FERN ETHNOBOTANY Ferns
FERN ETHNOBOTANY Ferns
HISTORY OF FERNS
• Roughly 12,000 species -Pteridophyta.
• Reproduce via spores, no seeds- no flowers.
• Some recent authors have used the term
• Ferns fossil record 360 mill. years –
Carboniferous-many current families &
species ± 145 mill. years old, early
Cretaceous (after flowering plants came to
Liquidamber orientalis; Epigaea gaultheroides
• Word “medicine” generally translates to mean
• All of nature comes from the Great Mystery,
the mystery of life.
• Who is to say, therefore, that there is not a
design beyond everyday comprehension that
brings forth certain plants in abundance for
the sake of healing?
• “Everything happens for a reason”.
-grown or gathered for food,
-remediating contaminated soils,
-remove some chemical pollutants
from the air,
-play role in mythology+medicine
• Homeopathic practitioners have
found medicinal uses: Oil from roots
used to expel parasitic worms in
• Liquid extract, powder, pill form.
powdered form + honey to treat
adiantumnigrum L. can be used to treat diarrhea and
other disorders-scientific name +common name
"spleenwort" -from an old belief, based on the doctrine of
signatures, that the fern was useful for ailments of
the spleen, due to the spleen-shaped sori on the backs of
the fronds. "-wort" is an ancient English term that simply means
• Maidenhair fern (Adiantum) functions as a
remedy for lung problems.
• France-a cough syrup is made from the
maidenhair's fronds and roots called Sirop de
Maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustm)
Black spleenwort Asplenium adiantum-nigrum L.
• Roots of the royal fern
can help cure jaundice
during its early stages,
promote healing when
applied to wounds.
Ferns as Food
• Roots, or rhizomes, of
many fern species are
eaten as a rich source of
• Bracken fern, although
carcinogenic, can be
used in place of hops
(Humulus lupulus) to
beer. Bracken Fern-Pteridium aquilinum
• Japanese eat large
quantities of bracken
of stomach cancer in
• Cooked, raw, or used
beverage, ferns have
• Fragrant woodfern can be dried,
made into herbal tea.
• Crozier, or curled fiddlehead a
delicacy-added to salads as raw;
boiled in salt water to remove
hairs & scales until soft enough to
delicious spring time food, has a
both nourishing & cleansing qualit
Asplenium adiantum-nigrum L.
Maidenhair fern (Adiantum venustm)
• Ferns have fiddleheads expand into
delicately divided fronds.
• Fiddleheads or Fiddlehead greens are the
furled fronds of a young fern, harvested
for use as a vegetable.
• Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would
unroll into a new frond.
• Fiddleheads harvested early in the
season before the frond has opened, cut
fairly close to the ground.
• Fiddleheads have antioxidant activity,
are a source of omega-3, omega-6 fatty
acids, & high in iron + fibre.
• Certain varieties have been shown to
ornamentation (called a scroll) on the end
of a stringed
instrument, such as
• Also called crozier, after the curved staff
used by bishops.
Helping the Environment
• Ferns useful for soils, minimize soil erosion &
promote stabilization & clean environment.
• Root system -long, thin, horizontal web of rhizomes
below the soil's surface- adds stability + moisture to
the soil - soft elegance to garden landscape.
• Asia-farmers use Azolla fern, an aquatic species, as
"green" manure to fertilize rice crops.
• Azolla -a "super-plant“, draws down tonnes of
N/ha/year (0.25 kg/m²/yr)=6 tonnes / acre of C drawdown
• Uses atmospheric N for growth, main limit to growth
• C,N,S arbon, as 3 of the key elements of proteins, and P
required for DNA, RNA and in energy metabolism.
• Grows at great speed in favourable conditions – modest
warmth and 20 hours of sunlight, both were in evidence at the
poles during the early Eocene – and can double its biomass
over 2-3 days in such a climate.
• Plants form intimate symbiotic associations
or "marriages“ (Algae +Fungi=Lichens; Nfixing bacteria-symbiotically inside the root
nodules of legumes).
• Divorce is practically nonexistent separations result in the death of one or
• Relationship may be decidedly one-sidedonly one partner actually benefiting.
• Most fascinating of all plant marriages is tiny aquatic
water fern (Azolla) and a microscopic filamentous
blue-green alga or cyanobacterium (Anabaena
• Grow together at the surface of quiet streams and
ponds throughout tropical and temperate regions of
• Azolla the "duckweed fern" grows with 1 or more
species of duckweeds (Lemnaceae), including Lemna,
Spirodela, Wolffia & Wolffiella.
