My Herb of the week is Hens and Chicks, sempervivum tectorum.
Hens and chicks, also known as Hens and Chickens , Jupiter's Eye (or Beard), Thor's Beard, Bullock's Eye, Sengreen, Ayron, Ayegreen, Donnersbart and Houseleek, has been a favourite herb since ancient times. The plant is native to the mountains of Europe and the Greek Islands.
The literal translation for the name is “Always Green on the Roof” and refers to the plants hardy nature and the fact that they were often planted on roofs in England, Wales, France, and much of Europe. The Frankish King Charlemagne (742-814 CE) told his subjects to plant the herb on their roofs since it reputedly warded off lightning and fire.
A perennial succulent, easy-care herb in zones 5-10, it does very well in rock gardens, along old walls, or edging pathways. Each plant will grow to four inches and produce round rosettes of leaves and flowering stems . A widely cultivated ornamental garden plant, it spreads easily and prefers sandy, dry soil.
The master plant will spread rapidly by offshoots, which can be left to form an attractive matting of plants, or rooted separately for use in other parts of the garden. The name Hens and Chicks came about because the master plant, with all the offshoots around it is reminiscent of a mother hen, surrounded by a brood of chicks.
It takes from 3-5 years for a plant to mature. When mature a plant will produce sparse purple flowers in July on an upright stem that can reach up to a foot tall. There is also a variation available in a deep maroon color. Each plant will bloom only once and then, once it has bloomed it will die, making room for the offshoots to grown and reach maturity.
I know of no culinary uses for Hens and Chicks, in fact, when taken internally, in large doses, the juice will act as a emetic or purgative.
Hens and chicks have medicinal properties similar to those of aloe vera, although in weaker concentration, and the juice is harder to extract.
Freshly pressed leaves and their juice may be used externally to soothe skin conditions, including burns, wounds, ulcers, insect bites, inflammations, hemorrhoids, eczema, and fungal infections, as well as itchy and burning parts of the skin. Folklore also says they will remove warts and corns.
In magic, Hens and Chicks are believed to be an herb of protection, luck and love.
In folk belief, it was a practice to grow Hens and Chicks at the front door so that they would be the first thing a man saw when he returned from the fields. This was believed to increase the sexual prowess of the man of the house, for which reason they were known in Dorset as "Welcome Husband."
In Scotland, ancient magicians perceived something of the Moon in the roundness of the rosettes, and associated them with with moon-magic, fancying the plant mystically capable of deflecting black sorcery.
The Romans grew Sempervivum in vases at the entrance to homes for prosperity, and to show esteem to Jupiter. This was thought to provide protection from storms, fire, and lightening, all associated with Jupiter.
Although my mother grew them as ground cover when I was a child, I never knew until just recently all the fascinating history, folklore, and medicinal value of this unassuming little plant.
Here are some all potted up cute, and ready to go to the Farmers Market this weekend.