Samambaia (Polypodium leucotomos)

samambaia fern herb

Samambaia Summary

Samambaia is a fern from the Amazon rainforest — known for its use with skin and nervous system conditions. It's one of the best herbal medicines available for psoriasis.

One of the most interesting effects of this plant is its ability to provide UV protection in the skin with oral intake — rather than topical.

Traditional applications of samambaia primarily involve upper respiratory tract infections and a wide range of skin conditions.

Some of the newer research on samambaia has discovered its usefulness towards neurodegenerative conditions like Dementia and Alzheimer's disease.


+ Indications

  • Alzheimer's and dementia
  • Anti-aging formulas
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Cancer
  • Colds/Flus
  • Coughs
  • Crohns
  • Dermatosis
  • Eczema
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Iritable bowel syndrome
  • Lowered immune systems
  • Other skin conditions
  • Psoriasis
  • Tendonitis
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Vitiligo

+ Contraindications

  • Avoid combination with cardiac glycosides

Herbal Actions:

  • Alterative
  • Analgesic
  • Anti-neoplastic
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-psoriasis
  • Antirheumatic
  • Antispasmodic
  • Anti-ulcer
  • UV Protectant
  • Immunomodulator
  • Neuroprotective

What is Samambaia Used For?

Samambaia is mainly used for upper respiratory tract infections, skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and vitiligo. It's also useful for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease.

Samambaia can also be used as a UV-protectant (both internally and externally).

Early stages of research on samambaia suggest nootropic benefits — which aline with many of its traditional uses for neurological disorders.


Samambaia Monograph

Other Relevant Species

  • Polypodium decumanum
  • Polypodium leucotomos
  • Polypodium aureum

Part Used

  • Rhizome

Family Name

  • Polypodiaceae


  • South America — Amazon rainforest

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Constituents of Interest

  • Sulphoquinovosyldiacylglcerols
  • Adenosine
  • Calagualine
  • Ecdysterone

Common Names

  • Calaguala
  • Anapsos
  • Huayuashishupa
  • Cotochupa
  • Mirane
  • Temakaje
  • Cabbage palm Fern




Not suspected safe, need more research to confirm.

Duration of Use

  • Avoid long-term use in therapeutic doses.

Botanical Information

Samambaia is a member of the Polypodiaceae family of ferns, which accounts for 75% of all fern species on earth. In the Polypodium genus, there are about 75 species, many of which are used as medicine by traditional medical systems within the regions they grow.

In the Polypodium genus, there are roughly 75 species, of which many are used as medicine by various indigenous populations [3]. Poly means "many" in Latin, and podus means "foot." This is concerning the many "foot-like" divisions of the rhizome that is characteristic of this genus.

Samambaia has an intricate, creeping root system. This creeping rhizome, as well as the fronds, are what is used medicinally [3]. It is a medium-large fern that is easy to cultivate in medium light, and moist, to semi-dry soil.

This Herb Goes Under Two Main Common Names:

  1. Samambaia — primarily used in Brazil
  2. Calaguala — used throughout most of Latin America

Habitat, Ecology, Distribution:

The Polypodiaceae family of ferns is mainly found in the tropics all over the world [3], but the species referred to in this monograph are found primarily in the Central, and South American tropics, as well as the Caribbean.

Polypodium leucotomos (also known as Polypodium aureum), and Polypodium decumanum are both indigenous to the Honduran rainforests but have spread throughout the South American, Central American, and Caribbean tropics [3].


Pharmacology & Medical Research

Alzheimer's Disease

Patients in Europe taking the herbal extract "Anapsos" for psoriasis, who also had Alzheimer's noted a noticeable improvement in this condition, which led researchers to begin studying Samambaias beneficial effects against this debilitating disease.

Since then Samambaia has been shown to be effective in protecting brain cells from degeneration and promotes the repair of damaged brain cells. Samambaia has been found to improve the blood supply to the brain, improve cognitive performance, and increase electrical impulses in the brain in patients with senile dementia and Alzheimer's at just 360 mg per day. The results were noted to be much more significant in patients with early, or mild dementia than in those with severe dementia. Anopsis is now also used to treat Alzheimer's and dementia in various European countries [3].


