The plant called the maidenhair fern is of great delicacy and beauty. The plant is characterized by the presence of a thin and polished, black colored main leaf stalk, this is in contrast to the fan like leaflets which are held up by stalks fine as human hair - the overall effect is very beautiful and nice. There is a great demand for the plant in the preparation of dried flower arrangements because of the leaves which resemble gossamer. The ideal environment for the maidenhair fern is a wet environment - and wild ferns are found growing in abundance on limestone rich soils which is dampened or moistened by a waterfall spray or stream. The plant has water repelling compounds on the foliage with the result that water runs off the leaves, and even when the plant is immersed in water the leaves remain dry. This strong water repelling property is the scientific basis for the botanical name - Adiantum, translated as "unwetted." Traditionally a fern based herbal tea was made for people with hair loss problems, this association of the fern with human hair is a very old one, and it was believed that the fern could prevent human hair from falling out of the scalp. The belief has no real basis in fact.
The ancient Greeks prepared the fern into an herbal tea and used it as an expectorant in treating coughs. The fern was also used by medieval herbalists, who used to give maidenhair fern to their patients with severe respiratory conditions, like the disorder called pleurisy - such treatments were not very successful as the maidenhead fern is not a very potent herb for medicinal usage. Traditionally, the maidenhair fern was used as a mild diuretic and often utilized to promote menstruation in women.
The maidenhair fern is related to the northern maidenhair - species A. pedatum. This plant has a forked kind of stalk, which is very different from the single stalk of the A. capillusveneris plant - that is also known as the southern maidenhair fern by common people.
The remedies made from the maidenhair fern are still used and prescribed by many Western herbalists. Such remedies are used in treating coughs, in the treatment of bronchitis, in reducing excess mucus, and in alleviating sore throat, as well as chronic nasal congestion affecting the person. The remedies made from maidenhair fern also possess enduring value for hair and scalp conditions.
Freshly obtained or dried up leafy fronds of maidenhair fern possess astringent, anti-tussive, anti-dandruff, demulcent, emetic, depurative (purifying), emollient, feebly emmenagogue, febrifuge, feeble expectorant, laxative, galactogogue, stimulant, pectoral, tonic, refrigerant and sudorific (diaphoretic or causing perspiration) properties. A tea or syrup prepared with the fronds of this fern is employed for treating coughs, bronchitis and throat problems. In addition, this syrup or tea is also utilized to detoxify the body in the case of alcoholism as well as to force out worms from the body. It is also used topically in the form of a poultice that is put on places affected by bee stings, snake bites and others. People in Nepal prepare a paste from the maidenhair fern fronds and apply it to their forehead to alleviate headaches as well as to the chest to get respite from chest pains. Ideally, the herb should be used when it is fresh, although it may also be harvested during the summer and dried out for use when necessary.
The native inhabitants of Peruvian Amazon prepare an infusion or syrup from the fronds of maidenhair fern and employ it in the form of a diuretic, an expectorant, to promote menstruation and sweating as well as to alleviate coughs. This syrup is also used to treat conditions, such as rheumatism, colds, urinary problems, gallstones, heartburn, sour stomach and even alopecia (hair loss). On the other hand, the native shamans as well as healers in the mountainous region of Peruvian Andes prepare a decoction using the rhizome of this herb and use it to treat gallstones, alopecia and jaundice. People in Brazilian Amazon recommend this plant as an excellent expectorant and employ it to treat conditions related to the respiratory tract, including coughs and bronchitis.
Since long, maidenhair fern has held a place of repute in herbal medicine methods across the globe. It is recorded in the European herbal medicine that the use of this plant dates back to the era of the Greek physicians Pedanius Dioscorides and Gaius Plinius Secundus or Pliny (23 A.D. to 79 A.D.). English herbalist Nicholas Culpepper (1787) is reported to have said that this species as well as all the other maidenhair ferns are an excellent remedy for coughs, pleurisy, asthma and others and as a result of the herb's mild diuretic attribute it is also effective for treating jaundice, gravel as well as other contaminations of the kidneys. There was a time when people in France used the fronds as well as the rhizomes of maidenhair fern to prepare syrup known as ‘Sirop de Capillaire' - a preferred medication for treating disorders of the upper respiratory tract, for instance, coughs and too much mucus. In addition, maidenhair fern is also employed widely all over the world for treating dandruff, menstrual problems as well as alopecia (hair loss).
