A fern is a leafy vascular plant that does not flower. Its leaves are called fronds, and it reproduces with the help of spores. There are many varieties of fern, around 12,000 species, making it the largest family of plants. Ferns are versatile plants; they grow in a variety of conditions all over the world, though most of them need a lot of moisture to survive. Ferns have been around for centuries with some fossils indicating up to 360 million years ago. Ferns do not hold significant economic importance; they are mostly used for decorative purposes and for their health benefits.

Nutritional Information and Properties

The fiddlehead is mostly used for cooking purposes. This is a young fern with its fronds tightly coiled. It resembles the top of a fiddle, and this it goes by the name ‘fiddlehead’. One ounce of raw fiddlehead ferns add up to ten calories. It is a good source of protein and zinc. It also contains vitamins A and C, phosphorous, potassium, and calcium. It is low in cholesterol and sodium. Vitamin A contributes to better eye health, and vitamin C boosts the immune system and helps in the production of collagen in the body. Phosphorous and calcium are needed for healthy bones and teeth. Fiddleheads of the ostrich fern, bracken, and cinnamon fern are widely used for eating purposes.

Health Benefits and Therapeutic Uses

The uses of fern range from decorative purposes to health purposes. The benefits of ferns are listed as under.

  • It is a good source of vitamin A, which is needed for good vision and a healthy immune system. It also contains vitamin C and niacin.
  • It contains phosphorous, a mineral needed for healthy bones.
  • Maidenhair ferns contain flavanoids. Ancient healers would use tea from the maidenhair fern to cure coughs and nasal congestion.
  • Tribes in India have also used ferns for centuries. They use the leaf paste or powder to cure a variety of ailments such as centipede bites, wounds, skin ailments, and coughs
  • Boston ferns are used as indoor plants; they contribute in eliminating toxins from the air such as formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is usually found in carpets, upholstery, and air fresheners. It can cause burning in the eyes and throat as well as nausea. Boston ferns also act as humidifiers and are an indirect remedy for dry skin, usually a side effect of too much air conditioning.
  • Another variety of fern, the rockcap fern also has health benefits. It is used to treat internal parasites such as tape worm. It is also used as a laxative to cure indigestion and constipation. Skin diseases and wounds can be cured using rockcap fern as well.
  • Studies indicate that maidenhair ferns act as a contraceptive and have an anti-hyperglycemic effect. This means that it helps to lower blood sugar levels, which is useful for diabetics. Snake bites, bee stings and wounds can be treated using a poultice of maidenhair ferns.

Precautions/Side Effects/Warnings

Though various ferns have many health benefits, it is advisable to take the doctor’s advice before consuming large quantities. Many ferns contain toxic substances, so it is very important that you verify from an authentic source whether the particular fern is safe for consumption. Maidenhair fern is not suitable for pregnant women as it is known to be a contraceptive.  An excessive dose of the male fern extract or powder can lead to muscular weakness, coma, and even injury to the eyes. Fern herbicide or the killing of ferns is a regular practice in areas that view ferns as a pest. We should be careful and aware of pesticides before eating ferns. It is always better to purchase fern produce from authentic, reliable sources.