Medicinal plants

Fern herb - Common worm fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Fern herb - Common worm fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

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When it comes to ferns, many first think of tropical jungle flora. Indeed, the fern is a botanical relic from prehistoric times, which describes the origins of today's diverse flora. What most people don't know is that the fern family also includes some of the oldest medicinal plants. In this regard, the one known as fern is particularly famous Real worm fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). Our contribution to the topic reveals what this medicinal herb is all about and what versatile uses it is.

Profile for the real worm fern:

  • Scientific name: Dryopteris filix-mas (syn. Aspidium filix-mas)
  • Plant family: Worm fern family (Dryopteridaceae)
  • Popular names: Tapeworm root, fern herb, flea herb, lucky hand, witch herb, witch ladder, maze, carob, male fern, mouse ladder, Schawel, stick fern, devil herb, devil mop, forest fern, bug herb, bug bug
  • Occurrence: Asia, Europe, North Africa, North and Central America
  • application areas:
    • Vascular disease,
    • Gout,
    • Rheumatism,
    • Parasite infestation,
    • Pain complaints,
    • Indigestion,
    • Wounds
  • Parts of plants used: Leaves, rhizome

Herbal portrait

Ferns are among the oldest plants in the world. Together with some other prehistoric plants such as the club moss, they formed the first forms of forest-like flora around 360 million years ago in the Carboniferous Age, from which the forest botany as we know it only developed later. In detail, it was tree ferns of the now extinct genus Pseudosporochnales, which in its time formed up to 20 meter high forest stands and contributed significantly to the creation of a life-friendly climate on Earth.

Their photosynthesis, i.e. the filtering of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the subsequent conversion into oxygen, not only generated the basis for the cellular respiration of living beings, but also contributed to the natural greenhouse effect, which controls the water vapor generation typical of primeval forests through atmospheric warming of the air . The high humidity in the rainforest climate is, in a way, a legacy of the early fern settlement on our planet.

A moist, as well as shady location has remained common to the ferns as a preferred living space. For this reason, most types of fern are still found in tropical rainforests such as those of the Amazon, New Zealand or Africa. The primeval forest climate has hardly changed in those regions since then and allows the ferns to colonize crevices, swamps and riparian regions as before.

An exception is the worm fern. It can also be found in the temperate climates of the northern hemisphere, where it thrives best in pine and beech forests. In garden botany it is therefore extremely popular as one of the few hardy ferns. Its unmistakable leaflets lend that certain something in particular to forest and natural garden concepts. In the house, ferns are also valued as decorative ornamental plants for the bathroom or living room. In this context, the damp bathroom climate appears ideal for indoor cultivation. Herbalists also discovered worm fern centuries ago, if not millennia, for themselves.

“The fern is warm and dry and also has a medium amount of juice. The devil flees the plant, and it has certain powers that are reminiscent of those of the sun, because like the sun it illuminates the dark. They sell illusions, fantasias, and that is why they do not love the evil spirits. In the place where it grows, the devil rarely practices juggling, and the house where the devil is, avoids and detests her. Lightning, thunder and hail rarely occur there, and it rarely hails in the field on which it grows. Whoever carries the fern with them is safe from the devil's reenactments and from evil attacks on life and limb. ” - Hildegard von Bingen

The worm owes its name to the fact that it was previously often used to treat tapeworm infestation. In general, in the Middle Ages, it was attributed to an "expelling" effect, which, in addition to parasite removal and pain complaints, also contained rather superstitious aspects. As a magical magic plant, the fern should keep the devil away, cure demonic obsession or prevent it. It is therefore not surprising that in ancient times the plant was part of numerous protective spells and banishing rituals. Epithets such as witch herb, witch ladder, devil's wipe or devil's herb still testify to this type of application.

In contrast, the use of the fern is medically a double-edged issue. In particular, the use of fern roots as a worming agent was not without risks, because the same effect that kills the parasite can lead to dangerous symptoms of poisoning, if not death, in the event of an overdose. For this reason, the worm fern rootstock, which is rich in ingredients, is rarely used for deworming these days, provided that all other deworming agents have failed and that the therapy is carried out by a trained alternative practitioner with a license. The leaves of the fern, on the other hand, are much less dangerous and therefore much more frequently used. They are recommended for all kinds of ailments, including

  • Gout,
  • Body aches,
  • Skin infections and skin inflammation,
  • Lumbago,
  • A headache,
  • Varicose veins,
  • Nerve pain (neuralgia),
  • Rheumatism,
  • Back pain,
  • Calf cramps,
  • Wound healing disorders,
  • Toothache.