• Azolla may produce reddish
anthocyanin in the leaves, in
contrast with the bright green
green algae in
• African water fern (Salvinia
rotundifolia),( S. auriculata) mentioned in the Guinness Book of
World Records (1985 UK Edition)
as “most intransigent weed.”
• In 11 months covers an area of 199
km2, can increase to 1002 km2.
Traditional cultivation as a bio-fertilizer
for wetland paddy; used for sustainable
production of livestock feed.
Rich in proteins, essential amino acids,
vitamins + minerals; as a food stuff for
Feeding azolla to dairy cattle, ducks,
chickens-increases milk production, weight
of broiler chickens & egg production.
Used for over 1000 years in rice paddies as
a companion plant-fix N, block light to
prevent competition from other plants.
Azolla spp. used to control mosquito larvae
in rice fields.
Thick mat on water surface -more difficult
for the larvae to reach the surface to
breathe, effectively choking the larvae.
Paleoclimatological Importance: Azolla event Theory
Arctic reports Azolla may have had a significant role
in reversing an increase in greenhouse effect that
occurred 55 mil. years ago caused the region around
the N pole to turn into a hot, tropical environment.
Massive patches of Azolla growing on freshwater
surface of the Arctic Ocean consumed enough CO2
from the atmosphere for the global greenhouse effect to
Formation of Ice sheets in Antarctica and the
current "Icehouse period“ started.
Adiantum pedatum MAIDENHAIR
(ASOMPS,A.capillus-veneris:against hair loss=Finasteride,Iran)
(A.venusatum: Murree,Galyat,Mujeeb-ur-Rehman et al.,)
• Maidenhair used for rheumatism (the effect
on contracted muscles likened to the
uncurling fiddleheads)- the compound
decoction or decoction of root applied with
warm hands as external rub, or infusion
• Infusion or decoction of whole plant used as
an emetic for fever +fever with chills.
• Powdered leaves smoked for heart
• Used for paralytic attacks, from
pneumonia in children.
• Sacred preparation of whole plant
used specifically for women’s
• Maidenshair - powerful medicine
• Decoction used to purify the blood &
for stomach troubles.
• Ashes mixed for shortness of breath,
produce strength & endurance,
green fronds used likewise.
1-Fronds chewed for weak stomach.
2-Compound decoction of the root for dysentery.
3-Root + Stem mix used for children.
4-Blade+stem+root used in the gynecology.
5-Used in decoction for fits.
6-Infusion of the root used for caked breasts.
7-Poultice of plant applied to sore back of babies.
8-Wet fronds poulticed for snakebite.
• Decoction-as wash for venereal disease gonorrhea.
• As poultice or wash for bleeding, insect stings,
snakebites, arthritis & hairloss.
• For endurance in ceremonial dancinginfusion used, especially in winter, to prevent
• Such uses + sacred preparation practiced
indicate fern was regarded as a sacred
1-Black stems as a hunting charm.
2-ssp. pedatum used for children’s cramps, as decoction.
3-Decoction of green roots used as a foot soak for rheumatism
+ taken internally.
4-Decoction of roots taken as a diuretic for the cessation of
urine due to stones.
5-Compound decoction or infusion taken for excessive
6-Decoction of roots used for abortion.
abortion or delivery pains,
• Dry & cool, with an affinity for the heart
& reproductive system.
• Asplenium rhizophyllum-WALKING FERN
Decoction used as emetic, as compound
for swollen breasts.
• Used for breast diseases, coughs, liver
Athyrium filis-femina LADY FERN
• Ssp. angustum used for intestinal fevers,
and for mens venereal disease.
• Other varieties used for pain, cancer,
sores, vomiting blood, and for sore eyes.
• Root tea as diuretic, for breast pains
caused by childbirth, and for caked
breasts, Stem tea used to ease labor.
• Used for women’s headaches, with Willow and
plants for calming female anxiety.
• Root used in compound decoction for stopped
urine; grated and dried for sores.
• Stem infusions used for pain.
• Unfurling fronds used for internal ailments as
with women’s womb.
• Decoction of pounded stems used to
ease labor pains.
• Root decoction usred for bosom pains
caused by childbirth, infusions for caked
breasts and other female disorders.
