Wall Pennywort

(Umbilicus rupestris) Locally common in the west of England, but not nearly so elsewhere, and certainly not where Gerard found it: "upon Westminster Abbey, over the doors that leadeth from Chaucers tombe to the old palace". Put a piece of Wall Pennywort under your pillow, they used to say, and you will dream of your love (Tynan & Maitland), probably because this plant used to be known as Venus's Navelwort (umbilicus-veneris), the reference being to the navel-like dimples in the middle of the leaves, above the stalk. On that subject, there is an odd legend about Anne Boleyn from County Clare: she was supposed to have enjoyed influence over Henry VIII by means of the Pennywort. When she "was sent to jail she couldn't get the plant, and they hanged her" (Westropp. 1911). The only other piece of folklore attached to the plant comes from Dorset, where they say that wearing a piece of it keeps you from harm (Dacombe). There are, though, a number of examples of folk medical usage (but it will only cure Protestants, they say in County Clare (Westropp. 1911)), at least one of which relies on the doctrine of signatures, for the name Hipwort, reckoned to be given from the resemblance of the leaf to the hip socket, advertises the use Coles ascribed to it: "... it easeth the pain of the hippes".

It is used in Cornwall to treat spots and pimples, and there is a more widespread use in treating chilblains (Tynan & Maitland), a practice that is as "good for kibed heels, being bathed therewith, and one or more of the leaves laid upon the heele" (Gerard). Gerard also recommended the juice as a "singular remedy against all inflammation and hot tumors, as Erysipelas, Saint Anthonies fire and such like". The juice and extract had an old reputation for epilepsy, especially in the west of England. In Wales it is applied to the eyes (Grieve. 1931). But, as the names Kidneywort and Kidneyweed imply, it is against kidney trouble and stone that Wall Pennywort is best known.

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