Ethnobotanical Leaflets 11: 164-172. 2007.
Ethnobotanical Studies of Some Important Ferns
Lecturer, Department of Botany
c/o Prof. P.K. Khare
The ethnomedicinal value of ferns, used by the tribals of India such as Baiga, Gond, Korawa, Kanwar, Tanwar, Manjhwar, Oraon, Manjhi, Dhanwar, Binjihwar, Agariya, Pando and other people of the world is focused on in the present paper. The tribals frequently use ferns as medicines for the cure of various ailments. The information gathered from them (and also collected from other sources) is herein described.
Key Words: Ethnomedicinal uses, ferns.
Ethnobotanical studies have attracted a number of field workers in
recent years and they have supplied a lot of information about different uses
of plants prevalent among the various tribes and natives of
During the collection of Pteridophytes from almost all over the country, the author came to know about the medicinal value of certain ferns from the local inhabitants belonging to the tribes of India such as Baiga, Gond, Korawa, Kanwar, Tanwar, Manjhwar, Oraon, Manjhi, Dhanwar, Binjihwar, Agariya, Pando and others . The tribals treat various diseases and disorders by using the following ferns available around their ambient vegetation. They prepare paste, decoction, aqueous extract, powder and juice from a single plant or in combination with different parts of other plants. The following species of ferns are commonly used for medicine and food by the tribals:
Adiantum Capillus veneris (Linn.) (Fam-Pteridaceae)
Common name –: Maiden hair fern, Avenca, Herba capillorum veneris, Ladies' hair, Venus hair fern, Indian name: Hans Raj.
Rhizome short to suberect, covered with brown scales and hairs. Fronds bipinnate, petiole and racheae shining and brown in colour, with 5-6 secondary pinnules, rhomboidal in shape with 3-8 deeply cut lobe. Sori marginal with soral flaps infolded, semicircular to transversely elongated,2-3 mm broad.
Uses: The maidenhair fern has a long history of
medicinal use and was the main ingredient of a popular cough syrup called 'Capillaire', which remained in use until the nineteenth
century. The fresh or dried leafy fronds are antidandruff, antitussive, astringent, demulcent, depurative, emetic,
weakly emmenagogue, emollient, weakly expectorant,
febrifuge, galactogogue, laxative, pectoral,
refrigerant, stimulant, sudorific and tonic. A tea
or syrup is used in the treatment of coughs, throat afflictions and
bronchitis. It is also used as a detoxicant
in alcoholism and to expel worms from the body. Externally, it is used as a
poultice on snake bites, bee stings etc,. In
Adiantum philippense (Linn.) (Fam-Pteridaceae)
Common name – English name: Maiden hair fern, Indian name: Kalijhant
Roots thin and fibrous,petiole smooth with brown black hairs at base,fronds up to 25 cm long with half moon shaped pinnules. Sori marginal and discontinuous.
Uses: Decoction of roots and rhizomes is used in fever. It is also useful in dysentery (15).
Angiopteris evecta (Hoffm.) (Fam – Marattiaceae)
Common name – English name: Giant fern, Yapese name: Mong, Pohnpeian name: Peiwed (Poaiwed), Paiued, Chuukese name: Ammarre (chuuk lagoon).
Large sized ferns, rhizome short, broad, massive fleshy stock; fronds very large, bipinnate, springing from between two fleshy stipulae form appendages, stipes fleshy, green, swollen at the base; pinnae attached to the main rachis by swollen bases; pinnules attached to the pinnae by short swollen bases; pinnules attached to the pinnae by short swollen stalks; veins free, 6 recurrent veins, running from the margin between the true veins-sori of two close rows of sporangia attached along a vein near its apex, sporangia dehiscing along slits on the side facing the vein.
Distribution: Throughout the
Indian region upto 7,000 feet elevation,
Uses: In the southern
Botrychium lunaria (Sw.) (Fam – Ophioglossaceae)
Common name – English name: Moonwort, French name: Herbe aux serpents, Petite lunaire, German name: Walpurgiskraut, Italian name: Vindicta.
