FernsFamily: N.O. Filices Ferns are herbs, with a perennial (rarely annual) short, tufted or creeping root-stock. The British genera comprise about forty-five species, only one of which, a small Jersey species, is annual.
The leaves of Ferns are mostly radical, partaking of the nature of branches and distinguished by the name of fronds. When divided laterally (as is generally the case) the leaflets are termed pinnae, and their subdivisions pinnules.
The classification of the order Filices is according to fructification. The dust-like and almost invisible seeds or spores of Ferns are contained in little cases or thecae, of a roundish shape, which are themselves encircled (except in some groups) by a jointed ring, the elasticity of which eventually bursts open the thecae and scatters the spores when mature. These thecae are in the majority of the genera arranged on the back of the pinnules in linear, oblong or circular clusters, called sori mostly having above the mass a thin membrane called the Indusium, though in some genera the sori are naked. In some instances, as in the Maidenhairs, the sori are arranged on the margins of the fronds, the indusium being a continuation of the bleached, recurved margin of the pinnule itself. In a few genera, as in the Osmunda and Adder's Tongue, the plant is divided into barren and fertile fronds, either of a distinctly different or of the same form, the fructification rising at the top of the fertile fronds in spikes or panicles. The spores when sown develop minute green leafy expansions, called Prothalli. On each prothallus are produced tiny bodies which have been compared to stamens and pistils, from whence the young Fern is subsequently developed.
As regards culture, Ferns prefer a northern aspect, shade and shelter is not indispensable, but tends to their finer and most perfect condition and growth. They flourish best in asoil that is a mixture of peat, earth and sand, pebbles being intermixed for the roots in many instances to cling to. The only manure needed is that from dried leaves or other vegetable matter. They should not be set too deep and are best kept rather moist. In all the wall species, the roots are best placed under the protection of the stones among which they are to grow. Attention should be paid in cultivation to the natural habits of the species. Ferns may be raised from the spores if carefully potted and looked after.
MALE FERN Botanical Name: Dryopteris Felix-mas (LINN.), Aspidium Filix-mas (SCHWARZ)
Family: N.O. Filices Description Parts Used Medicinally Subsitiutes Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses Preparations and Dosages Synonym: Male Shield Fern.
Part Used: Root.
The common Male Fern, often known as Dryopteris Filix-mas (Linn.), and assigned by other botanists to the genera Lastrea, Nephrodium and Polypodium, is one of the commonest and hardiest of British Ferns and, after the Bracken, the species most frequently met with, growing luxuriantly in woods and shady situations, and along moist banks and hedgerows. In sheltered spots it will sometimes remain green all the winter.
This Fern grows in all parts of Europe, temperate Asia, North India, North and South Africa, the temperate parts of the United States and the Andes of South America. It is very variable, some of its forms in this country markedly differing and described under the names of sub-species, the chief being affine, Borreri, pumilum, abbreviatum, and elongatum.
Description: The root-stock or rhizome is short, stumpy and creeping, lying along the surface of the ground or just below it. From its under surface spring the slender, matted roots. The crown of the rhizome is a brown, tangled mass, with the hairy bases of the leaves, and in it is contained the mass of undeveloped fronds which, as they unroll, grow in a large circular tuft and attain a length of from 2 to 4 feet. Each frond is wide and spreading, stiff, erect, broadly lanceolate or lance-shaped, the stalk covered with brown scaly hairs. The pinnae are arranged alternately on the mid-rib (which is also hairy), the lower ones decreasing in size, and each pinna divided again almost to its own mid-rib, the pinnules being oblong and rounded, with their edges slightly notched and their surface somewhat furrowed. The sori are on the upper half of the frond, at the back of the pinnules, in round masses towards the base of the segments, covered with a conspicuous, kidney-shaped indusium.
The name of this genus, Aspidium, is derived from aspis (a shield), because the spores are thus enclosed in bosses, resembling the shape of the round shields of ancient days.
Parts Used Medicinally: An oil is extracted from the rhizome of this Fern, which, as far back as the times of Theophrastus and Dioscorides, was known as a valuable vermifuge, and its use has in modern times been widely revived. Gerard writes: 'The roots of the Male Fern, being taken in the weight of half an ounce, driveth forth long flat worms, as Dioscorides writeth, being drunke in mede or honied water, and more effectually if it be given with two scruples, or two third parts of a dram of scammonie, or of black hellebore: they that will use it, must first eat garlicke.' The famous remedy of Madame Nouffer, for expelling tapeworms, contained this plant as its basis.
Comparatively little Male Fern has so far been collected in this country, Germany until the War having supplied nearly all our requirements.
It may be collected in late autumn, winter or early spring, from the time the fronds die down, till February, late autumn being considered the best time. Only old rhizomes should be taken.
