Wall Pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris) is an interesting edible wild plant that you are not likely to mistake for anything else. It grows, as its name suggests in old stone walls, and also in crevices in rocks, and has round leaves hence its name.
The Wall Pennywort is also known as Navelwort because its leaves have a small indentation in the middle that could be likened to a navel in a human stomach. The leaves grow in rosettes. An alternative name for the plant is Penny-pies.
Wall Pennywort is found in the UK and parts of southern and western Europe as well as in the Canary Islands. It has spikes of greenish-pink flowers on stems that may be a reddish shade and it flowers in spring and as late as May and early summer depending on location. These flower-spikes can reach some 10in in height and the small flowers are bell-shaped. It is a member of the Crassulaceae or Stonecrop family and is adapted for surviving in dry conditions. The leaves and plant are succulent and fleshy.
Wall Pennywort in flower
The leaves can be eaten as a salad and have been compared with a crisp lettuce in flavour. They are best when found growing in moist conditions or after rain when they are really juicy. Wall Pennywort tends to turn a reddish colour in very dry conditions and will lose it succulent fleshiness. Take care when gathering the leaves because Wall Pennywort is very shallow-rooted and the whole plant can easily be pulled out of the small amount of soil it is growing in.
Wall Pennywort has been used in homeopathic medicine and is known as Cotyledon umbilicus to practitioners. The plant is thought to be the “Kidneywort”, described by Nicholas Culpeper in the English Physician. The famous herbalist said of the Wall Pennywort: : "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."
Wall Pennywort is a plant that is easily recognised and is worth adding to the plants you are foraging for. It really is an enjoyable edible wild plant to be eaten as a salad vegetable or to add to sandwiches.