Polypodium vulgare

Herbs gallery - Polypody

Common names

  • Female Fern
  • Polypody
  • Rock Brake
  • Sweet Fern
  • Wood Licorice

Polypody (botanical name, Polypodium Vulgare) is a frail fern that grows perennially in seclusion from the length of a horizontal rhizome. In fact, the rhizome of this plant is thin and knotty with bent fronds (usually a large, divided leaf, as in ferns) which are strewn with brown spores, called sori, on their surface underneath. The sori can be found in a variety of colors ranging from vivid yellow to orange and when they mature their color turns out to be grey.

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The fronds of this fern have triangular leaflets that are up to 10 cm to 50 cm in length and all of them are separated from the central stem onward in about 10 to 18 couples of leaflets or segments. At the endings of the fronds, these leaflets are comparatively short. At their base on the central stem, these leaflets are usually complete or somewhat finely dentate and slightly broader, almost touching one another. These leaflets are alternately arranged and those on the one plane are somewhat counterbalanced from those on the opposite side of the stem. Petioles of this species are not scaled.

The underground stem or the rhizome of polypody, which has a flavor akin to licorice and is several hundred times more sweet compared to sugar, has been valued by people since the primeval times. However, the rhizome has been valued more for its medicinal properties than its sweetness. During the ancient periods of the Greeks and Romans, physicians have prescribed herbal preparations obtained from this perennially growing fern for various remedial purposes - as a cure for coughs as well as chest problems. The fern was termed as the 'rheum-purging polypod' by the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton for all the above mentioned attributes of the plant and it enjoys a high reputation even in the contemporary times. In addition to the above mentioned uses of the polypody rhizome, several herbal medicine practitioners also recommend the internal use of formulations prepared with this herb for treating other conditions, such as getting rid of tapeworms from the body; and external use as an ointment.

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As polypody is frequently found hanging on oak trees, herbalists were of the view that this plant soaked up the vitality of the majestic tree and even till recently as in the 18th century, many herbalists only used the polypody found clinging to the oak trees. There was a time when the herbalists believed that the spores or 'sori' of the fern also possessed mystical influences. According to them, any individual who carried the spores of the fern turned out to be invisible! It may be noted that the fern derives its name polypody from the Greek term denoting 'many-footed' and this makes a reference to the manifestation of this plant's diverging rhizome, which may appear as several feet.

Parts used



As mentioned earlier, polypody possesses a number of remedial attributes and, hence, different formulations of this plant are used to treat a number of health conditions. Polypody is known to encourage the secretion of bile and works as a mild laxative. In European herbal medicine, polypody has been traditionally used to treat jaundice and hepatitis, as a medication for indigestion and also appetite loss. This herb is considered to be a safe medication to treat constipation among children. The rhizome of this plant also possesses expectorant properties and has a helpful as well as a gently encouraging influence on the respiratory system. In addition, preparations using the polypody rhizome may be used internally to alleviate conditions, such as pleurisy, congestion, bronchitis as well as dry petulant coughs. The rhizome of this fern blends well with marshmallow and the two herbs are often used in conjugation to treat certain conditions.

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The rhizome of this fern possesses demulcent, anthelmintic, diuretic, cholagogue (any medicinal substance that promotes bile secretion), pectoral, expectorant, tonic and purgative attributes. It is best to harvest the rhizome during October and November, although it is possible to continue the harvesting season till February. The rhizome may be used fresh as well as dried up. Even the leaves possess some remedial properties and may be used, but they are less effective compared to the rhizome. An herbal tea prepared with the polypody rhizome is beneficial for conditions such as hives, pleurisy, stomach aches and throbbing throats. In addition, this herbal tea also works as a gentle laxative. Since long people have regarded this herbal tea as a valuable remedy for liver diseases and lung ailments. It may be noted that a syrup or tea prepared with the root possesses anthelmintic attributes and is helpful in getting rid of parasitic worms, especially tapeworms, from the body. A poultice prepared by boiling the polypody rhizome in water is applied topically to inflammations.

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In conventional herbal medicine, the dehydrated polypody rhizome has been used as a purgative as well as a vermifuge (a medicinal substance that expels parasitic worms from the intestine) since it encloses phytoecdysteroids.

The common polypody encloses a collection of substances known as ecdysteroids. Researches on animals have shown that ecdysteroids are actually substances similar to androgen and they have anabolic effects. In other words, ecdysteroids help in the process of developing muscles. The androgen-anabolic action is considered to dynamically sustain the contractile actions of erectile proteins related to sexual activities. In addition, traditionally this fern (Polypodium Vulgare) has also been used to cure respiratory ailments, including colds and flu as well as asthma.

Freshly harvested rhizome of polypody is powdered or used in preparing decoction that is useful for treating melancholia (depression) as well as rheumatic distension of the joints. The rhizome is also an effective herbal medication for treating dropsy (edema - a condition caused by accumulation of fluids in the tissue cavity), jaundice and scurvy. Polypody rhizome is blended with marshmallow to help remove the stiffness of the spleen, to treat colic (a condition marked by severe spasmodic pain) as well as remove stitches in the sides. Herbalists in the ancient times considered the distilled water of polypody roots and leaves to be an excellent remedy for ague (malarial fever accompanied by joint and body pains). The freshly obtained as well as dehydrated roots of this fern may be blended with honey and applied topically to the nose to treat polyps (a projected growth from a mucous exterior in the nose).

Culinary uses

The rhizome of the polypody fern (Polypodium Vulgare) possesses a flavour that is bitter-sweet. Traditionally, people have used it in making a number of confectionery items, for instance nougat, owing to the aromatic attribute of the rhizome. In 1971, scientists discovered that the polypody rhizome enclosed a saponin called osladin and attributed the sweet flavour of the rhizome to this compound since its extract is about 500 times more sweet compared to sugar (when used in terms of weight).

Habitat and cultivation

The polypody fern (Polypodium Vulgare) is indigenous to Europe and the adjoining northern regions of Asia. This species of fern is generally found growing naturally in soggy forest land as well as thickets. In addition, polypody may also be found growing on walls - clinging to them. The bitter-sweet rhizome of the plant, which has a number of remedial uses, is harvested in autumn.


Polypody rhizome contains saponins (based on polypodosapogenin), ecdysteroids, phloroglucins, volatile oil, fixed oil, and tannins.

Usual dosage

Polypody, especially its rhizome, possesses a number of remedial properties. This fern is known to possess purgative, demulcent (soothing or mollifying), pectoral (any remedy pertaining to the chest) and anthelmintic (pertaining to eliminating parasitic worms from the body) properties. A decoction or syrup prepared with the rhizome of the plant has proved to be of great help in treating hepatic and pulmonary ailments. A potent decoction prepared with the rhizome of the fern is an excellent purgative and when taken internally eliminates tenia as well as other parasitic worms. The standard dosage of the powdered plant is anything between one and four drachms. On the other hand, the decoction or syrup prepared with the plant may be taken in the amount of one to four fluid ounces thrice or four times every day.


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