By ROBIN ROBINSON Key West Garden Club
There is an invisible force field that may protect your skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays, rendering them harmless and allowing you to spend hours in the sun with little damage and few wrinkles. You discovered that this force field came from a common fern you might easily find in your backyard. Researchers reporting to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found the chemicals found in golden polypody to be "beneficial in preventing photo-aging by improving cell membrane integrity. It may reduce the loss of normal elastic fibers associated with intrinsic aging."
Maybe the fern talked to you and let you in on its secret, but I found out about it in Elle magazine, which published a half-page article on a hot, new sunscreen in a bottle. The pills create antioxidants that obstruct the paths that lead to inflammation. The University of Miami's School of Medicine is running a clinical trial on its main component, Phlebodium leucotomos. This comes from a fern, Phlebodium aureum mandianum, that grows in South America and Central America, the Florida Keys and other parts of Florida, but not farther north because it is not fond of frost.
Being a sun seeker, I immediately researched this product and found many labels for the active ingredient in this pill. It has been commonly used in Europe since 1982 with no apparent side effects. The medical community at large has done more than 47 different published research papers on aspects of this fern. It is called samambaia in Spanish and is also known in pill form as Calaguala (kal-la-wall-la), and Anapsos.
The fern has numerous other names, such as golden polypody, rabbit's foot fern, golden serpent fern or cabbage palm fern. It is often found growing in the trunks of the cabbage palms and in tropical hardwood hammocks. It is an epiphyte, which means it does not need ground to grow.
There are more than 20,000 species of ferns compared to 250,000 species of flowering plants. The fern is in the Polypody family -- the name means many-footed for its rhizomes, similar to wart fern -- that contains all possible variations of compound leaves. It is the only species of the Phlebodium family found in North America. This fern develops from rhizome roots with a fiddlehead that then opens into the leaf. Bluish-green leaves grow to 3 feet in length and 10 inches in diameter. The leaflets are wavy-edged and attached to a flap on the edge of the center stem.
Reproduction is carried out by sori, small gold spots arranged in a double row on the underside of the leaf. When conditions are ripe, moist and fecund, the golden, self-fertilized spores fall or are blown off by the wind into the damp ground and root. It's not much fun, but very effective. Fleshy roots are covered in golden scales that look like fur.
Interestingly, a mental hospital in Spain was using the pill to treat psoriasis and other skin conditions in Alzheimer's and dementia patients. While it is great for skin and sun, they found other benefits. The staff noticed the supplement seemed to help the patients with brain-function disorders and a study was conducted that led credence to the observation. It is said to protect brain cell degeneration and promote the repair of damaged brain cells.
It is the roots that are being used as a food supplement to treat other diseases. It also is used with AIDS patients as it functions as an autoimmune inhibitor and anti-inflammatory drug. It selectively modulates overactive immune cells as it enhances the immune system. It also inhibits tumor formation and tumor growth. As a folk medicine, a tea is made that treats multiple sclerosis and vitiligo, asthma, coughs, bronchitis and chest colds.
Golden polypody has been studied at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University and the University of Miami School of Medicine, where Dr. Leslie Baumann, author of "The Skin Type Solution," said, "After a few weeks of taking capsules daily, you'll see a difference in the way your skin reacts to the sun."
This fern can be seen on the left side of the Casa Caselles parking lot on Atlantic Boulevard, growing at the base of a sabal palm.
Things come to me in marvelous ways. Thank you, Elle.
• Stop by the Key West Garden Club to view the new batch of floral designs themed "A New Beginning." The designs will incorporate reflective surfaces.
• The Key West Garden Club's winter luncheon will be at noon Saturday at Michael's Restaurant, 532 Margaret St. The cost is $25. For tickets, contact the Garden Club or Paula Winston at 305-295-6853.
• The Key West Garden Club welcomes volunteers to pull weeds, learn to propagate plants and play in the sandy soil at the West Martello Tower from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays.
Key West Garden Club Master Gardener Robin Robinson was a columnist at the Chicago Daily News and syndicated with Princeton Features. Her book, "Peeling the Onion: Reversing the Ravages of Stroke," can be found on Amazon.com. For more information go to www.sorapublishing. This column is part of a series developed by the Key West Garden Club. Visit www.keywestgardenclub.com.