The rhizome varies in length and thickness according to its age. For medicinal purposes it should be from 3 to 6 inches or more long and from 1 1/2 to 2 inches or more broad. When removed from the ground, it is cylindrical and covered with the closelyarranged, overlapping remains of the leafstalks of the decayed fronds. These stalks are from I to 2 inches long, somewhat curved, angular, brown-coloured, and surrounded at the base with thin, silky scales, of a light brown colour. From between these remains of the leaf stalks, the black, wiry, branched roots may be seen. Internally in the fresh state, the rhizome is fleshy and of a light yellowish-green colour. It has very little odour, but a sweetish, astringent and subsequently nauseous and bitter taste.
Before drying, it is divested of its scales, roots and all dead portions, leaving the lower swollen portion attached to the rhizome, and is carefully cleansed from adhering soil. It is then sliced in half longitudinally. For pharmaceutical use, it is reduced to a coarse powder and at once exhausted with ether. Extract obtained in this way is more efficacious than that which has been obtained from rhizome that has been kept for some time. It should never be more than a year old.
There is also a market for Male Fern Fingers which are the bases of the fronds, collected in late summer, scraped when fresh (not peeled), cut up into pieces 2 to 3 inches long and then dried, when they present a wrinkled appearance externally and internally and should have the colour of pistachio nuts.
Substitutes: English oil of Male Fern has always proved more reliable than that imported from the Continent, which is often extracted from an admixture of other species. The rhizomes of Asplenium Filix-foemina (Bernh.), Aspidium Oreopteris (Sw.), and A. spinulosum (Sw.), resemble those of the Male Fern and have often been found mixed with it when imported. They are best distinguished by examining the transverse section of their leaf bases with a magnifying lens: in Filix-mas, the section exhibits eight wood bundles, forming an irregular circle, whilst in the three other ferns named only two are observed. The presence of secreting cells in the hard tissue, the number of bundles at the base of the leaf-stalk, and the absence of glandular hairs from the margin of the scales, readily distinguish Male Fern from the other species. The margin of the scales borne by the leaf-stalk has in the Male Fern merely hair-like projections, whereas in A. spinulosum, the hairs are glandular. Felixfoemina has no glandular hairs, and has only two large bundles in the base of the leafstalk in distinction to the eight of Filix-mas. The United States Pharmacopoeia includes the rhizome of a Canadian species, A. marginale, which in transverse section shows only six wood bundles.
This fern appears to have some qualities in common with the Bracken. The ashes of both have been used in soap and glassmaking, and the young curled fronds have been boiled and eaten like Asparagus. In times of great scarcity the Norwegians (over a century ago) used the fronds to mix with bread and also made them into beer. The leaves, cut green and dried, make an excellent bitter, and when infused in hot water make good fodder for sheep and goats.
The Scottish roots of Male Fern (according to an account published in the Chemist and Druggist of February 26, 1921) yield an oleoresin which contains 30 per cent of filicin, whereas the British Pharmacopoeia only requires 20 per cent.
Constituents: By extraction with ether, Male Fern yields a dark green, oily liquid extract, Oil of Male Fern, containing the more important constituents of the drug. The chief constituents are about 5 per cent of Filmaron - an amorphous acid, and from 5 to 8 per cent of Filicic acid, which is also amorphous and tends to degenerate into its inactive crystalline anhydride, Filicin. The Filicic acid is regarded as the chief, though not the only active principle. Tannin, resin, colouring matter and sugar are also present in the rhizome. The drug has a disagreeable, bitter taste and an unpleasant odour
Medicinal Action and Uses: The liquid extract is one of the best anthelmintics against tapeworm, which it kills and expels. It is usual to administer this worm medicine last thing at night, after several hours of fasting, and to give a purgative, such as castor oil, first thing in the morning. A single sufficient dose will often cure at once. The powder, or the fluid extract, may be taken, but the ethereal extract, or oleoresin, if given in pill form, is the more pleasant way of taking it.
The drug is much employed for similar purposes by veterinary practitioners. In the powdered form, the dose varies from 60 to 180 grains, taken in honey or syrup, or infused in half a teacupful of boiling water. The dose often given is too small, and failure is then due to the smallness of the dose. In too large doses, however, it is an irritant poison, causing muscular weakness and coma, and has been proved particularly injurious to the eyesight, even causing blindness.
The older herbalists considered that 'the roots, bruised and boiled in oil or lard, made a good ointment for healing wounds, and that the powdered roots cured rickets in children.'
Preparations and Dosages: Powdered root, 1 to 4 drachms. Fluid extract, 1 to 4 drachms. Oleoresin, 5 to 20 drops. Ethereal extract, B.P., 45 to 90 drops.
SHIELD FERN, PRICKLY-TOOTHED Botanical Name: Aspidium spinulosum
Family: N.O. Filices Part Used: Root.
