The traditional utilization, biological activity and chemical composition of edible fern species

Dvořáková M., Soudek P., Pavičič A., Langhansová L.

Keywords: Edible ferns, Pteridophytes, Ethnomedicinal uses, Bioactive compounds, Phytochemistry
Abstract: Ethnopharmacological relevance Ferns form an important part of the human diet. Young fern fiddleheads are mostly consumed as vegetables, while the rhizomes are often extracted for starch. These edible ferns are also often employed in traditional medicine, where all parts of the plant are used, mostly to prepare extracts. These extracts are applied either externally as lotions and baths or internally as potions, decoctions and teas. Ailments traditionally treated with ferns include coughs, colds, fevers, pain, burns and wounds, asthma, rheumatism, diarrhoea, or skin diseases (eczema, rashes, itching, leprosy). Aim of the review This review aims to compile the worldwide knowledge on the traditional medicinal uses of edible fern species correlating to reported biological activities and isolated bioactive compounds. Materials and methods The articles and books published on edible fern species were searched through the online databases Web of Science, Pubmed and Google Scholar, with critical evaluation of the hits. The time period up to the end of 2022 was included. Results First, the edible fern species were identified based on the literature data. A total of 90 fern species were identified that are eaten around the world and are also used in traditional medicine. Ailments treated are often associated with inflammation or bacterial infection. However, only the most common and well-known fern species, were investigated for their biological activity. The most studied species are Blechnum orientale L., Cibotium barometz (L.) J. Sm., Diplazium esculentum (Retz.) Sw., Marsilea minuta L., Osmunda japonica Thunb., Polypodium vulgare L., and Stenochlaena palustris (Burm.) Bedd. Most of the fern extracts have been studied for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities. Not surprisingly, antioxidant capacity has been the most studied, with results reported for 28 edible fern species. Ferns have been found to be very rich sources of flavonoids, polyphenols, polyunsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, terpenoids and steroids and most of these compounds are remarkable free radical scavengers responsible for the outstanding antioxidant capacity of fern extracts. As far as clinical trials are concerned, extracts from only three edible fern species have been evaluated. Conclusions The extracts of edible fern species exert antioxidant anti-inflammatory and related biological activities, which is consistent with their traditional medicinal use in the treatment of wounds, burns, colds, coughs, skin diseases and intestinal diseases. However, studies to prove pharmacological activities are scarce, and require chemical-biological standardization. Furthermore, correct botanical classification needs to be included in publications to simplify data acquisition. Finally, more in-depth phytochemical studies, allowing the linking of traditional use to pharmacological relevance are needed to be done in a standardized way.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2024.117818
IEB authors: Marcela Dvořáková, Lenka Langhansová, Antonio Pavicic, Petr Soudek