Stonecrops (Sedum spp.) are a hardy type of ground-cover succulent, native to Eurasia. There are also two species of stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum and Sedum divergens) native to North America.
The name ‘stonecrop’ descends directly from Old English ‘stāncrop’, and is referenced once in Bald’s Leechbook, once in the Herbarium and twice in the Lacnunga MS. References to ‘stāncrop’ are typically thought to refer mainly to sedum acre (a short, densely-leaved varietal), though there is speculation that ‘stāncrop’ was used as a gloss for creeping jenny as well.
In Lacnunga (143), stonecrop is listed as an ingredient in the treatment of babesiosis in sheep.
“If sheep be afflicted, and against sudden murrain: black hellebore, lupin, wolf’s comb, fennel, stonecrop; make them into dust; put it into holy water; pour it into the afflicted sheep and sprinkle on others three times.”
In Lacnunga (178), the seed of stonecrop is listed as an ingredient in the treatment for a whole host of ailments, including; rash, inability to urinate , cramps and dizziness.
In The Herbarium Manuscript V (139) it is referred to as ‘aizos’, where it is said to cure headaches, pain of the eyes, foot disease, serpent bite, diarrhoea, flux of the innards and intestinal worms.
“This plant which one calls ‘aizos minor’ and by another name… is produced on paths and in stony places and on hills, and on old burial mounds, and from one root it sends out many small boughs and they are full of leaves, small and long and sharp and broad and very juicy; and this plant’s root is useless.”
In Bald’s Leechbook (67), stonecrop is prescribed for ‘devilsickness’, where it is put into a mixture of holy water and ale.
“Again hassock, hawthorn, stonecrop, lupin, fennel, boarthroat, cropleek, pour out likewise.”
The most common uses for stonecrop in the Old English medical manuscripts is for stomach ailments, ulcers/rash and scurvy. Stonecrop is high in both vitamin A and vitamin C, so its use in treating scurvy certainly has merit.
The Romans,too, utilized stonecrop for medicinal purposes. In Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, several varietals of stonecrop are listed as treatment for headaches, goitre, herpes, gangrenous ulceration of the cheeks, inflammation of the eyes, burns, gout, spider bites, roundworm, dysentery, diarrhoea, excessive menstrual flow and weak eyes.
“ There seems to be a third kind of sempervivum that has little leaves, thicker, similar to those of portulaca, and rough. It grows among rocks. It is warming, sharp, and ulcerating, dissolving tumours applied with goose grease. It is also called portulaca agrestis, or telephium, and the Romans call it illecebra.”
Stonecrop was also used by the Natives of Western Canada for similar ailments, suggesting its efficacy. The First Nations people of British Columbia ate the leaves both raw and cooked as treatment for diarrhoea and used the stems and leaves on wounds, ulcers, minor burns, insect bites and for general skin irritation. The juicy leaves were also used as a source of liquid when fresh water was scarce.
As with other succulents, stonecrop was seen as being able to protect against lightning strikes when planted upon a roof.
Stephen Pollington, Leechcraft: Early English Charms Plantlore and Healing
The Lacnunga Manuscript
Pedanius Dioscorides (trans. Tess Anne Osbaldeston), De Materia Medica
Lone Pine Publishing, Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada