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Ostrich Fern

Scientific Name(s): Matteuccia struthiopteris (L.) Tod.
Common Name(s): Fiddlehead fern, Ostrich fern, Shuttlecock fern, Wood fern

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Apr 1, 2019.

Clinical Overview

Use

Studies regarding the therapeutic applications of ostrich fern are limited. A small number of animal and in vitro studies have examined the fern's potential as an antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory agent.

Dosing

No clinical evidence exists to support a specific dosage of ostrich fern.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Adverse effects caused by ingestion of undercooked ostrich fern fiddleheads have included nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.

Toxicology

No data.

Scientific Family

  • Onocleaceae (formerly Dryopteridaceae)

Botany

The ostrich fern is a common fern that grows in the north eastern United States and throughout Canada. The fern's characteristic long, green, feathery fronds lose their leaflets in the fall, leaving a dormant winter plant. Ostrich ferns grow up to 2 m in height and spread in moist conditions via underground rhizomes. Synonyms for the species include Matteuccia pensylvanica, Pteretis nodulosa, Pteretis pensylvanica, and Onoclea struthiopteris.USDA 2016, Wagstaff 2008

History

Fiddleheads (the young shoot tops) of the ostrich fern are a seasonal delicacy, harvested commercially throughout the north eastern United States and coastal Canadian provinces. Historically, this spring vegetable became a regular part of the diet of Canadian settlers by the early 1700s.von Aderkas 1984 Both the fronds and shoot tops of the ostrich fern are widely eaten in Japan, and they are also used in traditional Chinese medicine.Li 2015, Miyazawa 2007 Fiddleheads are available canned, frozen, or fresh. Limited screening studies have been conducted to identify potential therapeutic applications.

Chemistry

Chromatographic studies have analyzed the constituents of ostrich fern,Li 2013, Zhang 2008 which include xanthophyll pigments, essential fatty acids (including linolenic, arachidonic, and eicosapentaenoic acids),de Long 2011 flavones (demethoxymatteucinol, matteucinol, matteuorien), and stilbenes (pinosylvin, pinosylvin 3-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside, 5-beta-D-glucosyloxy-3-hydroxyl-trans-stilbene-2-carboxylic acid).Li 2013, Li 2015 The antioxidant compounds chlorogenic acid and caffeoylhomoserine have also been described.Miyazawa 2007

An essential oil of ostrich fern has been described as containing at least 100 compounds, notably (E)-phytol, nonanal, and decanal as main compounds, as well as other aromatic aldehyde compounds.Miyazawa 2007 Ostrich fern has been reported to accumulate some heavy metals;Burns 1988 however, no evidence of toxicity was found in an evaluation of a limited number of cases by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.CDC 1994

Uses and Pharmacology

Antimicrobial effect

Animal data

No animal data exist regarding the use of ostrich fern for antimicrobial effects.

Clinical data

No clinical data exist regarding the use of ostrich fern for antimicrobial effects; however, extracted flavonoids showed in vitro activity against the H1N1 influenza virus in one study.Li 2015

Anti-inflammatory

Animal data

In one study, M. struthiopteris polysaccharides inhibited production of immunoglobulin in mice with induced systemic lupus erythematosus-like syndrome. Weight loss and spleen swelling were also diminished in the treated group.Wang 2010 Anti-inflammatory activity has also been noted in in vitro studies.Dion 2015

Clinical data

No clinical data exist regarding the use of ostrich fern for anti-inflammatory effects.

Cancer

Animal data

No animal data exist regarding the use of ostrich fern in cancer.

