The hart’s-tongue fern (Phyllitis scolopendrium) is a fern belonging to the Asplenaceae family. In some texts, you might also find it referred to as: Asplenium scolopendrium, Scolopendrium officinale, or Scolopendrium vulgare. This plant not only has various scientific names but also many common names. For instance, it is often known as scolopendria, deer’s tongue, and scolopendrium asplenio. The specific epithet of the botanical species, scolopendrium, is the Latinization of the Greek term σκολοπένδρον = scolopendra and refers to the particular arrangement in two rows under the leaf blade of the sori, resembling the legs of the famous centipede scolopendra. The plant grows spontaneously in our country but is extensively cultivated in gardens for ornamental purposes, being very hardy and easy to care for. Not everyone knows that it’s a plant rich in beneficial properties, easy to exploit even in domestic settings.
In this article, we will delve into its characteristics and explore organic cultivation techniques, its properties, and its uses.
Description of the hart’s-tongue fern
The Phyllitis scolopendrium is a fern that appears as a small, vigorous, and flared bush of leaves sprouting directly from the ground. The plant actually originates from a short underground rhizome, covered with reddish scales, from which numerous very thin secondary roots emerge. Botanically, it is classified as a rosette hemicryptophyte, that is, a perennial plant that reproduces through buds placed at ground level with leaves arranged in a basal rosette.
The leaves of this fern are typical fronds that, when mature, resemble the tongue of a deer. Before their complete development, they have a pastoral shape, meaning the apex is coiled spirally like the bishop’s crook. At maturity, they are on average 30-40 cm long but can reach 60 cm, and are 3-6 cm wide. They have a short stalk covered with numerous reddish scales. The blade is long lanceolate, heart-shaped at the base, and gradually tapers to a sharp apex. The margin is entire and sometimes slightly undulating. The frond, on the other hand, is grooved by a robust central vein from which numerous secondary veins branch out, more or less parallel to each other. The surface is shiny and smooth, with a beautiful bright green color.
Ferns do not produce flowers, but on the lower page, there are formations called sori where spores are produced. In the case of the hart’s-tongue fern, the sori are linear and arranged parallel to the secondary veins. They are clearly visible on the lower side of the frond as robust lines of brown color that, when mature, release an impalpable powder formed by the spores.
The hart’s-tongue fern grows spontaneously throughout Italy, from sea level to the sub-mountainous zone. It prefers humid places, found among rocks in forests, on old north-facing dry stone walls, at wellheads, and in caves.
How to cultivate the hart’s-tongue fern
Adhering to the conditions of its natural habitat, the hart’s-tongue fern is easy to cultivate. Regarding the cultivation substrate, it requires a moist and fresh, loose consistency soil. The plant should be placed sheltered from strong winds and especially in full shade. It can also be grown in partial shade; the important thing is that direct sunlight only touches it for a few hours a day. It also has a certain resistance to drought, but it’s better to keep the soil consistently moist.
Once established, it requires little care, simply periodically cleaning it from dry fronds. Finally, it can also be cultivated in a pot (it can be found in specialized stores).
Harvesting and useful parts
The rhizomes of the hart’s-tongue fern can be used, harvested between September and October, digging the soil and cutting the lateral roots. The fronds can be collected between July and August by cutting them at the base of the blade.
The rhizome and fronds are dried in the shade, in a well-ventilated place. They store well in paper or fabric bags.
Properties of the hart’s-tongue fern
The rhizome of this fern is used as an expectorant and cough remedy, but the most useful applications come from the fronds. These have been part of medical aids for a long time in combating coughs, stimulating diuresis, relieving liver problems, and eliminating small stones. Due to the presence of thiaminase, however, they should be used in moderation. Externally, the fronds have a good astringent and healing power. They can be used to soothe burns, alleviate skin inflammations and mouth mucosa, cleanse abrasions, and small wounds in case of emergency.
For internal use, a decoction can be prepared, either with the rhizome or the leaves, using 2 g of dried substance in 100 ml of water. This decoction is taken in 2-3 small cups per day. For external use, only the fronds are used, and the decoction is made with 4 g of dried substance in 100 ml of water. With the decoction, rinses, gargles, or compresses applied to the affected areas can be made. The cosmetic use of the hart’s-tongue fern decoction is also interesting for massaging the skin in case of oily hair. Finally, a handful of fronds in bathwater has a refreshing and astringent effect.