Male Fern

A genus of mostly deciduous, rhizomatous ferns containing some 200 species, found in woods, mountain rocks, and damp places in northern temperate regions. Many species are grown for their often vase-shaped crowns of fine foliage. Some are demanding in requirements, but several species, including Dryopteris filix-mas, are easily grown as garden plants, being very hardy and drought resistant. Dryopteris filix-mas is very variable in size and frond shape and has numerous cultivars. A number of species contain phloroglucinol derivatives ("filicin"), which paralyze intestinal parasites. In addition to D. filix-mas, D. cristata (crested field fern, buckler fern), D. oreades (dwarf male fern), and D. crassirhizoma are used. Drugs derived from these ferns are used in conjuction with an effective purgative. D. crassirhizoma has been recorded in Chinese medicine since at least the later Han dynasty (CE25-220). Known as guan zhong, it reduces inflammation, controls bleeding, and lowers fever.

Deciduous fern with thick rhizomes and large clumps of broadly lanceolate fronds, to 1m (3ft) long. Spores are released from the undersides of the upper leaflets in summer.

Common Name:
Male Fern
Botanical Name:
Dryopteris filix-mas syn. Aspidium filix-mas
Native Location:
Europe and N America
Rich soil in shade. Foliage may be affected by rust.
By spores sown when ripe at 15°C (59°F); by division in autumn or spring. Variants do not come true from spores.
Rhizomes are lifted in autumn, leaving bases of fronds but removing roots, and dried for use in liquid extracts and powders. Stocks are renewed annually.
1m (3ft)
1m (3ft)
Has long narrow fronds
Height: 1.2m (4ft)
Width: 1.2m (4ft)

Crispa Cristata
Is smaller, with crested fronds and leaflets both crisped and crested.
Height 60cm (2ft)

Has narrower divisions, giving slender, more graceful fronds.
Parts Used:
A bitter, unpleasant-tasting, highly toxic herb that expels intestinal worms and has anti-bacterial and anti-viral effects. It also controls bleeding, relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and lowers fever.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for all intestinal parasites, liver flukes, internal hemorrhage, uterine bleeding, mumps, and feverish illnesses (including colds, influenza, measles, pneumonia, and meningitis). Doses for intestinal worms are critical; poisoning is prevented by combining with a saline purgative, such as magnesium sulfate, but not with castor oil, which increases absorption. Excess causes nausea and vomiting, delirium, breathing difficulties, blindness, and heart failure. Externally for abscesses, boils, carbuncles, and sores. For use by qualified practioners only.
This herb is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited Pp 197-198