When it comes to your health, nature has a great deal to offer. Our ancestors certainly knew a thing or two about the value of plants and herbs long before the advent of modern medicine. We have looked at the uses of a number of plants here at healthy focus; some of them are well-known and others are more obscure.
Polypodium vulgare may not trip off the tongue but the plant has quite a lot to offer. If you would like to find out more about the plant and exactly what it can do for your health, then read on.
What is Polypodium Vulgare?
Polypodium is a fern which is native to many parts of the world including Europe, East Asia, North Africa and eastern parts of North America. It can be found growing on forest floors, rocky undergrowth and in the cracks of stones and walls.
Other common names for the plant include polypody root, common polypody, adder’s fern, oak fern, sweet fern, polypod, rock brake and brake root. In Spanish, it is known as polypodio and in Chinese, it is called kou-chi while in the Unani system, it is known as bisfaij.
The rhizome of the plant is used to make herbal medicine. These rhizomes are usually harvested in late fall and can be eaten fresh. More often, they are dried and used later in decoctions, tinctures or liquid extracts.
Polypodium is a perennial fern, in the family Polypodiaceae, that grows to a height between 10 and 50 centimeters. It has evergreen fronds growing from its network of rhizomes. The fronds produce alternate leaflets becoming shorter as they approach the ends of the fronds.
- The name of the plant’s genus is derived from the Greek language and refers to the branched roots or rhizomes of the fern. ‘Poly’ which means ‘many’ and ‘padus’ which means foot.
- The plant has been introduced to New Zealand where it is considered to be an invasive species.
- Polypodium vulgare is found in various parts of Europe but is especially common in France and Scandinavia.
- Polypodium vulgare has traditionally been used in cooking and in medicine.
- The rhizome which has a bittersweet flavor has been used to make confectionery like nougat.
- A saponin called osladin was discovered in the plant. This compound has a sweetness some 500 times greater than sugar and is responsible for its sweet taste.
- The plant has medicinal properties including antioxidant, vermifuge and purgative actions owing to the various phytoecdysteroids present in the rhizomes.
- The rhizome is used to make medicine often taken in the form of tincture, liquid extract and decoctions.
- The plant has traditionally been used to treat several conditions including gout, scurvy, tuberculosis, indigestion and stomach pain.
Polypodium Vulgare Active Compounds
Active ingredients found in polypodium include saponin glycosides like polypodoside A and osladin, echysteroids, phloroglucinol derivatives, tannins, fatty oil and essential oil. it also contains lauric, butyric and succinic acids, butyric, methyl salicate and various resins. (1)
The rhizomes have a flavor similar to sweet licorice because of the presence of osladin. This compound is similar to the glycyrrhizin present in licorice.
Historical Uses of Polypodium
The use of polypodium as a medicine dates back thousands of years. In fact, the renowned physician – Hippocrates is said to have used the herb to treat women’s health problems. Another Greek physician – Pedanius Dioscorides noted its laxative effects and its ability to remove mucus in the lungs as far back as the first century BC.
Later, during the first century AD, Pliny the Elder recommended the use of polypodium as a natural laxative and recommended inhaling the powdered root as a remedy for nasal polyps.
In later times, the plant was used to treat a wide range of ailments including scurvy, tuberculosis, gout, rheumatism, stomach upset, dropsy, gastric pain and dyspepsia.
Perhaps the most common traditional use of the herb was to treat coughs, colds and sore throats. Native Americans chewed and sucked the rhizomes to ease their symptoms. The herb has also been used to promote sweating and stimulate urination.
The plant has also been used for its flavor and its aromatic properties. Because of the very sweet, licorice flavor of the rhizomes, the plant was used by the Scandinavian Sami people as a candy substitute.
Health Benefits of Polypodium Vulgare
These properties give polypodium a number of potential health applications. It should be noted however that the majority of studies into the effects of the herb are quite old and have mainly been done on animals. There is very little modern research into the plant’s effects. That being said, these are the most popular uses of the herb based on traditional use.
Polypodium is believed to have expectorant properties making it useful for treating a range of respiratory ailments. it can be drunk in the form of a tea to treat coughs, catarrh, bronchitis and congestion. It is often combined with marshmallow, which is another natural expectorant.
Polypodium vulgare may also help boost digestive health and relieve a number of common gastrointestinal complaints. It is believed to stimulate the production of bile and may be useful in treating conditions like indigestion as well as boosting the appetite.
Polypodium may also work as a gentle, natural laxative and is believed to be a safe, natural treatment for constipation.
The herb may also help reduce fevers because of its antipyretic properties. There is very little evidence to prove its efficacy but one study published back in 1989 looked at its effects on rats.
The researchers found that polypodium extract caused a gradual reduction in rectal temperature that lasted for four hours. (2) (3)
Rheumatism and Pain Relief
Polypodium vulgare may also have analgesic properties helping to relieve pain and has been used as a natural remedy for rheumatism and arthritis.
The same study by Mannan et al found that rats given extracts of the herb exhibited pain relief through improved reaction times. (3)
As well as its internal uses, polypodium can be applied topically to treat minor wounds, cuts, grazes, bites and scrapes.
The plant has antibacterial properties that can prevent infection from taking hold while it can also help reduce inflammation and irritation and speed up wound healing. The herb has also been applied topically to deal with common inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.
When it comes to the medicinal uses of polypodium, we are relying on traditional use as well as a few studies conducted quite a long time ago. According to the the few studies conducted so far, polypodium may also have the following uses: (2)
- Hypotensive properties : low doses resulted in reduced blood pressure in dogs but larger doses increased blood pressure.
- Anticonvulsant activity : as a result of central nervous system depression.
- Antiviral activity
How to Use It
The rhizomes can either be eaten fresh or can be used to flavor stews and soups. Because the prolonged exposure to high temperatures causes osladin to break down, it is better to add the roots to your dish after it is cooked and simply to let them soak for a while in the pot.
It is also possible to grind the rhizomes and use them as a substitute for your regular flour. This was a common practice in the past especially during a famine.
To treat coughs and other respiratory ailments and to boost digestion, the herb is usually prepared as a a tea.
To make the tea, add a tablespoon or so of the dried root to half a cup of hot water. Allow the tea to steep for around 15 minutes then strain. You can drink 3 or 4 cups a day.
Side Effects and Precautions
There is not a great deal of research into the safety of polypodium vulgare and there is no recommended dosage. However, there have not been any reports of serious side effects associated with the moderate use of the herb. The following side effects are possible.
- The prolonged, excessive use of polypody may lead to certain side effects including nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.
- Sensitive people may develop a minor rash from applying the herb topically.
- Speak with your doctor before using polypodium vulgare.
- Pregnant women and breast feeding mothers should avoid using the herb because of the lack of safety data.
- Polypodium vulgare is a species of fern that is sometimes used in cooking and for medicinal purposes.
- It is usually taken in the form of a tea but can also be applied topically to the skin.
- There are very few studies into the effects of polypodium vulgare but it is usually used to treat respiratory problems and coughs. it is also used to boost digestive health issues like constipation, indigestion and loss of appetite.
- The herb is probably safe for the majority of people as long as it is used in suitable doses for a short period of time.
Have you ever used polypodium vulgare? Please let us know what you used it for and whether you would recommend it.