Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

Nephrodium felix-mas.
Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Male Fern
Dryopteris filix-mas

A compost of fern leaves is very beneficial on tree seed beds, aiding germination[20].

The ashes of the plant are rich in potash and has been used in making soap and glass[4].

An effective ground cover plant. Although it is usually deciduous, its decaying fronds make a good weed-suppressing mulch in the winter[200]. Space the plants about 60cm apart each way[208].

The roots contain about 10% tannin[223].

  • Medicinal Use

    The male fern is one of the most popular and effective treatments for tape worms. The root stalks are anodyne, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, astringent, febrifuge, vermifuge and vulnerary[7, 9, 13, 19, 21, 171, 178, 218, 238]. The root contains an oleoresin that paralyses tapeworms and other internal parasites and has been used as a worm expellent[222, 238]. The active ingredient in this oleo-resin is ‘filicin’, roots of this species contain about 1.5 – 2.5% filicin[240]. It is one of the most effective treatments known for tapeworms – its use should be immediately followed by a non-oily purgative such as magnesium sulphate, Convolvulus scammonia or Helleborus niger in order to expel the worms from the body[7, 238, 254]. An oily purge, such as caster oil, increases the absorption of the fern root and can be dangerous[238]. The root is also taken internally in the treatment of internal haemorrhage, uterine bleeding, mumps and feverish illnesses[238]. The root is harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use[7]. This remedy should be used with caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[21, 238]. The root is toxic and the dosage is critical[238]. Pregnant women and people with heart complaints should not be prescribed this plant[7]. See also notes above on toxicity.

    Externally, the root is used as a poultice in the treatment of abscesses, boils, carbuncles and sores[238, 268].

  • Edible Use

    Young fronds – cooked[105, 177]. A flavour resembling asparagus, broccoli and artichokes[142]. Some caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

    The rhizomes can be eaten raw or cooked[257]. They were eaten raw as part of a regime for losing weight[257].

  • Cautionary Notes

    Although we have found no reports for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable[200]. The fresh plant contains thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase[172]. However, there have been reports for other species of ferns suggesting that even cooked fronds can have a long term harmful effect. Some caution is therefore advised.

Cultivation & Habitat

Spores – can be sown at any time of the year in a greenhouse. Surface sow on a sterilised compost and keep moist, possibly by placing the pot in a plastic bag. Germinates in 1 – 3 months at 20¡c. Pot up small clumps of the plants when they are large enough to handle and grow on in a shady part of the greenhouse until large enough to plant out. Division in spring. Larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring.
Prefers an acid to neutral soil, succeeding in ordinary fertile soil in a shady position[175, 200]. Succeeds in poor soils[208]. Succeeds in full sun but grows best in a shady position with only 2 – 3 hours sun per day[200]. Tolerates a pH range from 4.5 to 7[200]. Dislikes heavy clay[1]. Prefers a good supply of water at its roots[1] but succeeds in dry shade[28] and tolerates drought when it is established[200]. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to about -30¡c[200], the plant remains evergreen in the milder areas of Britain[233]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. An aggregate species[17]. There are many named forms, selected for their ornamental value[187].
Throughout Europe, including Britain, and temperate Asia.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.