The Prickly-toothed Shield Fern is allied to the Male Shield Fern, but is not so tall, about 8 to 14 inches, and has very much broader leaves. The rootstock is similar to Male Fern, but there are differences in the number of wood bundles in the stems, also in the hairs on the margins of the leaf-stalk scales. The fronds are more divided - twice or thrice pinnate - and are spinous, the pinnae generally opposite and the lowest pair much shorter than the others. The sori are circular, with kidney-shaped indusium, much smaller than in Filix-mas.
The Prickly-toothed Shield Fern is moderately erect and firm and grows in masses, being common in sheltered places on moist banks and in open woods.
The medicinal uses are as in Male Fern, with the rhizome of which, as imported from the Continent, it has always been much mixed.
LADY FERN Botanical Name: Asplenium Felix-foemina (BERNH.)
Family: N.O. Filices Synonym: Athyrium Filix-foemina.
The Lady Fern is similar in size and general appearance to the Male Fern. It grows abundantly in Britain, in masses, in moist, sheltered woods, on hedgebanks and in ravines. The rootstock is short and woody; the fronds 2 to 3 feet high, grow in circular tufts and are light, feathery and succulent, generally drooping, and while young and tender, not infrequently soon shrivelling up after being gathered. The leaf base - as already stated - has only two large bundles, and the stalks are less scaly than in the Male Fern. The pinnae are alternate, the lowest decreasing much in size at the bottom, and are divided into numerous long, narrow, deeply-divided and toothed pinnules, with abundant sori on their undersides, the indusium attached along one side, in shape rather like an elongated and rather straightened kidney. The Lady Fern is very variable in form, tint and flexibility: it is more graceful and somewhat more delicate than the Male Fern, and is early cut down by autumn frosts. It is easy of cultivation.
The medicinal uses are as in Male Fern, but it is less powerful in action.
SPLEENWORT, COMMON Botanical Name: Asplenium ceterach (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices
Synonyms: Scaly Fern. Finger Fern. Miltwaste. Ceterach (Arabian).
The Common Spleenwort grows on old walls and in the clefts of moist rocks. The fronds are 4 to 6 inches long, leathery, light green above, beneath densely covered with rusty, toothed scales, the sori hidden under the scales.
This Fern used also to be called 'Miltwaste,' because it was said to cure disorders of the milt or spleen, for which it was much recommended by the Ancients. Probably this virtue has been attributed to the plant because the lobular milt-like shape of its leaf resembles the form of the spleen. The name of the genus, Asplenium, is derived from the Greek word for the spleen, for which the various species originally assigned to the genus were thought to have curative powers. This particular species was used to cure an enlarged spleen. It was also used as a pectoral and as an aperient in obstructions of the viscera, and an infusion of the leaves was prescribed for gravel. Meyrick considered that a decoction of the whole plant was efficacious, if persevered in, for removing all obstructions of the liver and spleen. Pliny considered that it caused barrenness.
SPLEENWORT, BLACK Botanical Name: Asplenium Adiantum nigrum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Dosage of Infusion Synonym: Black Maidenhair.
Part Used: Herb.
The Black Spleenwort is a small fern growing in rather circular masses, either on walls, where its fronds are only from 3 to 6 inches long, or on shady hedgebanks, where its oblong-triangular, evergreen fronds may attain as much as 20 inches in length. The pinnae are alternate, slanting upwards; the pinnules thick, leathery, shiny, irregularly wedge-shaped. It is rather variable in form; when on exposed walls, it is more rigid and pointed and yellowish-green, instead of dark green. The sori are abundant, swelling over the edges of the pinnules. This is a very hardy and ornamental fern. Its stalks are polished and dark chestnut-brown in colour.
It is sometimes called Black Maidenhair, and has medicinal virtues similar to other Maidenhairs, a decoction of it relieving a troublesome cough and proving also a good hair wash.
Dosage of Infusion: 3 tablespoonfuls.
WALL RUE Botanical Name: Asplenium Ruta-muraria (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices
Synonyms: White Maidenhair. Tentwort.
Part Used: Herb.
The Wall Rue, named by some old writers Salvis vitae, also White Maidenhair, is a small fern, only 2 to 3 inches high, growing in tufts and embedded in the crevices and joints of walls. It is much the colour of Garden Rue, its wedge-shaped pinnules being like those of the Rue, and also its slender stalks of a pale-green colour.