Clinical data

No clinical data exist regarding the use of ostrich fern in cancer; however, one study of plant extracts demonstrated differentiation-inducing activity against human leukemia cells.Hata 1998

Other uses

Antioxidant activity has been studied in chemical assays.de Long 2011, DeLong 2013 A screening study of 7 edible plants, including ostrich fern, examined the activity of extracts on triglyceride and cholesterol levels.Takahashi 2011

Dosing

No clinical evidence exists to support a specific dosage of ostrich fern. Because of the potential presence of heat-labile toxin within ostrich fern, the plant should be cooked thoroughly before consumption.CDC 1994

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

The fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are generally considered edible once they have been steamed, and there have been no recent reports of adverse effects. However, in the mid-1990s, several outbreaks of food poisoning in New York and western Canada were associated with the consumption of raw or lightly cooked fiddleheads.CDC 1994 Symptoms were reported within 12 hours after ingestion, with nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping being the most commonly reported adverse reactions.CDC 1994 Because no reports of illness were associated with fiddleheads that had been boiled or steamed for at least 10 minutes, thorough cooking is recommended.CDC 1995

Toxicology

Information regarding the toxicity of ostrich fern is lacking.

Index Terms

  • Matteuccia pensylvanica
  • Onoclea struthiopteris
  • Pteretis nodulosa
  • Pteretis pensylvanica

References

Burns LV, Parker GH. Metal burdens in two species of fiddleheads growing near the ore smelters at Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol. 1988;40(5):717-723.3382788
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Ostrich fern poisoning--New York and Western Canada, 1994. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1994;43(37):677,683-684.8078456
de Long JM, Mark Hodges D, Prange RK, et al. The unique fatty acid and antioxidant composition of ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddleheads. Can J Plant Sci. 2011;91(5):919-930.
DeLong JM, Hodges DM, Prange RK, et al. The influence of cold water storage on fatty acids, antioxidant content and activity, and microbial load in ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) fiddleheads. Can J Plant Sci. 2013;93(4):683-697.
Dion C, Haug C, Guan H, et al. Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory and antioxidative potential of four fern species from China intended for use as food supplements. Nat Prod Comm. 2015;10(4):597-603.25973486
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ostrich fern poisoning--New York and western Canada, 1994. JAMA. 1995;273(12):912-913.7884940
Hata K, Ishikawa K, Hori K. Differentiation-inducing activities of human leukemia cell line (HL60) by extracts of edible wild plants in akita. Nat Med. 1998;52(3):269-272.
Li B, Ni Y, Zhu LJ, et al. Flavonoids from Matteuccia struthiopteris and their anti-influenza virus (H1N1) activity. J Nat Prod. 2015;78(5):987-995.25927664
Li S, Zhang D, Yang L, Li Y, Zhu X, Kmonickova E. HPLC quantitative analysis of main stilbenes and flavones in different parts of Matteuccia struthiopteris. J Chem. 2013:1-6.10.1155/2013/452610
Matteuccia struthiopteris (L.) Todaro [ostrich fern]. USDA, NRCS. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov/, 18 January 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Accessed February 22, 2016.
Miyazawa M, Horiuchi E, Kawata J. Components of the essential oil from Matteuccia struthiopteris. J Oleo Sci. 2007;56(9):457-461.17898513
Takahashi J, Toshima G, Matsumoto Y, et al. In vitro screening for antihyperlipidemic activities in foodstuffs by evaluating lipoprotein profiles secreted from human hepatoma cells. J Nat Med. 2011;65(3-4):670-674.21562909
von Aderkas P. Economic history of ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, the edible fiddlehead. Econ Bot. 1984;38(1):14-23.
Wagstaff DJ. International Poisonous Plants Checklist: An Evidence-Based Reference. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2008.
Wang Z, Xie JY, Xu H, et al. Effect of Matteuccia struthiopteris polysaccharides on systemic lupus erythematosus-like syndrome induced by Campylobacter jejuni in BALB/c mice [in Chinese]. Yao Xue Xue Bao. 2010;45(6):711-717.20939178
Zhang D, Yang L, Fu MH, Tu YY. Studies on chemical constituents of rhizome of Matteuccia struthiopteris [in Chinese]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2008;33(14):1703-1705.18841771

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This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

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