Caution, risk of confusion!

It should be noted that the term "fern" is sometimes very misleading, since it sometimes describes various types of medicinally used fern. In addition to the worm fern, this primarily includes the bracken (Pteridium) and the Usury fern (Tanacetum). In homeopathy, both ferns are used to a limited extent for the treatment of psychological or mental complaints, such as melancholy or social withdrawal, with which they stand in clear contrast to the areas of application of the worm fern. In rare cases, this is also used for psychologically motivated illnesses, such as anxiety or the tendency to self-harm, but is only considered as an emergency alternative here if gentler homeopathic remedies have failed.

A fern that has more in common with the worm fern in terms of its main areas of application is that Spotted fern (Polypodium). It is also used for the treatment of worms and gout as well as for breathing difficulties and liver diseases. In principle, fern herbs should never be tested on their own for treatment purposes, since the ingredients of the plants - with the exception of the spotted fern - have a certain poisoning potential, as already mentioned.

Ingredients and effects

The ingredients of the fern are, as shown, not entirely without pitfalls. It is therefore important to only carry out appropriate applications in accordance with the dosage instructions. The fact that the active substances in Dryopteris filix-mas require a special sense of proportion can already be seen in this connection by the fact that they differ in many ways from the common medicinal plant ingredients.

These are primarily different Phloroglucine. They belong to the plant-based aroma substances, more precisely to the phenols, and are part of numerous healing agents, such as the much-vaunted anthocyanins. These are considered to be particularly antioxidative, antibacterial and immune-boosting, although this cannot be applied one-to-one to the effects of phloroglucins in worm fern. The consistently positive and complication-free effect of anthocyanins is not a general rule for all phloroglucin compounds. Please refer to the overview below to find out what you need to look out for in detail and which ingredients are included in the worm fern in addition to phloroglucins.


The glandular hairs of the bracken leaves are particularly rich in butanophloroglucides. These phloroglucins are known to have an antispasmodic and analgesic effect, which is why they like to help as anticonvulsants

  • cramp-like bowel pain (e.g. in colitis),
  • Biliary colic,
  • Uterine cramps,
  • Menstrual cramps,
  • Muscle cramps,
  • Renal colic,
  • Cramps and pain in the urinary bladder
  • as well as very painful contraction pain during pregnancy

be used. At the same time, however, be warned of some undesirable side effects that can arise if the patient has certain contraindications. We have recorded details on this in the section on possible side effects for you.

Caution: Butanophloroglucids are highly toxic to many farm animals and pets! For example, a very low dose of around 25 grams can be fatal in sheep.


The filicin contained in the rhizomes is relevant for worm treatment with roots of the fern. It is capable of killing intestinal parasites such as tapeworms and, with a view to the names of the fern, such as fleaweed or bugweed, has in the past apparently also had deterrent to destructive effects against other parasites. Various studies also tracked other medicinal effects of the fern's own filicin, including an anti-carcinogenic effect.

Unfortunately, with this phytonutrient, like many other natural products, the dose makes the poison. Because filicin can not only heal, it can also cause serious damage to health if it is dosed at random. There are numerous cases in which deworming causes symptoms of poisoning, some of which even result in death.


Particularly interesting research results also revealed the aspidine contained in worm fern species, especially in the treatment of

  • bacterial infections,
  • Skin diseases,
  • and wounds

very special healing effects could be recorded in the past. A team of researchers from China came to the conclusion that the aspidine in the fragrant worm fern (Dryopteris fragrans), a close relative of the common worm, showed an extraordinary efficiency against certain strains of bacteria, which are always associated with bacterial skin and mucosal infections, namely :

  • Propionibacterium acnes - pathogen of the acne vulgaris,
  • Staphylococcus aureus - Among other things, causative agent of abscesses, boils, carbuncles, inflammation of the lungs and inflammation of the heart (endocarditis),
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis - A bacterium that occurs naturally on the skin and mucous membranes, but which can lead to endocarditis, sinusitis, boils and wound infections if the immune system is weakened.

