Medicinal plants

Fern as a medicinal plant - effect and application

Fern as a medicinal plant - effect and application

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Fern is one of the oldest plants and originated in ancient times, almost 200 million years before flowering plants developed. They have various active ingredients, some of which are not found in any other plant.

In Germany, in addition to the stag-tongue and spotted fern, the worm fern (fern) was popular as a medicinal plant in folk medicine - as the name suggests, it served as a highly effective remedy for parasites in the gastrointestinal tract. Unfortunately, the fern poison not only works for a hook or tapeworm, but also leads to nausea, liver and nerve disorders in its human host.

Profile of the fern

  • Scientific name: Polypodiopsida (real ferns, class within the ferns)
  • distribution: Worldwide, especially on the oceanic islands and in the tropics
  • Parts of plants used: The unpeeled rootstock, freed from the roots, with the leaf bases attached to it, fern fronds
  • application areas:
    • Worm infestation
    • Anti-parasites such as fleas and bugs
    • rheumatism
    • arthritis
    • a headache
    • Menstrual pain
    • Skin diseases
    • Indigestion
    • to cough

Real ferns botanical

Real ferns are herbaceous plants with a rhizome, which in some species can reach up to 40 meters in length. Some tropical species have a tree-like shape and form a trunk. Initially, a protostele sits in the center of the trunks, later various siphon and polysteles develop.

The trunks become stable through leaf traces and through sclerenchyma plates, not through "real" wood. Fern leaves are often pinnate and form fronds, they grow with a double-edged apex. Countless sporangia sit beneath these photosynthetic leaves - ferns spread through spores.

Ferns in folk medicine and medical history

Folk medicine used plant parts of the fern and other real ferns externally for rheumatism, gout, skin diseases, leg cramps, varicose veins and burns. Internally, the bracken also served as a remedy for digestive problems, heartburn and an irritated bowel. The use against intestinal worms was essential.

In academic medicine, too, the fern has been known as a worming agent since ancient times. Ancient Greco-Roman authors such as Plinius, Dioskurides and Theophrast mentioned the plant to fight parasites.

In the Christian signature theory of the Middle Ages, which formed analogies and fantasized with such associations between supposedly "similar" plants, animals, organs, planets, stones and diseases, fern was considered a remedy for back pain because the fern fronds reminded one of the spine.

Fern fronds as toilet paper

Our ancestors planted ferns to prevent worms from multiplying and used fern fronds as toilet paper. Even more: They threw the fronds into the outhouse and thus reduced the spread of the worms that had been excreted.

Fight fleas with fern cushions

A pillow with dried fern fronds and fern roots has traditionally been used to keep fleas, bugs and mites away from humans. To do this, our ancestors put it in bed, in the closet or under their head when sleeping.

Fern applications

Applied externally, worm and spot fern is harmless, for example as brew, tea, tincture or as a herbal pillow with fern fronds, as an envelope, compress or in baths.

Real worm - mark

The common worm fern, also known as "fern", is perennial and stays green for a long time - right into the winter. Its fronds form the shape of a rosette that ends in a funnel and are up to 1.50 meters long. Yellow-brown chaff scales sit on short petioles.

At the beginning of the growth, the fronds roll as spirals. They are fully oval-elongated and pinnate. The feather segments on the spindle are getting shorter, the tip is bluntly rounded.

Stems and spindle cover oblong-pointed scales of a brownish-transparent color.
The fern leaf is divided into two and tapered, the leaflets are sawn; on the fronds that carry spores, they sit on the underside in two rows of spore containers. The spores spread from July to September.

Worm fern is similar to the common female fern, with which it is not closely related - this comes from the genus Athyrium. This differs from the lighter green of the fronds. We have to ask the namesake Leonhardt Fuchs why lighter fronds were considered female, darker fronds considered male. In 1543 he called the common worm fern "Wurmfarn mennle" and the common female fern "Wurmfarn weible" - in Latin Dryopteris filix-mas and Athyrium filix femina.

Worm fern - occurrence

The common worm is common in this country. He likes it moist, shady and mostly grows in forests, especially in mixed deciduous, beech and pine forests, on the edge of the forest, in the bushes, between tall trees, on forest clearings, debris heaps, embankments, on walls and on rubble piles, in gardens, cemeteries and parks . It grows from Northwest Africa through Europe and Western Asia to Central Asia and North America. The species probably originated in the Caucasus.

Worm fern - ingredients

The fern contains filmaron, aspidinol, albaspidin, flavaspidic acid and filixic acid. Acylphloroglucinols sit in the leaf bases and the rhizome. Other ingredients include up to 0.04 percent essential oil, around eight percent tannins, fatty oil, terpenoids, sugar and starch.

