Polypodium Vulgare

Polypodium vulgare, the common polypody, is a fern of the family Polypodiaceae. Polypodium vulgare is an allotetraploid species, believed to have arisen by chromosome doubling of a sterile diploid hybrid between two ferns which are not known in Europe. The fern’s proposed parents are the northern Asian and northern North American Polypodium sibiricum and western North American Polypodium glycyrrhiza. Biochemical data point to a species from eastern Asia as the second possible parent. The name is derived from poly (many) and pous, podos (a foot). Polypody has traditional uses in cooking for its aroma and sweet taste, and in herbal medicine as a purgative and vermifuge.

Polypody stimulates bile secretion and is a gentle laxative. In European herbal medicine it is traditionally used as a treatment for hepatitis and jaundice and as a remedy for indigestion and loss of appetite. It should not be used externally since it can cause skin rashes. The root is alterative, anthelmintic, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, pectoral, purgative, tonic. It can be used either fresh or dried and is best harvested in October or November, though it can be collected until February. The leaves can also be used but are less active. A tea made from the roots is used in the treatment of pleurisy, hives, sore throats and stomach aches and as a mild laxative for children. It was also considered of value for lung ailments and liver diseases. The poulticed root is applied to inflammations. A tea or syrup of the whole plant is anthelmintic.

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 plant has medicinal properties including antioxidant, vermifuge and purgative actions owing to the various phytoecdysteroids present in the rhizomes.

The plant has traditionally been used to treat several conditions including gout, scurvy, tuberculosis, indigestion and stomach pain.

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 Common Polypody (Polypodium vulgare) is a medium-sized fern that can be found in damp, shady gorges and banks in woodlands, as well as on rocks, walls and even mossy logs. They can survive dry conditions and are ideal for many gardens; in shade under trees or on walls or gravelly areas for attractive cover. They are 10 – 25 cm high with fronds that form a network of spreading, mat-like rhizomes.

The fronds are single; leathery, green, erect or spreading with the blade elongated, tapering to a pointed tip, deeply cut almost to the central axis.  The leaflets are almost altemate, hairiess, and margins entire or shallowly toothed, blunt-tipped and the central rachis is basically winged and leafstalk is lightly scaled near the base.  Spores are produced in large, spherical, dot-like clusters on the undersides of leaflets and spore clusters are formed in 2 rows, and more abundant on upper leaflets.