It was considered good for coughs and ruptures in children. One of its old names, 'Tentwort,' refers to its use as a specific for the cure of rickets, a disease once known as 'the taint.' It was also used to prevent hair from falling out. Culpepper says: 'This is used in pectoral decoction. The decoction being drunk helps those that are troubled with coughs, shortness of breath, yellow jaundice, diseases of the spleen, stoppings of the urine, and helps to break the stone in the kidneys.... It cleanses the lungs, and by rectifying the blood causes a good colour to the whole body. The herb boiled in oil of camomile dissolves knots, allays swellings and drys up moist ulcers. The lye made thereof is singularly good to cleanse the head from scurf and from dry and running sores, stays the shedding or falling of the hair, and causes it to grow thick, fair and well-coloured, for which purpose boil it in wine, putting some smallage-seed thereto and afterwards some oil.'
MAIDENHAIR, COMMON Botanical Name: Asplenium trichomanes (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Other Species A tea derived from our Common Maidenhair, a simple little fern, common on old walls, with long, simply pinnate fronds, their sori arranged on the back in oblique lines, has also demulcent effect. The fronds are sweet, mucilaginous, and expectorant, causing the tea to have been considered useful in pulmonary disorders. In Arran, the fronds have been dried and used as a substitute for tea; it acts as a laxative.
The above three species are the doradilles of France, sometimes used as rather unsatisfactory substitutes for the Maidenhair of Montpellier and Canada and Mexico.
MAIDENHAIR, TRUE Botanical Name: Adiantum Capillus-veneris
Family: N.O. Filices History Habitat Description Constituents Medicinal Action and Uses
Synonyms: Capillaire commun, or de Montpellier. Hair of Venus.
Part Used: The herb.
Habitat: Southern Europe. Southern and Central Britain.
History: Several varieties of Maidenhair Fern are used in medicine, the most common being the present species, when grown in France, and the Canadian Adiantum pedatum.
Habitat: A. Capillus-veneris, called the True Maidenhair, is a dainty little evergreen fern found in the milder parts of the West of England - in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall - and in mild parts of the west of Ireland, growing in moist caves and on rocks near the sea, on damp walls and in wells.
Description: The rootstock is tufted and creeping. The fern grows in masses, the fronds, however, separating and arching apart, giving the appearance of a perfect miniature tree. The stems are slender, of a shining, brownish black, the fronds themselves usually twice or three times pinnate, 6 inches to a foot long, the delicate pinnules fan-shaped, indented and notched. The sori are conspicuous, occupying the extremities of most of the lobes of the pinnules, in oval spots on the inner surface of the indusium, which is formed of the reflexed edge of the pinnule. The pinnules are very smooth: 'in vain,' said Pliny, 'do you plunge the Adiantum into water, it always remains dry.'
Constituents: Tannin and mucilage. It has not been very fully investigated.
Medicinal Action and Uses: Has been used from ancient times medicinally, being mentioned by Dioscorides. Its chief use has been as a remedy in pectoral complaints. A pleasant syrup is made in France from its fronds and rhizomes, called Sirop de Capillaire, which is given as a favourite medicine in pulmonary catarrhs. It is flavoured with orange flowers and acts as a demulcent with slightly stimulating effects. Narbonne Honey is generally added to the syrup. Culpepper tells us: 'This and all other Maiden Hairs is a good remedy for coughs, asthmas, pleurisy, etc., and on account of its being a gentle diuretic also in jaundice, gravel and other impurities of the kidneys. All the Maidenhairs should be used green and in conjunction with other ingredients because their virtues are weak.' Gerard writes of it: 'It consumeth and wasteth away the King's Evil and other hard swellings, and it maketh the haire of the head or beard to grow that is fallen and pulled off.' It also enters into the composition of Elixir de Garus. It is employed on the Continent as an emmenagogue under the names of polytrichi, polytrichon, or kalliphyllon, administered as a sweetened infusion of 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water.
A. pedatum is a perennial fern of the United States and Canada, a little larger than the European variety, used in similar ways and more highly valued by many.
A. lunulatum of India is similarly employed.
A. trapeziforme of Mexico is more aromatic but less valuable medicinally.
A. radiatum and A. fragile of Jamaica and A. Æthiopicum of Ethiopia are both used in medicine.
HART'S TONGUE Botanical Name: Scolopendrium vulgare; Asplenium scolopendrium (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Description Medicinal Action and Uses
Synonyms: Hind's Tongue. Buttonhole. Horse Tongue. God's-hair. Lingua cervina.
Part Used: Fronds.
The Hart's Tongue, a fern of common growth in England in shady copses and on moist banks and walls, is the Lingua cervina of the old apothecaries, and its name refers to the shape of its fronds.
Description: Its broad, long, undivided dark-green fronds distinguish it from all other native ferns, and render it a conspicuous object in the situations where it abounds, as it grows in masses. It receives its name of Scolopendrium because its fructification is supposed to resemble the feet of Scolopendra, a genus of Mydrapods. The sori are in twin oblique lines, on each side of the midrib, covered by what looks like a single indusium, but really is two, one arranged partially over the other. In the early stages of its growth, the folding over of the indusium can be clearly seen through a lens. The fronds are stalked and the root, tufted, short and stout. This fern is evergreen and easy of cultivation.
