"The rhizome and stipes of Dryopteris Filix-mas (Linne) Schott, or of Dryopteris marginalis (Linne) Asa Gray (Fam. Polypodiaceae), collected in the autumn, freed from the roots and dead portions of rhizome and stipes and dried at a temperature not exceeding 70° C. (158° F.). Preserve Aspidium in tightly-closed containers and protect from light." U. S. " Male Fern is the rhizome of Dryopteris Filix-mas, Schott. Collected late in the autumn, divested of its roots, leaves, and dead portions, and carefully dried. Should not be kept more than a year." Br.
Filix Mas, Br., and U. S. 1870; Stipites aspidii. Radix Filicis maria. Male Shield Fern, Knotty or Sweet Brake, Basket Fern, Bear's-paw Root: Fougere Male, Fr.; Rhizoma Filicis, P. G.; Wurmfarnwurzel, Waldfarnwurzel, Johanniswurzel, Farnwurzel, G.; Felce maschio, It.; Helecho macho (Rhizoma de), Sp.
As the term Dryopteris was first used by Amman in 1739, and applied in 1763 by Adamson, as the name of the genus to which the Aspidium was applied in 1800 by Swartz the use of the generic term Dryopteris would seem to be necessitated by the ordinary laws of botanic nomenclature. The synonyms of the male fern are extraordinarily numerous. We append some of them: Aspidium Filix-mas, of many authors; Polypodium Filix-mas Linn.; Polystichum Filix-mas Roth.; Nephrodium Filix-mas Rich.; Lastrea Filix-mas Presl.; Tectarea Filix-mas Cavan.; Dryopteris Filix-mas (L.) Schott; Lophodium Filix-mas Newm.; Polypodium memorale Salisb.; Polystichum durum et induratum Schur.; Polystichum abbreviatum De Candolle; Aspidium mildeamim Goppert; Dryopteris affinis; Polypodium heleopteris. Under the name of inkomankomo or uncomocomo, the rhizome of Aspidium athamanticum (Hook.) Kuntze, has long been used by the South African Kaffirs, and has entered European commerce as pannum.
The male fern has a perennial, horizontal rhizome, from which numerous annual fronds or leaves arise, forming tufts from a foot to four feet in height. The stipe, or footstalk, and midrib are thickly beset with brown, tough, transparent scales; the frond itself is ovate-oblong in outline, the pinnae being lanceolate, acuminate, slightly broadest above the base (D. marginalis), or lanceolate, the pinnae being linear-lanceolate, tapering from base to apex (D. Filix-mas). The fructification is in small dots on the back of each lobe, occurring close to the margin in D. marginalis and nearer the midvein than the margin in D. Filix-mas. The latter is a native of Europe, Asia, and the north of Africa. It is also found in some of the Polynesian islands, and grows in British America, following the Rocky Mountain chain through Mexico, Venezuela, etc., as far south as Peru.
D. marginalis is common in the Eastern United States, especially northward, on rocky hillsides and in the woods.
It is probable that most species of the genus, if not of the family, are medicinally active. J. L. Patterson (A. J. P., 1875) found that the D. marginalis contained all of the active principles of D. Filix-mas, and Chas. H. Cressler has demonstrated the activity of its oleoresin. (Ibid., 1878.) According to Rosendahl (P. J., 1911, lxxxvii, p. 35) the Dryopteris dilatata is indeed four times as active a poison to the tapeworm as the true aspidium. According to V. Penndorf (Ap. Ztg., 1903), in Germany the rhizomes of D. spinulosum and Athyrium Filix-faemina are frequently found mixed with those of the true male fern, in quantities varying from five to ninety per cent. The rhizomes of D. Filix-faemina are readily recognized by having only two large dumb-bell-shaped steles. The rhizomes of D. spinulosum closely resemble those of the genuine drug, but it is stated that they can be distinguished by the numerous small glands found on the margin of their scales, the scales of D. Filix-mas having only two upon each. On account of this substitution, many of the German extracts of the male fern are said to contain aspidin, a yellow crystalline substance having a melting point of 124° to 125° C. (255.2°-257° F.), which is found only in D. spinulosum. (.Ap. Ztg., 1903.) Lauren of Helsingfors (= Helsinki. Henriette) states that the extract of A. spinulosum is a very active tenicide, and is less apt to produce disagreeable sensations in the patient than is the official drug. He gives the dose as sixty grains (3.9 G-m.), followed by a laxative, and states that some Finnish apothecaries are especially noted for their fern extracts, because they use only the rhizome of A. spinulosum. (Ap. Ztg., 1903.) Under the name of filicone there is used what is asserted to be the active principle of Aspidium spinulosum. The dose is thirty grains. On the Pacific slope the indigenous A. rigida Underw. is locally used against the tapeworm, and W. J. Bowman has found in it filicic acid and resin. Popular belief has long ascribed tenicidal virtues to our native Asplenium Filix-femina, commonly known as Lady Fern. It occurs in conical pieces from 8 to 13 cm. long, 2 to 5 cm. in diameter, of a reddish-brown color, covered with root fibers and leaf scars. According to R. Kürsten (P. J., xxii, 1891), its active principle is closely allied to filicic acid, differing in being especially soluble in strong alcohol, in subliming at 80° C. (176° F.), and is not yielding iso-butyric acid when heated in a sealed tube with water. Pannic acid crystallizes in thin, shining, light yellow, rectangular prisms, melting at 187° C. (368.6° F.).