In addition, according to the study, aspidine also appears to have anti-inflammatory potential in such bacterial infections.

Another Chinese study also found that, due to its extremely specific effect on the signaling of connective tissue cells (the so-called fibrolasts), aspidine can successfully prevent the formation of excess scar tissue. This fibrola load proliferation, also known as keloid or scar keloid, is very often an undesirable complication in surgical wounds or general injuries with impaired wound healing. So there is something to be said about the use of worm fern for wound treatment.

Unfortunately, however, the use of aspidine is not entirely insidious. In the 1960s, for example, a dangerous poisoning of a child in childhood was documented in which treating doctors used Filmaron for deworming (see PubMed). The substance is a chemical combination compound of aspidine and filicin (also: aspidinol silicine) and is no less toxic when overdosed than aspidine and filicin. For this reason, researchers are still tinkering with the possibility of using both ingredients of the worm fern, in which the toxic properties can be neutralized.

Essential oils

A much more common and gentler component in the fern is its essential oils. They are used medically for all kinds of infectious diseases and inflammation, but also for nervous disorders, breathing and digestive problems. This is mostly based on aromatherapy, in which the healing active ingredients of the essential oil enter the bloodstream via the respiratory tract and from there to their actual areas of application in the body.

The essential oils in the fern are also available Bitter substances and vegetable tannins, too Tannins called, connected. Both plant substances are known to

  • antibacterial,
  • antifungal,
  • antiviral,
  • and anti-inflammatory

to act. With tannins, this effect also affects the skin in particular, which is the reason that they are used to tan animal skins for leather production. Because their astringent effect ensures that the skin pores and vessels contract, which makes infectious agents difficult to penetrate into the skin. The vegetable tannins thus optimally support the skin-protecting effect of the fern's own aspidine.

The bitter substances of the fern are also popular digestive aids, which help against flatulence and stomach cramps. They are also considered to strengthen the immune system and promote blood circulation.

Application and dosage

Both the roots and the leaves of the fern can be harvested from June to the beginning of September, whereby the leaves are collected in early and midsummer and the roots are collected in late summer.

At this point we would like to expressly point out that the internal use of fern roots (e.g. for deworming) should only be carried out after consultation with the doctor treating you, in order to avoid dangerous poisoning. During treatment, patients should then strictly adhere to the medical or homeopathic dosage instructions. The fern leaves are more suitable for private purposes. They can be used either internally or externally.

Washes with fern roots

Although you should never use fern roots internally on your own, you can still use external treatment for various health problems. For example, washing with root additives helps

  • Foot pain,
  • tense or swollen feet,
  • Body aches,
  • Lumbago,
  • Varicose veins,
  • Nerve pain (neuralgia),
  • Rheumatism,
  • and back pain.

Simply boil about 3 liters of water and add about 500 grams of the rhizome. As soon as the herbal broth has cooled down to hand warmth, wash the affected part of the body with it or take a soothing foot bath.

Fern leaf herb tincture

A fern tincture can also be helpful for mouth rinsing or rubbing in for certain skin irritations, as well as for relieving pain. To avoid too many problematic active ingredients, you should only use the leaves of the plant.


  • approx. 600 milliliters of high-proof alcohol (e.g. brandy, schnapps or vodka)
  • approx. 300 grams of fresh and young fern leaves
  • a screw jar
  • a linen cloth
  • a dark bottle for storage

Step 1: Fill the screw-top jar with 300 grams of fern leaves or with enough leaves that the jar is full to the top. Now pour the alcohol over it and make sure that the herbs are well covered with it.

2nd step: Next, put the tincture in a sunny place and let it ripen for at least two weeks. A light-filled window sill is best suited for this.

3rd step: The tincture is then filtered through a linen cloth and placed in a bottle with a funnel for storage. Alternatively, you can use a fine-mesh sieve or a coffee filter. If possible, the bottle should be dark, i.e. blue or brown, so that incident light rays cannot destroy the ingredients so easily.

Depending on your needs, the tincture can then either be used to treat painful limbs and vessels or to relieve pain in the mouth by rinsing. In the latter, you should be careful not to swallow the tincture.

