Cyprus Mail

Plant of the week: Poisonous plant had variety of medicinal uses

Name: Stonecrop (Sedum acre)

Otherwise known as: Wallpepper, Bird Bread, Mousetail

Habitat: An evergreen, perennial member of the Crassulaceae family growing up to 15cm on stone walls, rocky outcrops and roofs in Europe. The plant creates a mat-forming herb with a creeping rhizome with numerous stems bearing triangular, fleshy leaves topped by a pale yellow, star-shaped flower. It is poisonous in all parts.

What does it do: Stonecrop contains several alkaloids, principally sedamine and sedanine. In Celtic tradition the plant was known as Orpies and was thought to treat a variety of afflictions which ranged from rabies, snake and spider bite, and hives. In Irish folk medicine it was used to treat shingles (Herpes Zoster), kidney stones and parasitic intestinal worms.

Pliny suggests that the plant will procure good sleep, although he recommends it be wrapped in black cloth and placed under the patient’s pillow without their knowledge. Gerard recognised its worm-expelling qualities and was responsible for making a vermicidal syrup known as ‘Theriac’. Culpepper, was the first physician to offer a note of caution when dealing with the plant, because he had witnessed some serious consequences when treating a patient for kidney stones.

He wrote ‘it is more apt to raise inflammations than cure them; it ought not be put in any ointment, nor any other medicine’. However, he grew to change his mind and claimed it was excellent in treating scurvy and the ‘King’s Evil’ scrofula. In the 19th century it was still being used by herbalists to treat warts, swellings and dropsy. Other members of this family have proven efficient in the treatment of haemorrhoids, dysentery and diarrhea.

Current research into the Crassulaceae family suggests that it may have cancer treating properties.

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