Medicinal effects of the fern

The phloroglucin derivatives paralyze the muscles and nervous system in various worms that live as parasites in the organs of the human body, for example tapeworms and roundworms. With the help of a laxative, these parasites can then be easily excreted from the body.

Toxic effects

Filmaron, which acts against worms, is a nerve and muscle poison, both for parasites and for humans. Therefore, you should never make extracts from the fern yourself. Unwanted side effects of the poison include nausea, diarrhea and headache, liver damage and optic nerve disorders that can lead to blindness.

Deaths have been proven. Commission E of the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) - formerly Federal Health Office (BGA) - strongly advises against using worm fern in its raw form.

Spotted fern

Other medically effective ferns in Germany are the spot fern and the deer tongue fern. The common spotted fern is also widespread in Central Europe, in the shade of walls, in oak or birch forests. Its resins relieve cramps and contain substances that inhibit inflammation. There are bitter substances in the roots that stimulate digestion as they stimulate the production of bile.

Deer tongue fern

Deer-tongue fern is often found on damp stones, city walls and old buildings as well as on mossy trees and near dead wood. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) mentioned it as a medicinal plant and in fact the tannins in the rhizome and the fronds have a pulling action and thus help with wound healing and gastrointestinal problems.

It drives the urine and an extract from it is a good remedy for stuck cough, bronchitis and allergic asthma. Other areas of application include abdominal pain, hormone disorders during menopause and thyroid dysfunction.

Buy fern

Worm fern is a common, easy to care for domestic plant and you can buy it cheaply in many nurseries. It often settles on its own in shady gardens.

Male fern against snails

Worm fern poison not only works against parasites in the stomach and intestines, snails also avoid the plant because of this. In the garden, this fern is a proven helper against snail feeding. For this you can:

  1. Mulch the beds with fresh fern leaves.
  2. Sprinkle dried fern leaves in front of the plants you want to keep snails away from.
  3. Put a manure out of one kilogram of worm fern leaves and 10 liters of water, leave it covered for two weeks and then spread it on the floor with the watering can.

Planting fern

Planting fern is easy. It is ideal for a shady garden, a forest garden and for the house wall. In short: the fern can be planted as an ornamental plant or animal hiding place where the sun friends wither among the flowering plants. It hardly needs any light, it likes it dark and rather dry, thrives on the tap, on the bike stand between the garbage cans and on the garden path on the north side.

He likes loose and fresh soil, which can be a little acidic - like in the forest. It is best to plant it in spring or autumn. If the soil is very dense, you can loosen it with sand. A humus layer made of garden compost thanks the plant, in autumn fallen leaves in the planting hole are well suited to replace the “forest floor”.

A distance of around 60 centimeters should be maintained between the ferns. When planting and in the first few weeks, you should water the bracken abundantly - until the rhizome has spread.

Take care of the fern

The fern does not need much care. In winter you can clean the rosette once, as a lot of dirt and vegetable residues collect here. In the spring you can help him with a handful of compost.

To propagate the fern in the garden, split it. They dig out the plant and remove the pieces from the rhizome that they want to place as individual plants in other places. Now put the old fern and the new sections back into the ground as quickly as possible and do not water too little. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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  • Götz, Hans: Ferns and grasses - Bds-Handbuch IIIb, Cadmos, 2012
  • Strehlow, Dr. Wighard: The Hildegard Compass: The Most Important Remedies and Applications, Knaur MensSana HC, 2014
  • Bafor, Enitome E .; Omokaro, Wellington O. et al .: Dryopteris filix-mas (Dryopteridaceae) leaves inhibit mouse uterine activity, in: Journal of Medicinal Plants for Economic Development, 1/1: a25, October 2017, JOMPED
  • Vogler, Gerold; Donath, Oliver; Saukel, Johannes et al .: Polar phenolic compounds in Dryopteris filix mas and Dryopteris dilatata, in: Verh. Zool.-Bot. Ges. Austria, 148/149: 279-289, 2012, ZOBODAT
  • Erhirhie, Earnest Oghenesuvwe; Emeghebo, Chika Ndubuisi; Chiedu Okoye, Festus Basden Gerald et al .: Dryopteris filix-mas (L.) Schott ethanolic leaf extract and fractions exhibited profound anti-inflammatory activity, in: Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine, 9 (4): 396-409, July-August 2019, PMC

Video: lady fern - Athyrium filix-femina. Identification and Characteristics (November 2022).