Rhizome small, enclosed by brown sheaths and bearing stoutish branched roots, which are fleshy when fresh but brittle when dry. Stalk long, erect, smooth which is cylindrical hollow and succulent. Vernation of both the fertile and sterile segments erect.
Fronds solitary, long, firm and fleshy; sterile branch pinnate, oblong, pinnae sessile, flabellate and often over lapping; veins flabellately forked. Fertile stalk long; fruiting spike racemose or paniculate; sporangia sessile, circular, brown, arranged in two rows on the dorsal face of the spike.
Uses: Botrychium lunaria used as a good vulnerary and
also used in dysentery in
Botrychium ternatum (Sw.) (Fam – Ophioglossaceae)
Chinese name: Yin Ti Chueh
Plants 18-75 cm high; common stalk 1-5 cm long; sterile stalk 4-20 cm long; sterile blade deltoid, tripinnate to quadripinatifid, stalk of the pinnae long; sterile blade deltoid, tripinnate to quadripinnatifid, stalk of the pinnae long; sterile blade deltoid, tripinnate to quadripinnatifid, stalk of the pinnae long, apex acutish, veins simple or forked; fertile stalk 13-21 cm long, fruiting spike, deltoid, profusely compound.
Distribution: Near Simla,
Uses: The plant is used as a
vulnerary and the root is prescribed in dysentery in
Botrychium virginianum (Sw.) (Fam – Ophioglossaceae)
Common name: Rattle snake fern, Grape fern, Indicator, Sang-Sign.
Stipes 3-18 inches long, sterile portion not prolonged beyond the fertile spike 4-12 inches each way; deltoid, quadripinnatifid, lower pinnae much the largest, pinnules ovate-oblong, close cut down to a broadly winged rachis into finely cut linear-oblong segments, both sides naked or slightly hairy; fertile branch of the rachis springing from the base of the sterile portion (i.e. sterile portion, sessile), or from the middle of it.
Distribution: South India,
at the higher elevations on the western mountains (only appearing in the
rains); Ceylon, about Newera Elya;
North India, on the Himalayas, Kumaon to Bhotan, 5,000-8,000 feet elevation, Khasya,
4,000-6,000 feet elevation. Also widespread in
Uses: Botrychium virginanum is used in dysentery in
Dicranopteris linearis (Retz.) (Sw.) (Fam –Gleicheniaceae)
Common name –Malay name: Resam, Indian name: Raj hans
Rhizome long, creeping with their tips covered with dense scale, fronds big, stiff and dichotomousely branched, stipe hard, brownish 1.5-2 m long. Apical bud usually dormant, covered with broad ovate stipules. Sori globose, yellowish and present in a single row on both sides of the costules, spores minute, hyaline.
Uses: Young circinately vernated leaves
mixed with cow milk used seven days continuously to remove sterility in
women. Petiole and racheae are used in thatching
the huts and widely sold as writing pens (
Helminthostachys zeylanica (Linn.) (Fam – Ophioglossaceae)
Common name: Kamraj, Dhimraj
Rhizome thick, fleshy, creeping and bearing many thick fleshy roots which become brittle when dry, common stalk fleshy, 20-30 cm long, sterile frond consisting of sessile palmately tripinnate lamina and a stalked fertile spike, and all these four parts separate from the apex of the common stalk; margin entire or slightly and irregularly toothed, veins fine, close, arising obliquely from the midrib and once or twice forked, fruiting spike bearing crowded short lateral branches, each with a sessile group of round sporangia.
Uses: The decoction of
rhizome is used for curing impotency. The leaf juice relieves blisters on the
tongue. The young leaves are cooked as vegetable. The powdered rhizome (5 gms) along with cow’s milk is used for vitality and brain
tonic. Its rhizome and about 5 gms of rhizome of safed musli (chlorophytum tuberosum Roxb. Baker.) and root of Semar musli (Bombax ceiba
Linn.), are made into paste which is given for one month for waist pain as
Lygodium flexuosum (Linn.) Sw. (Fam –Schizaeaceae)
Fronds glabrous or slightly hairy, pairs of fronds stipitate-pinnate with the pinnules again pinnate or variously lobed or subpalmate, all serrulate, sori protruding from the margine, texture subcoriaceous.
Uses: The aqueous extract of the rhizome given two times a day for 7 days cures gonorrhoea and the paste of the rhizome is applied on piles in India.(16)
Marattia salicina (Sm.) (Fam – Marattiaceae)
Stipes thick, smooth deciduously scaly or swollen in the lower part, fronds long, bipinnate or sometimes tripinnate, pinnae long, pinnules oblong-lanceolate, broad, the apex acuminate, the base cuneate or slightly rounded, synangia submarginal in close rows.
Uses The swollen caudex also used as starvation food in highland and
lowland areas of
Ophioglossum reticulatum (Linn.) (Fam – Ophioglossaceae)
Local name: Brahmi
Rhizome cylindrical to subglobose, elongate, not tuberous with many horizontal roots; fronds one to several, sterile division placed generally below the middle, broadly ovate, ovate-orbicular, either cordate or broad-truncate at base, venation lax, distinctly reticulate, midrib usually indistinct, apex blunt or acute, fertile segment including the slender peduncle up to 20 cm long, sporangiferous portion long.
Uses: The paste of the leaf
is applied on the forehead to get rid of headache in
Ophioglossum vulgatum (Linn.) (Fam – Ophioglossaceae)
Common name: English name: Adder’s Tongue, Christ’s spear -; French name: Herbe a daucune, Herbe Sans Couture, Lance de Christ, Langue de Serpent, Luciole, ophioglosse, ophioglosse commune, petite serpentaire, Serpentine -; Hausa name: Mashinzomo -; La Reunion name: Herbe un coeur, Herbe paille-en-queue, Langue de Serpent, Spanish name: Lengua de serpiente -; Suto name: Mmadiyo, Tsebe-ngive, Tseyananyane.
Plants 8-27 cm high; rhizome erect, cylindrical, bearing many fleshy roots, tropophyll ovate or ovate-oblong in shape, cordate at base, obtuse or acutish at apex, fleshy in texture, margin entire, venation with elongated primary areoles in the mid-vein area and with irregularly shaped closely woven small meshes with free vein-endings in the marginal area. Fertile stalk long, usually attached almost near the middle strobilus 2-3.5 cm long.
Uses: The fresh leaves make
a most effective and comforting poultice for ulcers and tumors. The expressed
juice of the leaves is drunk as a treatment for internal bleeding and breusing ( American Nutrition
Centre). The fresh leaves of O. vulgatum
are used as a poultice in scrofulous ulcers and tumors, together with an
infusion taken internally in wine glassful doses. The plant is boiled in oil
or fat is said to be a panacea for wounds and to reduce inflammation. An ethnobotanical study in Nouthern
The root and the
leaves are antiseptic, detergent, emetic, haemostatic, styptic and vulnerary.
An ointment made from the plant is considered to be a good remedy for wounds
and is also used in the treatment of skin ulcers (Plants for a Future: Database Search Results).
With the present information it is clear that in hills and forests where majority of ferns and fern allies grow, natives frequently use their young fronds and dried rhizomes as source of food and extracts of different parts and their decoction as medicine for various ailments. The study highlights the traditional uses of ferns by the tribals in the treatment of their diseases and ailments. These data may be useful for phytochemists and pharmacologists to determine their true therapeutic compounds.It may bring to light new sources of drugs of herbal origin. Many medicinal plants are reported to be threatened to extinction. Of course, large numbers of medicinal plant species are endangered or are under immediate danger of loss, while various species are vulnerable mainly due to indiscriminate collection as well as excessive trade from natural population for commercial purpose. So there is an urgent need for their conservation. There has been much emphasis to conserve the ferns which are important for academic, medicinal and ornamental values.
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