In the Herb Garden this week no 16 (12.9.20)
Polypody (Polypodium vulgare)
This fern’s name is derived from poly (many) and podos (a foot) and this is a good description of its rounded fronds which give it an unusual and distinctive appearance. At this time of year you can find the under-surfaces dotted with rows of brown spore capsules, ready to release spores to eventually grow into new ferns.
Polypody has been used medicinally in Europe since ancient times and the Greek physician Dioscorides was writing about it in the 1st century BC. The rhizome (underground root) was used for the relief of catarrh, bronchitis, pleurisy and dry irritable coughs.
It was later used for liver complaints and Dr Meyrick of Birmingham (Family Herbal 1790) tells us that ‘it is serviceable in the jaundice and dropsy’. Dr Withering recommended it as a ‘gentle purgative and the best way of taking it is an infusion; six drams of the root to a pint of boiling water is enough for two doses’. We also find it mentioned in Dr Darwin’s Commonplace Book.
As recently as 1931 Mrs Grieve writes in her Modern Herbal that ‘a decoction of the fronds was formerly, and probably still is, used in country places for a cure for whooping cough in children. The fruitful fronds, gathered in autumn, are dried and when required for use are slowly boiled with coarse sugar’.
Who would think that this humble fern had so many stories to tell? Come and see it in the Medicine Chest Garden this week.