Herb: Maidenhair Fern

Latin name: Adiantum capillus-veneris

Family: Polypodiaceae (Polypody Fern Family)

Medicinal use of Maidenhair Fern:

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 plant is little used in modern herbalism. 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 Nepal, a paste made from the fronds is applied to the forehead to relieve headaches and to the chest to relieve chest pains. The plant is best used fresh, though it can also be harvested in the summer and dried for later use.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

Habitat of the herb:

Rock crevices, cliffs by the sea on basic rocks in damp positions.

Edible parts of Maidenhair Fern:

The fronds are used as a garnish on sweet dishes. The dried fronds are used to make a tea. A syrup is made from the plant - it makes a refreshing summer drink. The fern (does this refer to the rootstock?) is simmered in water for several hours and the liquid made into a thick syrup with sugar and orange water. It is then mixed with fruit juices to make a refreshing drink.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves are used as a hair tonic and treatment for dandruff.

Propagation of Maidenhair Fern:

Spores - best sown as soon as ripe on the surface of a humus-rich sterilized soil. Keep the compost moist, preferably by putting a plastic bag over the pot. Germination should take place within 6 weeks. Pot on small clumps of plantlets as soon as they are large enough to handle and keep humid until they are well established. Do not plant outside until the ferns are at least 2 years old and then only in a very well sheltered position. Division in spring or autumn. Best carried out in early spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rock crevices, cliffs by the sea on basic rocks in damp positions.

Known hazards of Adiantum capillus-veneris:

Although we have found no reports of toxicity for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable. Many ferns also contain thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.