Sempervivum tectorum

By Linda Johnson

A hardy alpine succulent from the Crassulaceae family, Sempervivum is known as houseleek, Jupiter plant and home-husband-though-never-so-drunk. The leaves are fleshy and filled with mucilage which has healing and soothing properties. The plant forms rosettes 2-6 inches wide with spiny, pointed tips. The rosettes develop roots and become separate plants. Occasionally a spray of 1” flowers will appear on an erect stem covered with scale-like leaves.

Cultivation is best in full sun with cactus soil. Water only until the soil is slightly moist and let dry between watering. Thin or transplant several inches apart. Indoors feed it every two weeks with half-strength cactus food. Harvest the thickest leaves for use. Preserve juice by extraction and freezing. Outdoors it grows well through our New England winters.

Sempervivum is a gift from the planet Jupiter for protection from thunder, lightning, fire and witchcraft. It symbolizes vivacity and industry.

One of the oldest first-aid herbs, with properties similar to aloe vera, Sempervivum is noteworthy because it will survive several degrees of winter frost, thus making it more useful than aloe vera during cold months.

Present-day uses include herbal medicine, homeopathy, Traditional Chinese Medicine and culinary. Herbal medicine frequently references use as an anti-inflammatory, anti-toxin and sialogogue (promotes saliva). Historically there are references as early as 400 B.C. for applications still in use today. Culpepper stated “the leaves gently rubbed on the places stung by nettles or bees, will quickly remove the pain,” and “they are as good as fire insurance” when they are grown on roofs.

Although I could not find a specific reference to the meaning of the amusing “home-husband-though-never-so-drunk” I did learn that it was mentioned by botanist John Clare as a local name for the plant in Northamptonshire, England in the early 1800’s.

Current uses in herbal medicine include use on wasp stings specifically, because they are alkaline (and not acidic like bee stings) and will respond to Sempervivum’s effectiveness in reducing inflammation and pain. Therapeutic and beauty-care uses, such as soaking fresh leaves in a bath or facial steam and using the mucilaginous liquid from the leaves in face cream are recommended, as it is excellent for dry, irritated skin. Poultices can be applied to treat minor burns, cuts, ulcers, corns and warts. The liquid can be made into a tea to treat septic throats, bronchitis and mouth ailments.

Homeopathic uses, such as treatment of indurations and sores of the tongue, uterine spasm and other menstrual disturbances, ear wax and exudations of the ear are mentioned in addition to many of the current herbal uses.

I found no direct reference to the use of Sempervivum in Traditional Chinese Medicine but I did find Sedum, another member of the Crassulaceae family, used for many of the same health concerns: inflammation, redness and swelling from injuries. It quenches thirst. In TCM the entire herb is used.

It is used by the Dutch in salad. No other culinary uses were found.

References Bareness, Lesley. 1988. The Complete Book of Herbs. New York: Viking Studio Books. Potterton, David.1983. Culpepper’s Color Herbal. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Tierra, Michael. 1998. The Way of Chinese Herbs. New York: Pocket Books. Watts, D.C. 2007. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore. Waltham, Massachusetts: Academic Press.

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