Some of the same actions that are useful in treating and preventing psoriasis are also found to be useful in cancer prevention. This includes samambaias effects on inhibiting NF-kappaB and TNF alpha. [3]. This is a normal part of the inflammatory response but can lead to cell damage if chronic, long term stress is present. This factor (NF-kB) is suggested to be an ideal target for anticancer treatment because of a few key factors:

  1. Its activation blocks apoptosis and promotes proliferation [10, 11] which are both negative influences on the treatment of cancer.
  2. In the presence in tumor cells, NF-kB induces further proliferation [12, 13]
  3. The hypoxic conditions present in the tumor can signal NF-kB activation [14].
  4. NF-kB can induce resistance to chemotherapeutic agents [15,16].
  5. NF-kB regulates several genes involved in tumor initiation [17, 18].

It is because of all of these factors that NF-kB has become a key concept of research for future cancer therapies. Samambaia leaf extract (calagualine) has been found in several studies to possess potent NF-kB inhibiting properties in multiple cell lines [19]. A leaf extract of samambaia which included calagualine was reported to protect against peripheral blood lymphocyte proliferation [5].

NF-kB is a normal part of the stress response. This response will return to normal after the damage has been repaired, but in chronic long term inflammation and stress, significant adverse side effects can persist.

The samambaia extract was also shown to block tumor formation in the skin of albino mice after exposure to UVB [43]. This action has been suggested to be due to Samambaias ability to reduce reactive oxygen species formation such as inhibiting the formation of COX-2 induced by ultraviolet radiation, which is involved in carcinogenesis [44-47]. Samabaia has also been shown to inducing the activation of tumor suppressor p53 [43].


Leaf extracts from Samambaia has been found to inhibit inflammatory cytokines [6], and NF-kB [19].

Samambaia leaf also inhibits the formation of reactive oxygen intermediates, blocks lipid peroxidation, and regulates superoxide dismutase [7,8], which leads to an inhibition of the inflammatory response.


Psoriasis is a type of inflammatory dermatosis characterized by red, itchy, scaly patches of skin. This condition is regulated mainly by NF-kB which is a protein transcription factor that causes cell proliferation and differentiation. Psoriasis is marked by an increase in phosphorylated NF-kB [48].

Samambaia leaf extracts have been found to inhibit NF-kB [19].

Some of the actions of Samambaia against psoriasis are suggested to be due to the ability of samambaia to decrease skin overgrowth and thickening. Through this action, samambaia can reduce the severity of skin lesions [3].

Samambaia has known benefits on other skin pigmentation dysfunctions such as vitiligo and melasma, through various other protective effects on skin cells [38-41].

Its use as an alterative may prove a separate mechanism of action in a similar way to sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.), more research is needed, however.

A prescription drug from Spain is made from the water extract of Samambaia rhizome, is commonly used to treat psoriasis. It is named "Anapsos" [3]. It's useful for both psoriasis and vitiligo.


Extracts from samambaia have been shown to possess antiviral effects against herpesvirus type 1 in an earlier study [9].

Immunomodulating Effects

In a study investigating the effects of Samambaia extract on high-intensity exercise-induced immunosuppression, found that samambaia (Amaya fuerte) extract was able to decrease the incidence of infectious disease contraction and duration in athletes.

Previous studies have shown that samambaia extract can increase both T lymphocyte, and natural killer cell populations [20]. It offers modulation in various adhesion model expressions which indicates its possible use as an immunomodulator for both immunocompromised and autoimmune conditions [21-24].

Some of samambaias effects on immune function are suggested to be through protection of the skin against UV damage. UV radiation induces skin immunosuppression through the loss of skin dendritic cells (Langerhans cells), which are crucial mediators of the immune response in the skin [42].

AIDS Treatment

Still compiling research.

Starting point based on Samambaias known effects against dengue virus [9] as well as traditional usage for this purpose. Samambaia also has a significant impact on the immune system.

UV Protection

Samambaia has been shown to produce a protective effect on the skin from sunburn and other skin damage when taken internally or applied topically to the skin [27, 28]. Some of this protective action from UV radiation is understandably from antioxidant compounds found in the plant [3], while other chemicals have been discovered to offer photoprotective effects through other mechanisms as well. One mechanism of action is through the improved structural integrity of the extracellular matrix that is typically affected by UV damage. This improvement occurs due to an increased matrix metalloproteinase expression, as well as inhibition of collagen synthesis. [29, 30]. These effects on photoprotection are noted to be more significant in photosensitive individuals [31-33].

Another compound, calagualine has been shown to prevent acute sunburn and psoralen induced phototoxic reactions [1], and photoaging of the skin [2].

The main chemicals contained in Samambaia that have been found to possess antioxidant and photoprotective effects include p-coumaric, ferulic, caffeic, vanillic, 3,4-dihydroxybenzoic, 4-hydroxybenzoic, 4-hydroxycinnamic, 4-hydroxycinnamoyl-quinic, and chlorogenic acids [25, 26].


