelvenere or Adianto SP: Culantrillo
BOT: Adiantum capillusveneris FAM: Adiantaceae ILL: Plate 4, No. 3
This is the common maidenhair fern, which, when boiled with water and sugar, forms the syrup, capillaire. In the nineties, it was said to be ‘often preferred to wine by Young Ladies’. M. Andre Simon in his Guide to Good Food and Wine, says that, according to Boswell, Doctor Johnson used to enjoy capillaire in his port. Comment on the Doctor’s port is unnecessary.
When boiled, maidenhair fern produces a mucilaginous liquid, even a jelly, with the characteristic taste, but this is often flavoured with other things. In Victorian times, maidenhair was a fashionable part of flower arrangements and was also used to decorate cakes and desserts. The plant can be found growing wild over most of continental Europe and in temperate and tropical America in damp, shady situations, often in the entrances to springs and wells; it is however, rare in Britain.