Navelwort / Wall Pennywort
In North Wales and other Western areas of the UK, Navelwort can easily be spotted nestling in crevices in stone walls and in other shady rocky areas. I often notice it while I am rock climbing at Temadog where it thrives in the wooded areas at the base of the cliffs. It has fleshy, succulent green leaves and I find it an easy plant to remember as the shape of the round leaves with their central depression could look like a human belly button if you use your imagination, hence the name Navelwort.
Navelwort is also commonly known as Wall Pennywort. In has greenish white bell shaped flowers that grow in long spikes which appear from June to September. The flower spikes can reach as much as 25cm in height. It is a member of the stonecrop family and it is adapted for surviving in dry conditions.
The leaves are edible and are gathered for use in salads. Many people compare the taste to that of a crisp lettuce. The leaves are best gathered from plants growing in moist conditions or after rain as these leaves will be the most juicy. The roots of the Navelwort are very shallow due to its rocky habitat so some care is needed when picking the leaves not to disturb the plant.
As the wort in its name suggests, Navelwort as been used for medicinal purposes. It has been used in homoeopathic medicine and its thought to be the ‘kidneywort’ that is described by Nicholas Culpeper, the famous herbalist. Culpeper writes “the juice or the distilled water being drank, is very effectual for all inflammations and unnatural heats, to cool a fainting hot stomach, a hot liver, or the bowels: the herb, juice, or distilled water thereof, outwardly applied, heals pimples, St. Anthony’s fire, and other outward heats. The said juice or water helps to heal sore kidneys, torn or fretted by the stone, or exulcerated within; it also provokes urine, is available for the dropsy, and helps to break the stone. Being used as a bath, or made into an ointment, it cools the painful piles or hæmorrhoidal veins. It is no less effectual to give ease to the pains of the gout, the sciatica, and helps the kernels or knots in the neck or throat, called the king’s evil: healing kibes and chilblains if they be bathed with the juice, or anointed with ointment made thereof, and some of the skin of the leaf upon them: it is also used in green wounds to stay the blood, and to heal them quickly (1).”
There is an account by Horatio Claire that also talks about the power of Navelwort to heal wounds. Writing of his childhood in the Black Mountains of Wales in the 1970s, he records that when Jack, his mother’s farm-helper, ‘nearly sliced his sister’s leg off with his scythe his mother filled the wound with pennywort and it healed’ .
In 1854 a talk was given to the Phytological Club. It provided an account of uses of navelwort ‘among the lower classes of the English people’ (3). Its uses were cited as:
A cure for epilepsy
To help ease urinal obstructions
To help cure fits
To remove corns and warts
The juice was used to sooth sore faces and chaps.
It seems that at some point people have used navelwort to try and cure just about everything!
1. N.Culpeper, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal and English Physician, 1987
2. H. Clare, Running for the Hills, 2006: 104.
3. Phytologist, vol. 5: 135, 1854.