Vitiligo is an acquired and chronic loss of pigmentation of the skin. There are two main types of vitiligo, generalized and segmental. Generalized vitiligo is a form of vitiligo is characterized by white, and often symmetrical patches that generally increase over time. This form of vitiligo generally occurs with an increasing and substantial loss of functioning epidermal melanocytes [34]. Segmental vitiligo is characterized by unilateral white patches in the skin associated with a dermatome.

The Cause of vitiligo remains unknown, but genetic factors, autoimmune disorders, cytotoxic effects, and neural injury are considered causative factors [35, 36]. Because of the appearance of vitiligo, especially on darker skinned individuals, psychological factors are also associated with this disorder and may lead to depression, and anxiety [37]. Therefore it is crucial that we find effective treatments to reduce the occurrence and severity of this non-life threatening disease.

The conventional treatment for vitiligo involves the use of psoralens, and ultraviolet A light which causes the skin to redden, and results in a darker pigmentation.

Side effects of this treatment include severe sunburns, blistering, and abnormally dark pigmentations. A more modern treatment using narrowband UVB therapy is now available which doesn't require the use of psoralens and has been suggested to be successful in up to 75% of patients with this condition but required multiple sessions a week for a year or more [38]. Polypodium leucotomos was found to be effective as an adjunct therapy alongside both of these modern treatments, significantly improving the effectiveness of these current treatments [39, 40].

Melasma, another pigment related disorder found most commonly in pregnant females, and women on hormone replacement therapy is characterized by dark patches of skin around the forehead, cheeks, and upper lip. It is often referred to as the "mask of pregnancy" due to its association with pregnancy. A study investigating the effects of an oral samambaia extract taken twice per day for 12 weeks found it was able to decrease the appearance and severity of this condition. 70% of the patients in the placebo control group reported worsened melasma severity compared to 0% in the Samambaia extract group. The species used in this study was Polypodium leucotomos [41].

Calagualine extract from samambaia has been used to induce vitiligo repigmentation by itself as well [4].



Samambaia, as with other medicinal herbs, contains a wide range of chemicals. Some of the main chemicals include flavonoids, alkaloids, and lipids [3].

The lipid content of Samambaia is rich — containing an abundance of fatty acids, and a group of lipids referred to as sulfoquinovosyldiacylglycerols, which are the subject of multiple patents and attributed to many of Samambaias therapeutic actions. [3].

The main compounds found in Samambaia includes adenosine, alkaloids, arachidonic acid, arabinopyranosides, calagualine, ecdysone, ecdysterone, eicosapentaenoic acid, elaidic acid, juglanin, kaempferols, linoleic acid, linoleic acids, linolenic acids, melilotoside, oleic acid, polypodaureine, ricinoleic acid, rutin, selligueain, and sulphoquinovosyldiacylglycerols [3].


Clinical Applications Of Samambaia:

Samambaia is very useful for vitiligo, psoriasis, eczema, and neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer's or Dementia.

Samambaia is also popular as an adjunctive treatment for cancer therapy through numerous well researched mechanisms.



Samambaia may increase the effectiveness of some heart medications. use cautiously and under the supervision of a your doctor if taking any heart medications.



Samambaia has been tested for toxicity on mice and rats and has been shown to produce no toxicity [3].

In humans, doses exceeding 1000 mg orally have also shown no indication of toxicity [3].

Samambaia has been suggested to enhance the effects of the commonly prescribed heart drug digitalis, and as such care should be used if taking heart medications [3].

Samambaia is suggested to have reduced absorption when antacids are used [3]. 



Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated May 2019)


The Benefits of Samambaia


Recent Blog Posts:


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  2. M.V. Alcaraz, M.A. Pathak, F. Rius, N. Kollias, S. Gonzalez, An extract of Polypodium leucotomos appears to minimize certain photoaging changes in a hairless albino mouse animal model. A pilot study, Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photo- med. 15 (1999) 120 – 126.

  3. Taylor, L. (2005). The healing power of rainforest herbs: A guide to understanding and using herbal medicinals. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers

  4. A. Mohammad, Vitiligo repigmentation with Anapsos (Poly- podium leucotomos ), Int. J. Dermatol. 28 (1989) 479 – 482.

  5. J. Rayward, V.G. Villarrubia, C. Guillen, A. Prieto, M. Rodriguez-Zapata, G. Sada, M. Alvarez-Mon, An extract of the fern Polypodium leucotomos inhibits human peripheral blood mononuclear cells proliferation in vitro, Int. J. Immunopharmacol. 19 (1997) 9 – 14.

