House Leek (crassulaceoe)

The House Leek (Sempervivum tectorum), or never dying

flower of our cottage roofs, which is commonly known also as

Stone-crop, grows plentifully on walls and the tops of small

buildings throughout Great Britain, in all country districts. It is

distinguished by its compact rose-shaped arrangement of seagreen

succulent leaves lying sessile in a somewhat flattened manner, and

by its popularity among country folk on accoun
of these bland juicy

leaves, and its reputed protective virtues. It possesses a remarkable

tenacity of life, quem sempervivam dicunt quoniam omni tempore

viret, this being in allusion to its prolonged vitality; for which

reason it is likewise called Ayegreen, and Sengreen (semper,


History relates that a botanist tried hard for eighteen months to dry a

plant of the House Leek for his herbarium, but failed in this object.

He afterwards restored it to its first site when it grew again as if

nothing had interfered with its ordinary life.

[274] The plant was dedicated of old to Thor, or Jupiter, and

sometimes to the Devil. It bore the titles of Thor's beard, Jupiter's

eye, Joubarb, and Jupiter's beard, from its massive inflorescence

which resembles the sculptured beard of Jove; though a more recent

designation is St. George's beard.

Quem sempervivam dicunt quoniam viret omni

Tempore--'Barba Jovis' vulgari more vocatur,

Esse refert similem predictoe Plinius istam.


The Romans took great pleasure in the House Leek, and grew it in

vases set before the windows of their houses. They termed it

Buphthalmon, Zoophthalmon, and Stergethron, as one of the

love medicines; it being further called Hypogeson, from growing

under the eaves; likewise Ambrosia and Ameramnos. The plant

is indigenous to the Greek Islands, being sometimes spoken of as

Imbreke and Home Wort.

It has been largely planted about the roofs of small houses

throughout the country, particularly in Scotland, because supposed

to guard against lightning and thunderstorms; likewise as protective

against the enchantments of sorcerers; and, in a more utilitarian

spirit, as preservative against decay. Hence the House Leek

is known as Thunderbeard, and in Germany Donnersbart or

Donderbloem, from Jupiter the thunderer.

The English name House Leek denotes leac (Anglo-Saxon) a

plant growing on the house; and another appellation of its genus,

sedum, comes from the Latin sedare, to soothe, and subdue

inflammations, etc.

The thick leaves contain an abundant acidulous astringent juice,

which is mucilaginous, and affords malic acid, identical with that of

the Apple. This juice, in a dose of from one to three drams, has

proved [275] useful in dysentery, and in some convulsive diseases.

Galen extolled it as a capital application for erysipelas and shingles.

Dioscorides praised it for weak and inflamed eyes, but in large

doses it is emetic and purgative.

In rural districts the bruised leaves of the fresh plant or its juice

are often applied to burns, scalds, contusions, and sore legs, or to

scrofulous ulcers; as likewise for chronic skin diseases, and

enlarged or cancerous lymphatic glands. By the Dutch the leaves are

cultivated with a dietetic purpose for mixing in their salads.

With honey the juice assuages the soreness and ulcerated condition

within the mouth in thrush. Gerard says: The juice being gently

rubbed on any place stung by nettles, or bees, or bitten by any

venomous creature, doth presently take away the pain. Being

applied to the temples and forehead it easeth also the headache and

distempered heat of the brain through want of sleep.

The juice, moreover, is excellently helpful for curing corns and

warts, if applied from day to day after they have been scraped. As

Parkinson teaches, the juice takes away cornes from the toes and

feet if they be bathed therewith every day, and at night emplastered

as it were with the skin of the same House Leek.

The plant may be readily made to cover all the roof of a building by

sticking on the offsets with a little moist earth, or cowdung. It bears

purple flowers, and its leaves are fringed at their edges, being

succulent and pulpy. Thus the erect gay-looking blossoms, in

contrast to the light green foliage arranged in the form of full blown

double roses, lend a picturesque appearance to the roof of even a

cow-byre, or a hovel.

[276] The House Leek (Sedum majus), and the Persicaria Water-pepper

(Arsmart), if their juices be boiled together, will cure a

diarrhoea, however obstinate, or inveterate. The famous empirical

anti-Canceroso nostrum of Count Mattaei is authoritatively said to

consist of the Sedum acre (Betony stone-crop), the Sempervivum

tectorum (House Leek), Sedum telephium (Livelong), the

Matricaria (Feverfew), and the Nasturtium Sisymbrium (Water-cress).

The Sedum Telephium (Livelong, or Orpine), called also

Roseroot and Midsummer Men, is the largest British species of

Stone-crop. Being a plant of augury its leaves are laid out in pairs

on St. John's Eve, these being named after courting couples. When

the leaves are freshly assorted those which keep together promise

well for their namesakes, and those which fall apart, the reverse.

The special virtues of this Sedum are supposed to have been

discovered by Telephus, the son of Hercules. Napoleon, at St.

Helena, was aware of its anti-cancerous reputation, which was

firmly believed in Corsica. The plant contains lime, sulphur,

ammonia, and (perhaps) mercury. It remains long alive when hung

up in a room. The designation Orpine has become perversely

applied to this plant which bears pink blossoms, the word having

been derived from Orpin, gold pigment, a yellow sulphuret of the

metal arsenic, and it should appertain exclusively to yellow flowers.

The Livelong Sedum was formerly named Life Everlasting. It

serves to keep away moths.

Doctors have found that the expulsive vomiting provoked by doses

of the Sedum acre (Betony stone-crop), will serve in diphtheria to

remove such false membrane clinging in patches to the throat and

tonsils, [277] as threatens suffocation: and after this release

afforded by copious vomiting, the diphtheritic foci are prevented

from forming again.

The Sedum Acre (or Biting Stone-crop) is also named Pepper

crop, being a cyme, or head of flowers, which furnishes a pungent

taste like that of pepper. This further bears the names of Ginger (in

Norfolk), Jack of the Buttery, Gold Dust, Creeping Tom, Wall

Pepper, Pricket or Prick Madam, Gold Chain, and Biting Mouse

Tail. It was formerly said the savages of Caledonia use this plant

for removing the sloughs of cancer.

The herb serves admirably to make a gargle for scurvy of the gums,

and a lotion for scrofulous, or syphilitic ulcers. The leaves are thick

and very acrid, being crowded together. This and the Sedums

album and reflexum were ingredients in a famous worm-expelling

medicine, or theriac (treacle), which conferred the title

Jack of the Buttery, as a corruption of Bot. theriaque.

The several Stone-crops are so named from crop, a top, or bunch

of flowers, these plants being found chiefly in tufts upon walls or

roofs. From their close growth originally on their native rocks they

have acquired the generic title of Sedum, from sedere (to sit).