Medicinal Action and Uses: In common with Maidenhair, this fern was formerly considered one of the five great capillary herbs. The older physicians esteemed it a very valuable medicine, and Galen gave it in infusion for diarrhoea and dysentery, for which its astringent quality made it a useful remedy. In country districts, especially in Wales and the Highlands, an ointment is made of its fronds for burns and scalds and for piles, and it has been taken internally for Bright's Disease, in a decoction made of 2 oz. to a pint of water, in wineglassful doses. In homoeopathy, it is administered in combination with Golden Seal, for diabetes. It is specially recommended for removing obstructions from the liver and spleen, also for removing gravelly deposits in the bladder. Culpepper tells us: 'It is a good remedy for the liver, both to strengthen it when weak and ease it when afflicted.... It is commended for hardness and stoppings of the spleen and liver, and the heat of the stomach. The distilled water is very good against the passion of the heart, to stay hiccough, to help the falling of the palate and to stay bleeding of the gums by gargling with it.'
BRACKEN Botanical Name: Pteris aquilina (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Description Medicinal Action and Uses Use as Food Other Uses
Synonyms: Brake Fern. Female Fern.
Parts Used: Fronds. root.
The Bracken or Brake Fern, often called by old writers the Female Fern, is found in almost every part of the globe, except the extreme north and south; it grows more freely than any other of the Fern tribe throughout Britain, flourishing luxuriantly on heaths and moors.
Description: The rootstock is long and fibrous (creeping horizontally), very thick and succulent, throwing up solitary fronds at intervals, which soon cover large patches of ground. The stems are erect and treelike, velvety at the base, very brittle at first, afterwards tough and wiry, ordinarily 2 to 3 feet high, though in favourable soil and situations attaining a height of 8 to 10 feet. They bear branched fronds, twice or thrice pinnate, the pinnae more or less opposite, the pinnules long, narrow, smooth-edged, roundpointed and leathery. The sori on the back of the frond form a continuous line along the margin, being covered by an indusium attached to the slightly recurved edge of the pinnule.
The lower portion of the stem, when cut obliquely at the base, shows a pattern or figure formed of the wood bundles, which was supposed by Linnaeus to represent a spread eagle, hence he gave the species the name of Aquilina. The name of the genus, Pteris, is derived from pteron (a feather), from the feathery appearance of the fronds, in the same way that the English name Fern is a contraction of the Anglo-Saxon fepern (a feather). In some parts of England it is called 'King Charles in the Oak Tree.' In Scotland, it is said to be an impression of the Devil's Foot, and yet witches were reputed to detest this fern, for the reason that it bears on its cut stem the Greek letter X, which is the initial of Christos. In Ireland, it is called the Fern of God, because if the stem is cut into three sections, on the first of these will be seen the letter G, on the second O, and on the third D.
The spores of this and other Ferns are too minute to be visible to the naked eye. Before the structure of Ferns was understood, their reproduction was thought to be due to unknown agencies - whence various superstitions arose.
'This kinde of Ferne,' writes Lyte in 1587, 'beareth neither flowers nor sede, except we shall take for sede the black spots growing on the backsides of the leaves, the whiche some do gather thinking to worke wonders, but to say the truth, it is nothing els but trumperi and superstition.' The minute spores were reputed to confer invisibility on their possessor if gathered at the only time when they were said to be visible, i.e. on St. John's Eve, at the precise moment at which the saint was born. Shakespeare says, I Henry IV: 'We have the receipt of Fern seed - we walk invisible.' and Ben Jonson: 'I had no medicine, Sir, to walk invisible No fern seed in my pocket.' The Fern was also said to confer perpetual youth.
Medicinal Action and Uses: The Ancients used both the fronds and stems of the Bracken in diet-drinks and medicine for many disorders. Culpepper gives several uses for it: 'The roots being bruised and boiled in mead and honeyed water, and drunk kills both the broad and long worms in the body, and abates the swelling and hardness of the spleen. The leaves eaten, purge the belly and expel choleric and waterish humours that trouble the stomach. The roots bruised and boiled in oil or hog's grease make a very profitable ointment to heal the wounds or pricks gotten in the flesh. The powder of them used in foul ulcers causes their speedier healing.
'Fern, being burned, the smoke thereof drives away serpents, gnats, and other noisome creatures, which in fenny countries do, in the night-time, trouble and molest people lying in their beds with their faces uncovered.' Gerard says that 'the root of Ferne cast into an hogshead of wine keepeth it from souring.' 'For thigh aches' (sciatica), says another old writer, 'smoke the legs thoroughly with Fern Bracken.'
