Aspidium Filix Mas. Male fern, Shield fern.


Description: Natural Order, Filices. Genus ASPIDIUM: Fruit dots round., situated on the pinnate veins, not marginal, scattered; indusium reniform-orbicular, flat, attached to the receptacle at the center or at the sinus, opening around the whole margin. Fronds erect, usually disposed in a circle, numerous, three to four feet high, arising annually from a prostrate and perennial rhizoma. A. FELIX MAS: Frond oval-lanceolate in outline, pinnate, bright-green, with the footstalk and midrib covered with brown, membranous scales. Pinnae remote below, running together as they ascend, oblong, crenate, deeply divided .into lobes which become less distinct toward the apex. Sori in small (usually scattered) dots on the back of each lobe, in two rows distinct from the edges. Rhizoma long, cylindrical; flexible, an inch or more in diameter; brown without, and light yellowish-green within; covered with the overlapping remains of previous stipes, each an inch or two in length, brown and shining. Numerous small root-fibers arise between these scales.

This plant is a native of Europe, and is not found in America. The A. novaboracense, however, is found in New York, and seems closely allied to the European species; and is nearly always the article that passes in commerce as the European male fern, though experience does not warrant the belief that it possesses the full properties of the foreign article. The American species is common in eastern swamps and thickets; frond a foot high, pale-green, very delicate and membranous, tapering evenly from the middle both ways, with the lower pinnae reflexed; pinnae about twenty pairs, with about twenty-five pairs of segments; rhizoma very dark brown, muddy- white within, remains of leaf-stalks very short, hard when dry.

The root (or rhizoma) of the European species is the part used in medicine. It is generally gathered between May and September, and dried as quickly as possible in the shade–the outer scales and brown parts being carefully cut away. It should be pulverized as soon as possible, and the powder kept in the dark in closely-stopped bottles. It contains a volatile oil, and a fixed oil obtained by treating the freshly-dried root with ether; also a moderate portion of resinous and other materials. It yields its properties to ether and alcohol; water extracts but little of its strength; and heat or age dissipates its properties.

It is unfortunately the case that the various species of polypodium are gathered and brought into market as the American aspidium; and the practitioner is often disappointed in using this article under the impression that it is the true male fern. The botanical characters distinguish the two genera with sufficient clearness. The frond of the polypodium is simply divided into narrow segments, but is not at all pinnate or bi-parted. It also has a multitude of small, creeping root-stalks, instead of the one large rhizoma that marks the aspidium. Polypodium is an extremely common fern in all sections of our country; whereas aspidium is much more rare.

Properties and Uses: The root of this plant has had some repute in the treatment of worms, for several centuries–almost from the time of Christ. About the year 1775, Madame Nouffer, the widow of a Swiss surgeon, acquired such celebrity in the treatment of the tape- worm, that the King of France, on the commendation of a commission from the French Academy, purchased from her the secret of her treatment. This consisted in using a free dose of powdered aspidium, to be followed in two hours by an active cathartic–this course to be repeated at intervals of two or three days till the worm should be evacuated. The European physicians, especially those of France and Germany, have since been very successful in thus using the article; and there can be no rational doubt as to its efficacy, though its use in America has not been satisfactory–probably from the true article being seldom found in our shops, as above explained. It seems to poison the worm, killing it outright.

When given in the powdered form, it is most common to administer one hundred or one hundred and twenty-five grains, in the form of an emulsion, on an empty stomach in the morning. In from two to three hours after, a brisk cathartic, as the anti-bilious powder, should be given. Others prepare from two to four drachms in boluses, giving the whole before breakfast; and then using the cathartic. The taste is slightly bitter and astringent. The best description of its action is recorded in connection with the use of its oil, in which the properties of the article reside.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Oil, or Ethereal Fluid Extract. Mix two pounds of freshly-dried fern roots, in coarse powder, with two pints of ether pack closely in a tight percolator, and add ether till it comes away nearly colorless. Evaporate or distill off the ether, on a water-bath, when a blackish-brown, oily-looking extract will remain. A pound of the roots yields nearly one and a half ounces of this oil. The dose is from half to a whole drachm, made into an emulsion with an ounce of thick mucilage of gum arabic, and given in half a cupful or more of fresh milk. It is generally given before breakfast, and followed in two hours by a large dose of castor oil; but some give the fern at bed-time, and the castor oil the following morning. Dr. J. Constable, London, reports a case in which he gave a lady one and a half drachms at bed-time. A few minutes after taking the medicine, she felt very sick and inclined to vomit; "a peculiar benumbed sensation crept over her body; in twenty minutes after, she felt sudden and darting sensations in the stomach for a few seconds; the sickness wore off after midnight, without any vomiting or retching." The following morning, before taking any physic, she passed a whole tape-worm, measuring over twenty-two feet. She then recovered good health. (Braithwaite's Retrospect, Part 66.)

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at