  6. J.M. Sempere, C. Rodrigo, A. Campos, J.F. Villalba, J. Diaz, Effect of Anapsos (Polypodium leucotomos extract) on in vitro production of cytokines, Br. J. Clin. Pharmacol. 43 (1997) 85–89.

  7. L. Fernandez-Novoa, X.A. Alvarez, J.M. Sempere, J.J. Miguel-Hidalgo, J. Diaz, A. Franco-Maside, R. Cacabelos, Effects of anapsos on the activity of the enzyme Cu-Zn- superoxide dismutase in an animal model of neuronal degeneration, Methods Find. Exp. Clin. Pharmacol. 19 (1997) 99–106.

  8. S. Gonzalez, M.A. Pathak, Inhibition of ultraviolet-induced formation of reactive oxygen species, lipid peroxidation, erythema and skin photosensitization by Polypodium leuco- tomos, Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 12 (1996) 45–56.

  9. A.R. McCutcheon, T.E. Roberts, E. Gibbons, S.M. Ellis, L.A. Babiuk, R.E. Hancock, G.H. Towers, Antiviral screening of British Columbian medicinal plants, J. Ethnopharmacol. 49 (1995) 101 – 110.

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  15. A. Mohammad, Vitiligo repigmentation with Anapsos (Poly- podium leucotomos ), Int. J. Dermatol. 28 (1989) 479 – 482.

  16. J. Rayward, V.G. Villarrubia, C. Guillen, A. Prieto, M. Rodriguez-Zapata, G. Sada, M. Alvarez-Mon, An extract of the fern Polypodium leucotomos inhibits human peripheral blood mononuclear cells proliferation in vitro, Int. J. Immunopharmacol. 19 (1997) 9 – 14.

  17. H.W. Sharma, R. Narayanan, The NF-kB transcription factor in oncogenesis, Anticancer Res. 16 (1996) 589 – 596.

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  22. Carreno MM, De Castro P. Immune Phenotype and Polypodium leuco- tomos treatment in patients with MS. Neurologia. 1994;10:509.

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  37. levy ll, Emer JJ. Emotional benefit of cosmetic camouflage in the treatment of facial skin conditions: personal experience and review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2012;5:173–182.

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  40. Middelkamp-Hup MA, Bos JD, rius-Diaz F, et al. Treatment of vitiligo vulgaris with narrow-band uvB and oral Polypodium 44. leucotomos extract: a randomized double-blind placebo- controlled study. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2007;21: 942–950.

  41. Martin lK, Caperton C, Woolery-lloyd H, et al. A randomized double-blind placebo controlled study evaluating the effectiveness and tolerability of oral Polypodium leucotomos in patients with melasma. Presented at: American Academy of Dermatology Annual Meeting. San Diego, California; March 16–20, 2012.

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  43. Zattra, E.; Coleman, C.; Arad, S.; Helms, E.; Levine, D.; Bord, E.; Guillaume, A.; El-Hajahmad, M.; Kishore, R.; Gonzalez, S.; et al. Oral Polypodium leucotomos decreases UV-induced Cox-2 expression, inflammation, and enhances DNA repair in Xpc +/− mice. Am. J. Pathol. 2009, 175, 1952–1961.

  44. Alcaraz, M.V.; Pathak, M.A.; Rius, F.; Kollias, N.; González, S. An extract of Polypodium leucotomos appears to minimize certain photoaging changes in a hairless albino mouse animal model. Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 1999, 15, 120–126.

  45. Fischer, S.M.; Lo, H.H.; Gordon, G.B.; Seibert, K.; Kelloff, G.; Lubet, R.A.; Conti, C.J. Chemopreventive activity of celecoxib, a specific cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitor, and indomethacin against ultraviolet light-induced skin carcinogenesis. Mol. Carcinog. 1999, 25, 231–240.

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  47. Rundhaug, J.E.; Pavone, A.; Kim, E.; Fischer, S.M. The effect of cyclooxygenase-2 overexpression on skin carcinogenesis is context dependent. Mol. Carcinog. 2007, 46, 981–992.

  48. Goldminz, A., Au, S., Kim, N., Gottlieb, A., & Lizzul, P. (2013). NF-κB: An essential transcription factor in psoriasis. Journal of Dermatological Science, 69(2), 89-94. doi:10.1016/j.jdermsci.2012.11.002