Use as Food: The rhizome is astringent and also contains much starch, and has been considered recently as a possible source of starch for food and industry. There seems, however, to be some doubt as to whether its astringent properties do not render the Bracken unsuitable for human food. Humboldt reported that the inhabitants of Palmaand Gomera - islands of the Canary Group use Bracken as food, grinding the rhizome to powder and mixing it with a small quantity of barley-meal, the composition being termed goflo - the use of such food being, however, a sign of the extreme poverty of the inhabitants. The rootstock of the Esculent Brake (Pteris esculenta) was much used by the aborigines of New Zealand as food, when the British first settled there, and is also eaten much by the natives of the Society Islands and Australia.
The young fronds used sometimes to be used as a vegetable, being sold in bundles like Asparagus, but although considered a delicacy in Japan, they are somewhat flavourless and insipid to our modern Western taste, though they are not indigestible, and in the absence of all other fresh vegetables might prove useful. In Japan, before cooking, the tender shoots are first washed carefully in fresh water, then plunged into boiling water for two minutes or so, and then immersed again in cold water for a couple of hours. After this preparation they may be used for cooking, either being prepared as a pur‚e, like spinach, or like asparagus heads, being served with melted butter or some similar sauce.
In Siberia and in Norway, the uncoiled fronds have been employed with about twothirds of their weight of malt for brewing a kind of beer.
Other Uses: The astringent properties of the rhizome have caused a decoction to be recommended for the dressing and preparation of kid and chamois leather.
Before the introduction of soda from seasalt and other sources, the large amount of alkali obtained from the ashes of Bracken was found serviceable for glassmaking, both in the northern parts of this Island and in other countries, and was used freely for the purpose. The ash contains enough potash to be used as a substitute for soap. The ashes are mixed with water and formed into balls; these made hot in the fire are used to make lye for the scouring of linen. In the East, tallow boiled with Bracken ash is made into soap.
The potash yield of Bracken ash is so considerable that in view of the present scarcity of fertilizers, this source of supply is well worth attention. Potash is a particularly valuable fertilizer for potato and sugar-beet land, especially for light loams and gravels and sandy soils. It should be borne in mind by persons having access to quantities of Bracken, that they have a usable supply of this almost indispensable manure at hand, either for cultivating flowers or crops, at the expense of a little trouble.
The best time for cutting Bracken for burning is from June to the end of October, but the ash from green Bracken is much more valuable than from the old and withered plant. In the month of June, the fronds and stems hold as much as 20 per cent of potash, but in August that amount is reduced to 5 per cent, a large proportion having been given back to the rhizome or soil. Experiments have been contemplated by the Board of Agriculture to determine whether the cutting and incineration of Bracken in June, with a view to obtaining its potash content, would be economically feasible.
Where Bracken flourishes unchecked, it becomes injurious to sheep-farming by its encroachments on the grass on the runs, this being especially the case in the Lake District, and it would be of double advantage to cut it down and use it to supplement the reduced stocks of manures. Potash from Bracken is very soluble and should not be exposed to rain. The ashes as soon as cool should be collected and kept dry until required for use. It is stated that 50 tons of the dried fern produces 1 ton of potash. Instructions for dealing with Bracken are given by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland in Leaflets 18, 25, 39 and 42.
Formerly in both the green and the dried state, Bracken was used as fodder for cattle. When dry, it makes excellent litter for both horses and cattle, and forms also a very durable thatch. The young tops of the Fern are boiled in Hampshire for pigs' food, and the peculiar flavour of Hampshire bacon has sometimes been attributed to this custom. The fronds are much used as packing material for fruit, keeping it fresh and cool and imparting neither colour nor flavour. The dried fronds may be used in the garden for protecting tender plants.
In early spring, when dormant, large clumps may be lifted from moors or commons to serve as screens in the wilder parts of the garden, though the Fern is somewhat difficult to transplant and afterwards preserve with success, and is often destroyed by spring frosts. While growing in its natural habitats, Bracken is of value as cover and shelter for game.
In the seventeenth century it was customary to set growing Bracken on fire, believing that this would produce rain. A like custom of 'firing the Bracken' still prevails to-day on the Devonshire moors.
POLYPODY, COMMON Botanical Name: Polypodiurn vulgare (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Description Part Used Medicinally Medicinal Actions and Uses Preparation
Synonyms: Polypody of the Oak. Wall Fern. Brake Root. Rock Brake. Rock of Polypody. Oak Fern.
Parts Used: Root, leaves.
The Common Polypody is a common Fern in sheltered places, on shady hedge-banks, and on roots and stumps of trees, moist rocks and old walls.
Description: It has a creeping rhizome, which runs along the surface of the ground, or substance on which it grows, and is thick and woody, covered with yellowish scales. At intervals it throws up fronds, from a few inches to a foot in length, which hang down in tresses and have plain, long, narrow, smooth pinnae, placed alternately on the stalk and joined together at the base. The stalk has no scales. The sori are rather large and prominent, white at first, ripening into a golden yellow, and in round masses, placed in two rows along the underside of the upper segments, equally distant from the centre and the margin. Unlike all the preceding species described, they are not covered with an indusium. The young fronds come out in May, but in sheltered places the plant is nearly evergreen.
