Asplenium scolopendrium / Tongvaren

Tongvaren is een middelhoge, ook in de winter groene plant, met in de zomer rijpe sporen. De bladschijf (het blad) is ongedeeld, tongvormig, heeft gave randen en is glanzend lichtgroen. Sporen zitten in ‘sori’ ofwel sporenhoopjes met een vliesje, die in twee evenwijdige rijen op de onderkant van het blad te zien zijn.

Tongvaren komt voor van het Marokkaanse Atlasgebied tot bij de Kaspische Zee. Ook in Japan en Noord-Amerika. In Belgie is hij vooral massaal in de Ardennen te vinden: op doorgaans beschaduwde, vochtige plaatsen zoals oude muren, greppelkanten, bossen, onder struikgewas of op dood hout. Deze varen heeft een vochtige plek nodig om van een spoor tot een kiemplantje te ontwikkelen. Strenge vorst verdraagt hij slecht.

Herb: Hart's Tongue Fern

Latin name: Asplenium scolopendrium

Synonyms: Phyllitis scolopendrium, Scolopendrium officinarum, Scolopendrium vulgare

Family: Polypodiaceae (Polypody Fern Family)

Medicinal use of Hart's Tongue Fern: The fronds are astringent, cholagogue, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, vulnerary. Externally it is used as an ointment in the treatment of piles, burns and scalds. An infusion is taken internally for the treatment of diarrhoea, dysentery, gravelly deposits of the bladder and for removing obstructions of the liver and spleen. The fronds are harvested during the summer and can be dried for later use.

Known hazards of Asplenium scolopendrium: Although we have found no reports of toxicity for this species, a number of ferns contain carcinogens so some caution is advisable. Many ferns also contain thiaminase, an enzyme that robs the body of its vitamin B complex. In small quantities this enzyme will do no harm to people eating an adequate diet that is rich in vitamin B, though large quantities can cause severe health problems. The enzyme is destroyed by heat or thorough drying, so cooking the plant will remove the thiaminase.



The Hart’s Tongue Fern is native to Europe and there is a variety of it in North America, Phyllitis scolopendrium var.americana which is smaller than the European variety. It’s a member of the spleenwort family, Aspleniaceae and grows in Asia too and parts of North Africa, and prefers moist, shady places. It can grow in woods and along river banks, as well as in walls. I have a vague memory of the leaves not having a pleasant smell when bruised, and I avoided the fern as a child because I didn’t like the waxy feel of its leaves which are shaped like the tongue of the red deer, or so it was thought, hence its name. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate it because it grew on damp walls on buildings I didn’t particularly like, such as public toilets.

It was known to the ancient Greek physician Galen (c 130-210 AD) who is deemed to be second only of the ancient Greek physicians to Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. He used it in remedies for dysentery and diarrhoea because of its astringent qualities, in an infusion, made from 2 ounces of the leaves to 1 pint of water. This was later used by medieval physicians to remove obstructions of the spleen and liver.

Dioscorides, writing his Materia Medica in 1 AD remarked that the leaves tasted bitter, and recommended it being drunk with wine as an antidote to snake bites and for diarrhoea and dysentery.

The fronds can be harvested in summer and dried for later use. If dried, it can be made into an ointment for scalds, burns and piles. It was one of the five great capillary herbs along with the maidenhair fern which is a common house plant in often growing in pots in British bathrooms.

The mediaeval herbalists called it lingua cervina or deer’s tongue in their old herbals. Culpeper writing later, in the 17th century says “It is a good remedy for the liver” and goes on to include its benefits to the spleen and “the heat of the stomach.” He continues: -

The distilled water is very good against the passion of the heart, to stay hiccough, to help the falling of the palate and to stay bleeding of the gums by gargling with it.”

It has been used to ease gout, clear the eyes, heal fresh wounds (juice from the leaves) reduce fevers and to get rid of warts and pistules in early European traditional medicinal systems. It is mentioned in Michael Drayton’s (1563-1631) poem, Poly-Olbion, Song XIII, referring to its use for removing stones and gravel from internal organs, “hart’s tongue for the stone.”

It has been the subject of some clinical trials which suggest that it may be effective for digestive disorders as Culpeper thought, and that it may increase production of urine as well as soften stools (as senna does) and it may stimulate the bowel to contract and empty (in which case it would be good for constipation and piles perhaps).

The physicians of Myddfai had this recipe for remaining chaste, (not involving the chaste berry), presumably for a woman rather than a man.

“If you would always be chaste, eat daily some of the herb called hart's tongue, and you will never assent to the suggestions of impurity.”

Apart from having remedies for ailments, these old physicians also gave dietary advice and here is what they had to say for the

“Month of May. Do not eat sheep's head or trotters, use warm drink. Eat twice daily of hart's tongue, fasting. Take a gentle emetic. Use cold whey. Drink of the juice of fennel and wormwood.” It isn’t clear whether this refers to the herb or the deer’s tongue, but whichever, it wouldn’t have made much of a meal; an austere diet, to be sure, but one that was perhaps followed by the adherents of the physicians of Myddfai in Wales.

HART'S TONGUE A modern herbal

Botanical: Scolopendrium vulgare; Asplenium scolopendrium (LINN.)

Family: N.O. Filices


Medicinal Action and Uses

---Synonyms---Hind's Tongue. Buttonhole. Horse Tongue. God's-hair. Lingua cervina.

---Part Used---Fronds.

The Hart's Tongue, a fern of common growth in England in shady copses and on moist banks and walls, is the Lingua cervina of the old apothecaries, and its name refers to the shape of its fronds.

---Description---Its broad, long, undivided dark-green fronds distinguish it from all other native ferns, and render it a conspicuous object in the situations where it abounds, as it grows in masses. It receives its name of Scolopendrium because its fructification is supposed to resemble the feet of Scolopendra, a genus of Mydrapods. The sori are in twin oblique lines, on each side of the midrib, covered by what looks like a single indusium, but really is two, one arranged partially over the other. In the early stages of its growth, the folding over of the indusium can be clearly seen through a lens. The fronds are stalked and the root, tufted, short and stout. This fern is evergreen and easy of cultivation.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---In common with Maidenhair, this fern was formerly considered one of the five great capillary herbs.

The older physicians esteemed it a very valuable medicine, and Galen gave it in infusion for diarrhoea and dysentery, for which its astringent quality made it a useful remedy. In country districts, especially in Wales and the Highlands, an ointment is made of its fronds for burns and scalds and for piles, and it has been taken internally for Bright's Disease, in a decoction made of 2 oz. to a pint of water, in wineglassful doses. In homoeopathy, it is administered in combination with Golden Seal, for diabetes. It is specially recommended for removing obstructions from the liver and spleen, also for removing gravelly deposits in the bladder. Culpepper tells us:

'It is a good remedy for the liver, both to strengthen it when weak and ease it when afflicted.... It is commended for hardness and stoppings of the spleen and liver, and the heat of the stomach. The distilled water is very good against the passion of the heart, to stay hiccough, to help the falling of the palate and to stay bleeding of the gums by gargling with it.'