Fern herb ointment

Wounds, skin infections and inflammatory skin areas are best treated with a weakened form of the fern extract. Ointments are just right for this. Chronic pain complaints, such as those typical for rheumatism or gout, require a somewhat gentler use of the active ingredients in the fern, since side effects can easily occur with long-term use of highly concentrated tinctures.

In addition, the medicinal properties of fern herbs can be combined in an ointment with other herbs that are suitable for skin care. For example, yarrow and marigold are useful for chronic skin diseases such as neurodermatitis or psoriasis. At night a little basic recipe for a beneficial ointment with fern extract.


  • 25 milliliters of marigold oil
  • 25 milliliters of yarrow oil
  • 10 milliliter fern tincture
  • 6 grams of beeswax
  • a glass bowl (heat resistant)
  • stew
  • an ointment jelly
  • a bottle of anti-siren

Step 1: Bring a pot of water to the boil on the stove. The pot should be large enough to accommodate a glass bowl.

2nd step: Now put the marigold oil together with the yarrow oil in the glass bowl and heat the oil mixture in a water bath. As soon as the oil is hot, the beeswax is added.

3rd step: Wait until the wax has melted completely. Only then do you finally add the fern tincture. After the hot batch of ointments has cooled, you can add a few drops of anti-rancidity for a longer shelf life and fill them into an ointment container for storage.

Stored cool (preferably in the fridge) the ointment should be stable for at least six months, or even up to 12 months if anti-rancid is used. During this time, you can use the ointment for daily rubbing in.

Commercially available fern herb preparations

There are a number of ready-made fern herb preparations for special purposes. For example, certain tea blends are available commercially, which are intended to promote digestion and detoxification. This is helpful, among other things, for therapeutic fasting or carrying out diets. In this regard, drops and capsules with fern extract are recommended, which are not only used for digestive problems such as bloating or heartburn, but also for extensive intestinal inflammation and even for irritable cough.

There are also ready-made ointments with fern for the treatment of blisters, joint inflammation and calluses in the foot area.

tip: Even with these ready-to-use preparations, it is advisable to speak to a naturopath or homeopath before use in order to reduce the risk of side effects due to incorrect handling.

Side effects

  • The signs of intoxication in the fern are mainly due to the filicin it contains. This not only paralyzes any intestinal parasites, but can also lead to respiratory paralysis, which is manifested by severe breathing difficulties in an emergency.
  • Headaches, dizziness and circulatory problems after taking fern are also signs of poisoning and should be examined urgently and promptly by a doctor. Fern poisoning can also be felt by nausea and vomiting, cramps and visual disturbances. The latter can lead to blindness, which again shows that intoxication with this medicinal herb is not to be trifled with.
  • The phloroglucin in the fern can lead to an allergic skin reaction such as a rash or nettle fever if overdosed. Falling blood pressure and edema formation are also possible side effects.


Fern herb is not only one of the oldest forest plants, but also one of the oldest medicinal herbs. It can be assumed that this medicinal herb has accompanied our ancestors from the forest to a sedentary age and cured numerous pain complaints as well as inflammation, infections and injuries. With a view to the toxic ingredients of the rhizome, which is known today, modern applications should primarily make use of the less dangerous leaves of the fern herbs. If anything is unclear, it is advisable to consult the doctor or alternative practitioner. (ma)

Author and source information

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


  • Kapadia, Govind J. et al .: Anti-tumor promoting activity of Dryopteris phlorophenone derivatives, in: Cancer Letters, Volume 105, Issue 2, Pages 161-165, Aug 1996, sciencedirect
  • Song, Rengang & Li, Gaofeng & Li, Shirong: Aspidin PB, a novel natural anti-fibrotic compound, inhibited fibrogenesis in TGF-β1-stimulated keloid fibroblasts via PI-3K / Akt and Smad signaling pathways, in: Chemico-Biological Interactions . Volume 238, Pages 66-73, August 5, 2015, sciencedirect
  • Heyndrickx, A. & Coulier, V. & Ureel, J .: An acute fatal poisoning of a child due to the anthelmintic aspidinolfilicin (Filmaron), in: Journal de Pharmacie de Belgique, Volume 21, Issue 7, Pages 387-96, Jul -Aug 1966, PubMed

Video: Dryopteris filix-mas - ejection of spores (August 2022).