Heffter (A. E. P. P., 1897, 458) finds three well characterized and crystallized principles in pannum: flavopannin, C21H26O7, crystallizing in citron-yellow prisms, melting at 151° C. (303.8° F.), and soluble in ether, benzene, acetic ether, acetone, and boiling methyl and ethyl alcohols, insoluble in petroleum, ether and water; albopannin, C21H24O7, crystallizing in silky-white needles, which melt at 147° C. (296.6° F.); and pannol (pannic acid of Kürsten), C11H14O4, fusing at 192° C. (377.6° F.), which is easily soluble in hot glacial acetic acid and acetone, more difficultly soluble in alcohol and ether, and very slightly soluble in petroleum benzin, benzene, and water. The alcoholic solution is colored intensely dark green with ferric chloride. Heffter compares these three compounds with the three obtained from D. Filix-mas, and finds a close chemical and therapeutic correspondence between aspidin and flavopannin, between albaspidin and albopannin, and between aspidinol and pannol. According to the experiments of A. Heffter, both flavopannin and albopannin are powerful muscle poisons, directly affecting the heart. (A. E. P. P., Bd. xxxviii.)
Aspidium deteriorates rapidly when kept, and in about two years becomes entirely inert. The rhizomes of other species of fern are frequently substituted for the official, and in the dried state it is difficult to distinguish them. The varying results reported by physicians when using this drug, can undoubtedly be ascribed to the employment of spurious male fern, or old brownish rhizomes which should have been thrown away.
Properties.—As taken from the ground, the rhizome consists of a long cylindrical caudex, around which are closely arranged, overlapping each other like the shingles of a roof, the remains of the leafstalks or stipes, which are 2 to 5 cm. in length, from 3 to 8 mm. thick, somewhat curved and directed upwards, angular, brown, shining, and surrounded near their origin from the rhizome with thin silky scales of a light brown color. From between these remains of the footstalks emerge numerous small radical fibers. The whole rhizome, thus constituted, presents a somewhat flexible, cylindrical mass, 2.5 to 5 cm. thick, and from 7 cm. to 4 dm. in length. In this form, however, it is not usually found in commerce. The whole is ordinarily broken up into fragments, consisting of the separated remains of the leafstalks before described, with a small portion of the substance of the rhizome attached to their base, where they are surrounded by the silky scales. These fragments, as seen in commerce, often appear as if long kept, and are probably, in general, much deteriorated by time. The official description is as follows:
"Usually with the blackish-brown outer layers removed; rhizome 1 to 3 cm. in thickness, cylindraceous and nearly straight, or curved and tapering toward one end, usually split longitudinally, roughly scarred with remains of the stipe-bases, or bearing several coarse longitudinal ridges and grooves; stipes cylindrical, 3 to 5 cm. in length, about 6 mm. in thickness, nearly straight or somewhat curved, tapering toward one end, and with occasional elongated patches of the still-adhering, blackish-brown outer layers; fracture short, pale green in the inner half, the texture rather spongy, and exhibiting, in an interrupted circle, from 6 to 12 vascular bundles, each surrounded with an endodermis; odor slight; taste sweetish, astringent, bitter, acrid. Use only such portions as have retained their green color. Aspidium yields not more than 3 per cent. of ash." U. S.
"From seven to fifteen centimetres or more in length; the rhizome itself about two centimetres in diameter. Entirely covered with the hard, persistent, curved, angular, dark brown bases of the petioles, which bear numerous brown membranous scales. Petioles green internally and exhibiting in transverse section about eight pale yellow fibrovascular bundles arranged in a diffuse circle (distinction from the petioles of Athyrium Filix foemina, Roth.). Rhizomes brown externally, green internally. In transverse section, stalked secreting glands in intercellular spaces. Margins of the membranous scales with two-celled projections but no glands; at the base two minute glands (distinction from the rhizomes of certain other ferns). Feeble but disagreeable odor; taste sweetish and astringent at first, but subsequently bitter and nauseous." Br.
In collecting male fern, all the black discolored portions should be cut away, the fibers and scales separated, and only the sound green parts preserved. These should be immediately but carefully dried, and then pulverized; and the powder should be kept in small well-stoppered glass bottles. Powdered althaea leaves are sometimes used as an adulterant of powdered aspidium, giving the desirable light-green tint indicative of a good quality of drug. At other times the powder is said to consist entirely of the chaff and other inert material which the Pharmacopoeia directs should be rejected.
Kraemer has reported that much of the aspidium in the American market consists of the large rhizomes of Osmunda Claytonia . For distinction see Proc. A. Ph. A., 1906, p. 345. Capelle discusses the characteristics of genuine aspidium and the differentiation of related species. (Ap. Ztg., 1907, p. 433.)
