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Polypodium, polypody.

Botanical name: 

Polypodium roots are very easy to dig.

I got a request about a month ago for an ounce or so of dried root of Polypodium vulgare, common polypody - a fern with a sweet root. I said I'd give it a try, but that weekend (when I was out in the woods) we got our first snow, so it was impossible to get the fern. We only had about 5 cm or so of snow, but the fern isn't much taller - it disappeared for the duration.

And (and this is important) - it's very unpleasant to dig deep down into moss with your bare hands, trying to find roots, if you have to go through snow first.

So I filed that in the "it's not worth it for me" bin, and let it go at that.

But the snow is gone again, and we had something of a heatwave: 10 deg. C, in November! The sun shone on Sunday, too, so it was nice to combine a stroll in the winter-bare woods with a bit of rooting for polypody root. Like a lot of ferns polypody is an evergreen - some leaves stay green over winter - so while trees and bushes are bare the ferns are still visible.


Picking the polypody is extremely easy, that is, unless the ground is frozen: find a mossy spot of rocks, spot the polypody, and follow the leaf stems down to the 2-3 mm thick roots. The roots are brittle and break easily, so 3-4 cm long roots is the norm, unless you're careful, in which case you can get up to 10 cm long bits.

Photo: Polypodium vulgare 5. Pic: Polypody root, with leaf, dried overnight.
Drying it is easy, too: just spread your loot on an old linen sheet on newspaper; they dry in no time at all.
It's easier to spot which are roots and which aren't if you leave the leaf attached. Because then you can follow the leaf down to the root and clean that, removing all of the attached moss and sundry debris. This is actually easier after the root (and moss) have dried a bit - like, for instance, overnight.


The leaf left a spot of bright orange-yellow spores on the table where I'd left the polypody for its second night. Nice color, that.


When out teaching in the field I usually give people ½ cm or less each of peeled (or just cleaned) root, and tell them "here, taste this".
But generally, I prefer other things for trail nibbles. The taste of common polypody root is immensely sweet at first, but it gives an unpleasant earthy aftertaste rather too soon.

I'd quite like the American species; that one is all sweetness without the unpleasant aftertaste. I know 'cos I tried some of that in Oregon, along the Columbia river gorge, a couple years ago.

Unfortunately, like all ferns, polypody grows from spores. I don't know where I'd get spores for the American species, let alone how and where to grow it. And it wouldn't be available as a trail nibble in the woods even if I could get it to grow in my garden. I expect I couldn't, though - no moss.

So I'll continue to admire the rare boulders that are completely covered in moss and our local polypody (they're beautiful). And I'll go on teaching people about the root. And I'll nibble on other things when I'm in the woods. There's lots.


I totally agree digging for anything through snow is absolutly no fun. I prefer a hot cocoa and fire instead. Love your blog, Henriette, been a fan of yours for awhile now.

I am going to have to seek out someone in my "neighborhood" who can show me this particular fern. Well, before the snow falls. It seems we have so many varieties growing here in southern New England that I am rather humbled by the diversity.