The name is derived from poly (many) and pous, podos (a foot), from the many foot-like divisions of the caudex.
Part Used Medicinally: The root, which is in perfection in October and November, though it may be collected until February. It is used both fresh and dried, and the leaves are also sometimes used.
This Fern was employed by the Ancients as a purgative: it is the Oak Fern of the older herbalists - not that of the modern botanists, Polypodium dryopteris. It was held that such Fern plants as grew upon the roots of an oak, which this Fern frequently does, owned special medicinal powers. In the same way the mistletoe that grew on the oak was esteemed by the Druids to have special powers of which that growing on other trees was devoid. The True Oak Fern is a much more delicate Fern and grows chiefly in mountainous districts, among the mossy roots of old oak-trees and sometimes in marshy places.
Medicinal Actions and Uses: Alterative, tonic, pectoral and expectorant. Its principal use has been as a mild laxative. It serves as a tonic in dyspepsia and loss of appetite, and as an alterative in skin diseases is found perfectly safe and reliable. It is also used in hepatic complaints.
It proves useful in coughs and catarrhal affection, particularly in dry coughs: it promotes a free expectoration, and the infusion, prepared from 1/2 oz. of crushed root to a pint of boiling water and sweetened, is taken in teacupful doses frequently, proving valuable in the early stages of consumption. The powder is stated to have been used with success for some kinds of worms.
It sometimes produces a rash, but this disappears in a short time and causes no further inconvenience.
Preparation: Fluid extract: dose, one drachm.
A mucilaginous decoction of the fronds was formerly, and probably still is, used in country places as a cure for whooping-cough in children, for this purpose the matured, fruitful fronds, gathered in the autumn, are dried, and when required for use are slowly boiled with coarse sugar. It is still used as a demulcent by the Italians.
The fresh root used to be employed in decoction, or powdered, for melancholia and also for rheumatic swelling of the joints. It is efficacious in jaundice, dropsy and scurvy, and combined with mallows removes hardness of the spleen, stitches in the side and colic. The distilled water of the roots and leaves was considered by the old herbalists good for ague, and the fresh or dried roots, mixed with honey and applied to the nose, were used in the cure of polypus. Gerard tells us: 'Johannes Mesues reckoneth up Polypodie among those things that do especially dry and make thin: preadventure he had respect to a certain kind of arthritis or ache in the joints: in which not one part but many together most commonly are touched: for which it is very much commended by the Brabanders and other inhabitants about the river Rhene and the Maze. Furthermore Dioscorides saith that the root of Polypodie is very good for members out of joint and for chaps between the fingers.' Culpepper considers Polypody 'a mild and useful purge, but being very slow, it is generally mixed by infusion or decoction with other ingredients, or in broths with beets, parsley, mallow, cummin, ginger, fennel or anise. The best form to take it for a complaint in the intestines is as follows: To an ounce of the fresh root bruised add an ounce and a half of the fresh roots of white beets and a quart of water, boiling hot and let it stand till next day, then drain it off. A quarter of a pint of this liquor contains the infusion of 2 drams of this root. It should be sweetened with cane sugar or honey.'
The leaves of Polypody when burnt furnish a large proportion of carbonate of potash.
ROYAL FERN Botanical Name: Osmunda regalis (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Description Part Used Medicinally Medicinal Action and Uses
Synonyms: Osmund the Waterman. Heart of Osmund. Water Fern. Bog Onion.
Part Used: Root.
The Royal Fern grows abundantly in some parts of Great Britain, chiefly in the western counties of England and Scotland, and in Wales and the west of Ireland. It needs a soil of bog earth and is incorrectly styled the 'Flowering Fern,' from the handsome spikes of fructification. One of its old English names is Osmund the Waterman, and the white centres of its roots have been called the 'Heart of Osmund.'
There is a legend that the wife and daughter of Osmund, a waterman of Loch Tyne, took refuge among Osmundes during an invasion of the Danes.
Osmund is a Saxon word for domestic peace, from os (hoise) and mund (peace).
By some the name Osmunda is said to be derived from the god Thor (Osmunda). Others have traced its derivation from os (a bone) and mundare (to cleanse), in reference to the medicinal uses of the Fern.
The Fern is dedicated to St. Christopher.
Description: The rootstock is tuberous, large and lobed, densely clothed with matted fibres, often forming a trunk rising perceptibly from the ground, sometimes to the height of a foot or more. It is manyheaded and sends up tufts of fronds, the brown stems of which are cane-like, very tough and wiry, varying from 2 to 3 feet in drier situations, to from 8 to 10 feet in damp, sheltered places when very luxuriant. It is the tallest of our British ferns.