Microscopic examination shows that aspidium is composed of polyhedral parenchyma and vascular bundles containing scalariform ducts; in D. Filix-mas ten of these bundles are arranged in an interrupted circle near to the surface; while in D. marginalis there are only six bundles in the circle. It has been analyzed by H. Bock, who gives as its constituents volatile oil, fixed oil, resin, starch, vegetable jelly, albumen, gum, sugar, tannic and gallic acids, pectin, lignin, and various salts. (See A. J. P., xxiv, 64.) Peschier ascertained that its active properties reside in the ethereal extract, which is the fixed oil in an impure state, containing volatile oil, resin, coloring matter, etc. It is a thick dark liquid, with the odor of the fern, and a nauseous, bitterish, somewhat acrid taste. E. Luck found in it a peculiar acid, which he denominated filicic acid. Daccomo gives to filicic acid the formula C14H16O5, and finds in addition a white waxy substance, melting at 80° C. (176° F.), with the formula (C13H26O)n, glucose, tannin, a red coloring matter (filix red), a green oil which he separated into several fractions, and two resins, one brick-red, melting at 85° to 93° C. (185°-199.4° F.), the other black and plastic. He considers that filicic acid is probably an iso-butyric acid derivative of hydroxynaphthaquinone. Poulson (A. E. P. P., 1891) states that, when pure, crystalline, inactive filicic acid is dissolved in alkalies and reprecipitated by an acid, the amorphous precipitate possesses the active properties of the extract. He thinks that the inactive crystalline body is an anhydride or lactone of the amorphous filicic acid, and should be called filicin. Bohm announced three additional substances which he named flavaspidic acid, albaspidin and aspidinol. Kraft (Ph. Ztg., 1903, p. 275) confirms this and finds in addition, flavaspidin, and an amorphous acid which he names filmaron, which pharmacological examination has proven conclusively to be the true anthelmintic constituent of male fern. Filmaron is a bright yellowish-brown powder, insoluble in water, difficultly soluble in cold alcohol, but very soluble in other general solvents. The rhizome contains about 5 per cent. of filmaron. Its formula is C47H54O16. The other different constituents seem to be largely decomposition products of filmaron. For an assay method for male fern extract, see Am. Drug., 1897, 73.
Uses.—Male fern was used by the ancients, and is mentioned as a vermifuge in the works of Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Galen and Pliny, and by some of the earlier modern writers. But it does not appear to have been generally known till about the year 1775, when the King of France purchased from Madame Nouffer, the widow of a Swiss surgeon, a secret remedy for tapeworm, which proved to be the powdered root of the male fern. As was first demonstrated by Straub (A. E. P. P., 1902, xlviii, p. 1) the principles of aspidium paralyze the voluntary muscles of the higher animals as well as the analogous contractile tissue of the invertebrates. In smaller quantities these principles are stimulant to the central nervous system and may cause even tetanic convulsions.
Aspidium is used in medicine almost solely for the purpose of getting rid of various intestinal parasites, especially the tapeworm. As to its value in other forms of helminthiasis there is difference of opinion. Schultz (J. A. M. A., 1911, lvii) reports 75 per cent. of cures in cases of hookworm infection, but Patterson (T. G., 1908, xxxii), on the other hand, states that it has been found absolutely without value in this infection. Its action appears not to be so much to kill the parasite as to paralyze it so that it can be washed out of the alimentary canal with an active purge. For the latter purpose castor oil is often employed, but there is little doubt that its use increases the absorbability of the drug and hence adds to the danger of poisoning. For this reason calomel is generally to be preferred.
Besides as a vermifuge aspidium has been recommended by La Nara (J. des Pract., 1910) as a local application in eczema and acne.
Aspidium is a violent poison, the relative rarity of serious symptoms from its use being due to its non-absorbability. Under certain conditions, probably when there is a large amount of fatty matter in the bowel, it may be absorbed with unexpected readiness and give rise to serious and even fatal poisoning. Six drachms of it have caused death. (L. L., 1882.) The common symptoms have been vomiting, diarrhea, vertigo, headache, tremors, cold sweats, dyspnea, cyanosis, convulsions and mental disturbances. In nearly half of the cases there was disturbance of vision and even blindness, which in a few instances remained permanently. According to Harnack (M. M. W., 1912, lix, 1941) the blindness is due to spasm of the retinal vessels and subsequent optic atrophy. Prevost and Binet have found that in the lower animals, given hypodermically, the oleoresin produces violent dyspnea and death from arrest of the heart in systole, and Frohner has found parenchymatous nephritis in animals fatally poisoned by it.
Dose, sixty to one hundred and twenty grains (3.9-7.7 Gm.). Filmaron has been used clinically in doses of fifteen to twenty grains (1.0-1.3 Gm.).
Off. Prep.—Oleoresina Aspidii, U. S. (Br.).
The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 1918, was edited by Joseph P. Remington, Horatio C. Wood and others.