• Ssp. cyclosorum used as a wash for
sore eyes as a simple or compound root
Botrychium virginianus ssp. virginianus
virginianum RATTLESNAKE FERN
• Ssp. virginianum as cough medicine for
tuberculosis - cold infusion of root.
• Root decoction as emetic,as concentrated
syrup for external use on snakebites,
juice from the frond used for insect bites
• Used as demulcent & for children’s
• Poultice of fresh root for snakebite, as a
repellant, as a diaphoretic &expectorant,
and the root decoction as emetic.
• Used for lung trouble- tuberculosis;
poulticed root used on cuts.
Cystopteris fragilis FRAGILE FERN
• As compound infusion for injury.
Dennstaedtia punctilobula HAYSCENTED FERN
• As compound infusion for chills,
for lung hemorrhages.
• Common fern, Pteridium aquilinum (bracken Or
Common bracken) forming thick patches in the forest
• Sign of imbalance in the ecosystem, as it grows
excessively due to deer overbrowse.
punctilobula) along with invasive plants like
Barberry (Berberis most important wild
medicinal herbs) and Japanese Knotweed
(Polygonum cuspidatum) can be harvested
Heyscented fern: Dennstaedtia
• Antibiotic use becoming more
rampant & destructive to our
health-Barberry spreads with
vigor -offering as a replacement
of our favorite drugs.
• Japanese Polygonum sps. seem to
spread in areas struggling with
high rates of Lyme disease.
• There must be a reason why Hay-scented
Fern grows in such abundance.
• There also must be a reason why deer
avoid it in favor of other food.
• Perhaps it has some toxic properties,
which would relate to medicinal
• Dryopteris campyloptera
other skin problems; Leaves used in compound
decoction for stomachache and intestinal
discomfort, young shoots for womb cancer.
• Dryopteris carthusiana
Root eaten as an antidote for poison from eating
early summer shellfish.
• Dryopteris cristata CRESTED WOOD FERN
Root infusion used for stomach trouble.
Dryopteris filix mas
Dryopteris filix mas
• Dryopteris marginalis
F. Dryopteris carthusiana.
Root infusion used for Rheumatism,
toothache, as emetic, indicating a warm,
dry energetic nature.
• Matteuccia struthiopteris
Decoction of sterile leaf stalk base used
for back pain.
• As poultice + infusion for whitish
urine, analgesic, diuretic, with affinity to
the reproductive & urinary systems.
• Kidney tonic, as the kidneys rule the back,
reproductive system, and urinary system
in Chinese medicine.
Onoclea sensibilis SENSITIVE FERN
disorders (blood deficiency, cold in the blood,
and others), intestinal troubles, weakness
(root decoction) and pain (root infusion)
after childbirth, tuberculosis (decocted
• Venereal disease-compound decoction taken;
for gonorrhea-compound infusion; mens
venereal disease -infusion of the plant and
• Externally used for sores (cold compound
infusion), deep cuts (poultice), non-flowing
breasts (infusion of whole plant or roots),
and venereal disease.
for intestinal troubles “when you catch
cold and get inflated and sore”, a warming
effect on the digestive system-affinity to
the blood(Builds, regulates, & invigorates
(warms and moves) the blood.
• Fermented compound decoction used
“make blood”, taken before meals.
• Used as a hair wash (traditional Chinese
Medicine hair loss is considered to be a sign of
• Use of root decoction for fertility and blood a
result of the blood building nature of Sensitive
• Use of the poultice on deep cuts for staunching the blood.
• Herbs that regulate the blood, such as Tienchi Ginseng (Panax
notoginseng) and Yarrow (Achillea millifolium) can be used for
a wide array of blood disorders.
• Used externally for rheumatism (decoction), venereal disease
(compound infusion); decoction taken for headache, joint
pain, colds, venereal disease, malaise.
• Compound decoction used for chills, as a diaphoretic, fronds
cooked as a spring tonic.
• Decoction of roots (sometimes in compound, with Christmas
Fern) used externally for rheumatism, for women’s troubles.
• For snakebites-root chewed, some swallowed, rest applied as a
• Promote the flow of milk and for caked breasts.
Osmunda claytoniana INTERRUPTED FERN
• Interrupted Fern used in cold, compound
decoction for weak blood and in compound
decoction for gonorrhea.