The fronds are twice pinnate, the pinnae far apart, mostly opposite, the pinnules undivided, narrow and oblong, slightly tapering to their apex, smooth, very short-stalked. When young, they are of a very delicate texture and of a reddish colour, changing afterwards to a dull green. The fronds are divided into fertile and barren. The barren fronds are entirely leafy, the fertile fronds are terminated by long, branched spikes of fructification, composed of bunches of clustered thecae or spore cases, green when young and ripening into brown, not covered by an indusium. These fertile fronds are developed in April.
This handsome Fern is easy of cultivation and hardy, and is best transplanted when large.
Part Used Medicinally: The root, or rhizome, which has a mucilaginous and slightly bitter taste. The actual curative virtues of this Fern have been said to be due to the salts of lime, potash and other earths which it derives in solution from the bog soil and from the water in which it grows. Medicinal Action and Uses: A decoction of the root is of good effect in the cure of jaundice, when taken in its early stages, and for removing obstructions of the viscera. The roots may also be made into an ointment for application to wounds, bruises and dislocations, the young fronds being likewise thought 'good to be put into balms, oyls and healing plasters.' A conserve of the root was used for rickets. Gerard says, drawing his information from Dodonaeus and other older herbalists: 'The root and especially the heart or middle thereof, boiled or else stamped and taken with some kinde of liquor, is thought to be good for those that are wounded, drybeaten and bruised, that have fallen from some high place.' And Culpepper says: 'This has all the virtues mentioned in the former Ferns, and is much more effectual than they, both for inward and outward griefs: and is accounted singularly good in wounds, bruises or the like: the decoction to be drunk or boiled into an ointment of oil, as a balsam or balm, and so it is singularly good against bruises and bones broken or out of joint, and gives much ease to the colic and splenetic diseases: as also for ruptures and burstings.' It has been recommended for lumbago.
ADDER'S TONGUE, ENGLISH Botanical Name: Ophioglossum vulgatum (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Medicinal Action and Uses Synonym: Christ's Spear.
Parts Used: Root, leaves.
The Adder's Tongue, known also in some parts of England as Christ's Spear, has no resemblance to any other Fern. The stems which grow up solitarily from the small root - formed merely of a few stout, yellow fibres - are round, hollow and succulent, bearing on the upper part a simple spike, issuing from the sheath of a smooth, oblong-oval, tapering, concave, undivided, leafy frond. Embedded on each side of the stalk - at the top is a single row of yellow thecae, not covered by any indusium. The whole has much the appearance of the Arum flower.
The name is derived from ophios (a serpent) and glossa (a tongue).
This strange little Fern, growing only from 3 to 9 inches in height, is generally distributed over Great Britain, being not uncommon, buried in the grass in moist pastures and meadows. It is tolerably easy of cultivation.
Medicinal Action and Uses: This Fern has long had a reputation as a vulnerary. A preparation of it, known as the 'Green Oil of Charity,' is still in request as a remedy for wounds. The older herbalists called it 'a fine cooling herb.' The expressed juice of the leaves, drunk either alone, or with distilled water of Horse Tail, used much to be employed by country people for internal wounds and bruises, vomiting or bleeding at the mouth or nose. The distilled water was also considered good for sore eyes. An efficacious ointment for wounds was made as follows: 'Put 2 lb. of leaves chopped very fine into 1/2 pint of oil and 1 1/2 lb. suet melted together. Boil the whole till the herb is crisp, then strain off from the leaves.' This is a very ancient recipe for wounds.
MOONWORT Botanical Name: Botrychium lunaria (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Filices Description Part Used: Fronds.
The Moonwort is said to possess similar vulnerary virtues to Adder's Tongue. The Ancients regarded it as a plant of magical power, if gathered by moonlight, and it was employed by witches and necromancers in their incantations.
Parkinson says that it was used by the alchemists, who thought it had power to condensate or to convert quicksilver into pure silver.
Culpepper says: 'Moonwort (they absurdly say) will open locks and unshoe such horses as tread upon it; but some country people call it unshoe the horse.'
Description: It is a very singular-looking plant, the stem hollow and succulent, throwing off a single, barren pinna, having on each side very peculiar stalked pinnules, occasionally deeply notched throughout to their base. The stem itself, continuing upwards, has near the top other very short, alternate, branched offshoots, on which, or on the spike itself, are arranged the thecae in regular lines - like the Osmunda and Ophioglossum, uncovered by any indusium. This fructification appears in April.
The Moonwort is not uncommon on open heaths and pastures, where the soil is peaty, but not very wet.
This and Ophioglossum, alone among the Ferns, grow up straight, not with their fronds curled inward, crosier-fashion.