Herb: Tree Fern

Latin name: Cyathea dealbata

Family: Cyatheaceae (Tree Fern Family)

Edible parts of Tree Fern:

Pith of the stem. Rich in starch, it is normally roasted but can be eaten raw. Descriptions of the taste vary from bitter, sweet, astringent and like a bad turnip. The core of the plant near the growing tip is used, do not confuse this with the trunk of the plant, which is made up of a peaty substance from the decaying roots. Harvesting the stem kills the plant so this use cannot normally be condoned. Young leaves - cooked. Harvested just before they unfurl, they are juicy and slimy, tasting like bitter celery.

Description of the plant:


9 m
(30 feet)

Habitat of the herb:

Lowland to montane forests and shrubland on North, South and Chatham Islands.

Propagation of Tree Fern:

Spores - can be surface sown at any time of the year in a light position in a warm greenhouse. Keep moist by standing the pot in shallow water or by enclosing it in a plastic bag. Germinates in 1 - 3 months at 25C. Prick out patches of the young plants into small pots and stand the pots in shallow water until the plants are well established. Grow on in a shady position in a greenhouse for at least the first two winters and plant out in late spring.

Cultivation of the herb:

Lowland to montane forests and shrubland on North, South and Chatham Islands.

Medicinal use of Tree Fern:

None known

Known hazards of Cyathea dealbata:

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.