Asplenium bulbiferumDownload info sheet
Pikopiko is a beautiful little fern, indigenous to our part of the world.
Identification & Cultivation:
This well-known fern, a member of the Aspleniaceae family, has a number of names; pikopiko (referring to the new shoots), mauku, or mouku, manamana, hen and chickens fern or mother spleenwort and its botanical name is Asplenium bulbiferum, which refers to the bulbils, which grow along the top of the fronds, hence its common names. There are other members of the Asplenium family found throughout the southern hemisphere; some of these have similar ways of reproducing.]
It is a hardy terrestrial fern, which has soft green fronds, which are a lime green when they first unfurl. As they age they develop bulbils (little fernlets), on the top of the fronds and as the fronds age and touches the ground, or they fall off, they spout roots and create new plants. They grow best in the damp humus litter of lowland bush, throughout the country, or, in your garden, shade to semi-shade, even as indoor pot plants; 90-120cm high and wide.
This fern is widely known as a food source, as the new, ready to uncurl fronds are quite a delicacy; it is advised to only harvest in moderation, as the plant needs some of its new shoots to grow and replenish its self. Robert McGowan, a much respected rongoa teacher says the follow:
“Certainly the mauku was an important food, especially in past years; these days it is regarded very much as delicacy, known mostly to those people who are still connected to the whenua. It is becoming quite hard to access these days, because it is so palatable—Moreover, this maybe something to take special note of.
The primary role of ferns and other plants that grow in the ngahere is to cover Papatuanuku and keep her well. If the whenua is well, she is able to provide for all her children, including us. Most of the plants we use for rongoa and kai are found on the fringes of the forest and on the forest floor. These days, thanks to too many grazing animals, and the infestation of so many weed species, it is becoming harder and harder to find the plants that were once so important to peoples’ lives. Further to that, the little ground growing plants have a key role in enabling the whenua to retain water, and to purify the water that trickles through them into the earth. The fact that they are lacking in most landscapes is one of the main reasons why the water quality has deteriorated in recent years.
Therefore, the disappearance of the mauku is a sign for us that Papatuanuku, our Earth Mother is far from well, and that she needs us to care for her. So maybe the focus for Herb Awareness Month could be the role of herbs in caring for the Earth, and the mauku a symbol of how urgent that is. It would certainly connect to the big issues that are so prominent these days, the decline of NZ’s biodiversity, water quality and pollution, Predator Free 2150, etc. That’s the key message in the little Tiwaiwaka book: Ka ora to whenua, Ka ora te tangata – when the Earth is well, we are well. So many of the taonga, the treasures, that come from the Earth are at risk. How many of the herbs that are used are in that category? They need us to care for them, not just make use of them when we need their help. We need to care for them so that the Earth can be well, and we can reach out to her for healing”.
Constituents: There is very little information known of the constituents of nutritional benefits of this fern though I did find a reference to stating it was high in vitamin E.
Therapeutic Actions: Nutritive, skin tonic
Medicinal uses: The roots can be prepared as an infusion for a wide range of skin problems, as a wash. The fronds and shoots cooked and eaten as a nourishing vegetable, the shoots called pikopiko, are called ‘bush asparagus’, enjoy, though, please don’t over-harvest.
Dosage: Recommended dose; unknown.
Culinary uses: As previously mentioned, this
fern is widely known a food source, known as ‘Bush asparagus’; eaten cooked or raw.
It is recorded that An extract from http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/maori-foods-kai-maori/page-5; states that: “Like asparagus, pikopiko have a natural snapping point. Rub your hand up the back of a stalk, bending it slightly until it snaps at the weakest point. Carefully wash the tips in cold water and use your fingers to rub off the brown speckles along the stalk. Also, remove the small fern-shaped leaves. Pikipiko then becomes a delicious bush asparagus. Once harvested, pikopiko can be peeled and washed to remove the bitterness, then steamed, boiled, stir-fried, chopped, and added to bread dough, blended with oil and nuts to make a spread or simply used as an attractive and delicious garnish. It can be dehydrated whole and later reconstituted in water or, once dried, ground to a powder and mixed to a paste with liquid, then used to add colour and flavour to dishes”.
NB: As there are many species of ferns growing in this land, some of which are considered to be carcinogenic, it is very important to know you are picking the correct species.
History & Mystery: The roots of this herb were traditionally used, as an infusion as a skin wash.
References: ‘Maori Healing and Herbal’ by Murdoch Riley; ‘Rongoa Maori’ by Robert McGowan; http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/maori-foods-kai-maori/page-5;
All images taken by Karina Hilterman.
Prepared for the Herb Federation of New Zealand’s Herb Awareness Month 2022 www.herbs.org.nz
Advisory Note: This text is given as a general guidance. If any adverse reactions occur or symptoms persist, please contact a qualified medical herbalist or medical doctor immediately.