In the contemporary Brazilian herbal medicine, the leaf and fronds of maidenhair fern are used to treat coughs, hair loss, laryngitis, bronchitis, dryness of the throat, to augment digestion and appetite, regulate menstruation, promote the functioning of the renal system and also make child birth trouble-free. While in the Peruvian herbal medicine, the frond and rhizome of maidenhair fern are used to treat gallstones, hydrophobia, catarrh, asthma, hepatic calculi as well as to regulate menstruation. Herbalists in India use the whole plant for its cooling effects, to treat diabetes, bronchial diseases, and colds in addition to its ability to promote and regulate menstruation. Preparations with maidenhair fern are also used externally to heal wounds, boils and eczema.
The fronds or hairy leaves of maidenhair fern are utilized in the form of a decoration on sweet dishes. The dried out fronds of this species are also used to prepare a tea. In addition, the herb is also used to prepare syrup, which makes a stimulating beverage during the hot summers. Maidenhair fern is also boiled in water for many hours and the resultant liquid is made into substantial syrup by adding sugar as well as orange water. Subsequently, this mixture is blended with other fruit juices to prepare a energizing drink.
Habitat and cultivation
Maidenhair fern may be found growing naturally in the Amazon rainforests and also in places having more temperate climatic conditions, the damp forests of the United States and the southern regions of Europe.
Maidenhair fern needs plenty of moisture in the atmosphere as well as in the soil, which should, however, be well-drained. This species has a preference for a location that receives abundance of light, but loathes complete sun. It also has a preference for a protected shady locale. When the plant dries out momentarily, it generally loses majority of its leaves. However, generally the plant will sprout again from its base soon. Members belonging to this genus are seldom bothered by browsing deer. In effect, maidenhair fern is an extremely ornamental plant.
Maidenhair fern is propagated by its spores, which should be ideally sown on the surface of a soil that is rich in humus content and also sterilized immediately when they are ripened. Ensure that the compost is always damp, possibly by covering the pot with a plastic bag. Generally, the spores germinate within six weeks from the date of sowing. It is suggested that you pot small clusters of plantlets immediately when they have grown sufficiently big to be handled and maintain the dampness of the compost/ soil till the time they are well established. It is advisable not to plant the ferns outdoors till they have grown at least two years old. While planting them outdoors, ensure that the location is properly sheltered.
Alternately, maidenhair fern may also be propagated by means of root division preferably undertaken either in spring or during autumn. It is recommended to undertake this method during the early part of spring.
Side effects and cautions
People using maidenhair fern or intending to use it either for culinary or therapeutic purposes ought to be aware of the plant's potential side effects, if any. While there has not been any report regarding the toxicity of maidenhair fern, there are some ferns with carcinogens and, hence, some amount of precaution ought to be taken. Several ferns also enclose an enzyme thiaminase, which depletes the vitamin B complex reserves of the body. Taking this enzyme in small amounts is not detrimental for our health, provided you are consuming a proper diet that contains high amounts of vitamin B. However, ingesting large amounts of this enzyme may result in serious health disorders. Thiaminase is obliterated by heat or by drying out the plant and, hence, when you cook the plants, no trace of the enzyme is left.
Maidenhair fern syrup
Equal parts, dried and crumbled.
Boil the plant in the water for 3 minutes, cover and infuse for 3 hours. Strain the decoction, and then gently melt the honey, without bringing to a boil, for 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a glass bottle. Store in the refrigerator and consume within 2 months at a rate of 1 to 2 T (15 to 30 ml) diluted in water, 3 times daily. Take in the event of chronic pulmonary disease, anemia or persistent skin disorders. This gentle treatment can be followed for 1 month without risk, by adding other, more caustic pectoral plants such as horseradish or wild thyme, but in small quantities.