Osmunda regalis ROYAL FERN
• Used for children with convulsions from
intestinal worms, as an infusion with Wild
• Women use decoction (fronds in 1½ cup of water
down to ½ cup, to be used up in a day) for “when
a woman catches cold in her kidneys.
• Compound decoction used for cholera, whole plant decoction
for stomach aches.
• Used for heart disease, infusion of pounded roots used for
pleurisy (or pleuritis-an inflammation of the pleura, the lining
surrounding the lungs).
• Decoction of leaf used for tuberculosis.
• Roots chewed for sore, swollen throat, poulitice used for
inflamed swellings , wounds.
• Rhizome used for colds, stomachache, sore throats.
• Infusion of crushed stems used for
• Baked or raw roots used for coughs,
peeled stems for coughs.
• Rhizomes used for colds, stomach ailments,
and sore throats.
• Used for lung congestion and as a laxative,
definitely a lung medicine.
• Polystichum acrostichoides
• Used for children’s cramps (decoction),
children’s convulsions (poultice), diarrhea
(compound decoction), rheumatism (foot
soak), weak blood (cold compound decoction),
toxic blood, red spots on children’s skin
(poultice), fevers (decoction of frond with
small leaves), tuberculosis (root infusion as
emetic), dyspepsia (root infusion as emetic),
and venereal disease.
• Roots used as a “lady’s medicine”, plant
taken after birth to clean the womb.
• Powder inhaled and coughed up by men
who cannot talk.
• Poultice of smashed roots applied to the
back & head for children’s convulsions +
• Poultice applied to back and feet of
children with back troubles.
• Used for rheumatism, chills, fever,
stomach ache, bowel problems,
• Decoction or cold infusion with
Dogwood (Cornus) used as a wash or
poultice for rheumatism.
• Combined with Cinnamon Fern for
cuts, roots used for
the family Cornaceae, Part used: Fruit.
• Useful components: Sugar, organic acids, tannins, vitamin C.
• Recognized as a medical plant from ancient times, mainly due to its
• Traditionally applied in cases of fevers (bark, shoots, root) and
• Used for various ailments: stomach aches and cramps, diarrhea,
different skin infections, intestinal parasites and hemorrhoids.
• Cornus florida proven to prevent the spread of malaria,bark rich in
tannin, used as a substitute for quinine) .
• Use in gynecology, along with rheumatism,
blood disorders, fevers, and lung disorders;
but stands out as a remedy for children’s
• Finds a high percentage of its uses external,
internally it is emetic, at least one use of the
fronds specifies that small leaves should be
used indicates that there is some toxicity.
Pteridium aquilinum BRACKEN FERN
• Decoction used for diarrhea, for rheumatism,
for weak blood, for uterine prolapse, for
suffering after birth (decoction), for
tuberculosis (during the early stages), for
• Decoction was taken to make “good blood”
after menses and after birth, probably a
combination of blood building and blood
Compound decoction taken by men to retain
Bracken used for stomach cramps & kidney
Root used as a tonic, for nausea,vomiting,
infections , “cholera-morbus”.
Bracken mixed with Fennel used for children’s
colds and females with nursing or bladder
problems (as a medicine of the East).
• Mixed with Balsam Fir, Horse Chestnut, and
Seven Bark, Bracken used for burns & sores.
• Combined with Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)
used for intestinal worms.
• Decoction of ground roots used for chest
• Fiddleheads used for cancer.
• P. aquilina fronds used as bedding to
strengthen the backs of babies and for
• P. aquilina roots used for burns (pounded
and heated),decoction used for caked
• Root infusion used for stomach cramps
and smoke from dried leaves used for
Thelypteris palustris MARSH FERN
• Used as a gynecological medicine.
• Plants that grow in wet, marshy areas
tend to have an affinity with the fluid of
the bodies, my guess is that Marsh Fern
as a medicinal either removes dampness
or builds fluids (nourishes yin).
• Reproductive system is an aspect of the traditional
Chinese concept of the water element (in the 5 element
theory), or of the kidneys.
• Use may really belong to Cinnamon Fern.
• Medicinal uses of ferns can be categorized into
5 major groups:
• those used for rheumatism.
• those used for the lungs.
• those used for gynecology.
• those used for the blood.
• those used for digestion.
• Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) used for rheumatism.
• Marginal Wood
• Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) used for arthritis.
• Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) used externally for
rheumatism and internally for joint pain.
• Christmas Fern
• Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) used for rheumatism.
• Ferns used for Lungs
• Maidenhair smoked for asthma.
