John Muir had a fondness for ferns. He encouraged this activity: “Spread a fern-frond over a man’s head and worldly cares are cast out, and freedom and beauty and peace come in.” If only it were that easy, we would all be sporting a fern fedora for harmony and goodwill.

Ferns have emerged and unrolled in Island wild-lands, including a favorite frond found in wet, acidic soils: the cinnamon fern.

Cinnamon brown is featured throughout this fern’s lifecycle. Look for the hue on the emerging woolly tufts at the base of the plant’s leaflets and later in the season when its fertile fronds — or spore — bearing structures‑shoot skyward from the plant’s center and in the fall as the leaves turn bronze.

So-called for its color, not its scent, this species, Osmundastrum cinnamonmeum, has a historic first name. Osmunder was reported to be the Saxon name for the Norse god Thor, who was thought to have hidden his family from danger in a clump of these ferns. Another story suggests that Osmund was an English boatman who also used these ferns to conceal his family during the Danish invasion.

A different idea breaks down the word into ‘os’ for bone and ‘mund’ for cure. Curing is one of the features of this plant, as it was used medicinally by Indigenous tribes. According to Daniel Moerman’s book, Native American Medicinal Plants, cinnamon ferns have many uses.

Cherokee people employed it as an anti-rheumatic and applied a decoction of the roots with “warm hands” to the affected areas. They also used it as a febrifuge to reduce chills, a snakebite remedy and spring tonic for general health.

Iroquois made an analgesic for headaches and joint pain, a cold remedy, gynecologic, orthopedic and venereal aid and a general panacea. It was also recommended to treat livestock, adding it to cow’s food after a difficult birth.

The Menominee employed it after human childbirth for milk flow and reportedly considered cinnamon ferns a food source.

Regardless of that traditional food use, contradictions abound about cinnamon fern’s edibility. Most modern sources suggest that this species of fern is not for eating, claiming that it causes nausea, headaches and dizziness due to its mild toxicity. Even with this warning, other sources refer to it as a bog onion or heart of osmund and suggest consuming that part in early spring. Not for this cautious naturalist. I’ll stick to the ostrich fern fiddleheads, which are the most commonly enjoyed and safest fiddlehead.

These ferns have other values, especially for birds. Yellow warblers and hummingbirds are known to use the fuzzy covering of the fiddleheads as nest materials, and brown thrashers and veeries can set their nests in the center of the thick clumps. The ruffed grouse has been observed eating this fern.

Another intriguing value of this plant is for its fiber. Osmund fibers, which are derived from the plant’s root crown, are a preferred potting substance for orchid growing.

Regardless of their value as food, medicine or planting medium, these ferns with their unfolding fiddleheads, lacy leaves and colonial coverage make for a gorgeous spread of greens that will eventually fade into fall. How can you not be so very frond of them?

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.