Plant-Lore

Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Houseleek

1.  When admiring a clump of houseleeks in Durham an American friend asked me what we called it; she said their name for it was hens-and-chicks [e-mail, April 2016].

2.  Ilysiau pento [houseleek] – crush, mix the juice with butter, apply to acne; from Mr John Humphreys, 1901-90, native of Llangadfan, Montgomeryshire [National Waterfront Museum, Swansea, September 2013].

3. In November 2003, whilst recording an old horseman,* he told me how when he had what is known in Suffolk as a ‘push’, boil, on the back of his neck, an old gypsy had called at the house and told his mother to squeeze a husik juice on it and it would go away. This she duly did and it disappeared, he said [Botesdale, Suffolk, September 2011].
* Jack Stannard, who died on 9 September 2011, aged 93; a DVD of Jack singing and telling stories of his early life is available from www.oraltraditions.co.uk.

4. I learnt this cure from my mother.  I was brought up in a farming background and we always used natural remedies if possible.  I got a wart on my finger and my mum suggested using houseleek and it worked wonderfully!!
Pick a leaf and break it open to release the juices.  Place the broken leaf onto the wart and cover with a plaster overnight.  Repeat until the wart disappears.  Tried and tested by myself. [Harrogate, North Yorkshire, April 2009].

5. [Newcastle-on-Clun area, Shropshire] houseleek … boiled to a pulp and the liquid used for the relief of shingles [Sandiway, Cheshire, October 2004].

6. My grandmother’s cure for earache was to squeeze two or three drops of sap of houseleek directly into the ear canal. I have used this remedy successfully, with no side-effects, on all my three children, all now adults. I particularly remember going out into the garden at 2 a.m. one winter’s night to gather houseleek as my son was in earache agony. He was two or three years old that the time (he’s now 34). Within two minutes he was pain free and soon sound asleep [Liversedge, West Yorkshire, April 2004].

Segovia 0417. About 50 years ago in north Spain they used houseleek for cut fingers, you broke a leaf and rubbed it on. The plants grew on the roofs and were fed on cow dung to make them big and healthy [Hounslow, Middlesex, July 2003].

8. Local lore around Wymondham, where I was born, insists that one puts a houseleek on the roof to keep witches and lightning away. Furthermore it will not work unless you steal them.  I pinched the houseleeks I have here on the farm 37 years ago from an old thatched cottage, where it was growing in my mother’s childhood (she is 89). One on the barn (north-east facing) just seems to survive and flowers spasmodically; that on my porch (south-west facing) varies tremendously, but this may be determined by whether there is a house martin’s nest above it, and the third on a buttress (south-west facing) of a modern barn is growing very nicely [Hempstead, Norfolk, January 2003].

9. Pieces of plant-lore I learned from my teenage friends in the country during the war…
The houseleek was planted on roofs to guard against lightning strike [Alnwick, Northumberland, March 1998].

10. In the 1950s my father was recommended by an elderly Scottish gardener to use the juice of houseleeks to get rid of warts. It worked for him – but not for me. (The remedy for mine was a much older one, involving raw meat and a secret burial of same. That worked!) [Steeton, West Yorkshire, February 1998].

11. The cut end of a houseleek pressed on to a wart will reduce the size or even get rid of the wart [Chiddingstone Causeway, Kent, June 1997].

2014-03-05 16.45.5112. My father-in-law as brought up in Norfolk. When he was suffering from impetigo a visiting gypsy woman recommended breaking off a piece of houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum) and rubbing the sores with it. The houseleek was growing on the cottage roof. My father-in-law (who is still alive) says the cure did work [Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex, February 1991].

Images: main, planted, Uppertown, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, November 2015; upper inset, cultivated on balcony, Segovia, Castile & León, Spain, March 2016; lower inset, planted, St Peter & St Paul churchyard, Mitcham, London Borough of Merton, March 2014.