• Maidenhair Speenwort (Asplenium tricomanes) used for coughs.
• Rattlesnake Fern (Botrychium virginianum) used as a cough
medicine for tuberculosis.
• Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia penctilobula) used for chills and
• Rock Cap (Polyopdium virginianum) used for sore throat,
colds, measles, tuberculosis, cough, and lung congestion.
• Bracken Fern used for tuberculosis, infections, and chest pain.
• Christmas Fern used for chills, fever, pneumonia, red spots on skin,
listlessness, tuberculosis, and hoarseness.
• A Sycamore covered with epiphytic Common
• Gynecology (including menstrual,
postpartum, and breastfeeding)
• Walking Fern (Asplenium
rhizophyllum) used topically and as
emetic for swollen breasts.
• Maidenhair Speenwort used for
irregular menses and breast diseases.
• Lady Fern (Athyrium filis-femina)used for mothers with intestinal
fevers and to prevent water breaking.
• Mountain Wood Fern (Dryopteris campyloptera) used for disease of
• Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) used as decoction of sterile
leaf stalk base for the expulsion of afterbirth and for back pain.
• Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) used for infection, blood
disorders (blood deficiency, cold in the blood, and others), and
to restore the female system after childbirth. Externally used
• Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris)used as a gynecological
• Cinnamon Fern used for women’s troubles, caked breasts,
• Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana)
used for weak blood and gonorrhea.
• Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) used for
• Bracken Fern used for weak blood,
uterine prolapse, suffering after birth,
caked breast, weakness, and headaches.
• Maidenhair used as a wash or poultice for bleeding.
• Lady Fern used for vomiting of blood.
• Hay-scented Fern used for lung hemorrhages.
• Sensitive Fern used for blood deficiency, cold in the blood, and
other blood disorders.
• Christmas Fern used for weak blood and toxic blood.
• Interrupted Fern used for weak blood.
• Bracken Fern used to make good blood after menses or childbirth.
Digestion (including stomachache and parasites)
• Mountain Wood Fern used for stomachache.
• Crested Wood Fern (Dryopteris cristata) used root infusion for
• Royal Fern used for intestinal worms.
• Rock Cap used for stomachaches and cholera.
• Christmas Fern used for stomachache, bowel problems, toothache,
cramps, and diarrhea.
• Bracken Fern used for diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, infections,
diarrhea, weakness, stomach cramps, and headaches.
• Sensitive Fern used for intestinal troubles.
• 133 sps. of ferns, from 41 genera, 9 families from Pakistan &
Kashmir in (1972).(TR: 21 families;28 genera;85 species;99 taxa=1
endemic)+12 hybrids. (Bryophytes: 219 paper; 887 taxa:163
Liverworts, 721 mosses; 3 anthocerotopsida)
Nakaike & Malik (1993) list of pteridophytes as 82 species of ferns
belonging to 30 genera and 18 families + distribution in Pakistan.
• 36 fern species from 18 genera, 13 families in Punjab.
Dryopteridaceae dominant family with, 7 species from 3 genera
(Cyrtomium caryotideum, C. falcatum, C. macrophyllum, Dryopteris
ramosa, D. stewartii, Polystichum aculeatum , P. lonchitis).
• Adiantaceae was the second largest family with 4 species (Adiantum
capillus-veneris, A. caudatum, A. trapeziforme, A. venustum).
• Aspleniaceae (Asplenium adiantum-nigrum, A.
ceterach, A. trichomanes) , Athyriaceae (Athyrium
mackinnoni, Cystopteris fragilis, Diplazium
esculentum) , Oleandraceae (Nephrolepis biserrata,
N. cordifolia, N. exaltata), Sinopteridaceae
(Cheilanthes pteridioides, C. farinosa, C.
albomarginata); Thelypteridaceae (Ampelopteris
prolifera, Thelypteris dentata,T. erubescence).
• Pteridaceae (Pteris cretica, P. Vittata), Salviniacae
(Salvinia auriculata, S. molesta) , Marsileaceae
Cryptogrammaceae (Onychium contiguum,O.
Azollaceae (Azolla pinnata)-1 genus,1 species.
• Adiantum capillus-veneris and
• Ethnobotanically important-used by locals as
ornamentals plants, food or medicine to treat
various ailments such as diarrhea, dysentery,
skin diseases, chicken pox, stomach ulcer and
Salvinia minima –S.natans