The plant of Sedum acre, Linné.
COMMON NAMES: Mossy stonecrop, Biting stonecrop, Small houseleek.
Botanical Source and Description.—This is a low, moss-like, fleshy plant, native of Europe, but very common in cultivation, and sometimes naturalized in this country. It has a spreading, thick, green stem, from 1 to 3 inches high. The leaves are fleshy, small, sessile, erect, and numerous, almost entirely covering the stems. The flowers are bright-yellow, sessile, and arranged in 3-parted, terminal cymes. The sepals, petals, and carpels are in fives, in the central flowers of the cyme, and in fours in the others. The stamens are in number double the other parts of the flower. There are about half a dozen native species of Sedum, mostly found in dense patches, in rocky woods, throughout the United States. They all have white or light-purple flowers, which appear in June or July. Sedum ternatum, Michaux, is the most common species in Ohio and the neighboring states.
Chemical Composition.—Sedum acre was analyzed by Mylius (Archiv der Pharm., 1872, pp. 97-110), who found it to contain wax, chlorophyll, acid resin, mucilage, sugar, an alkaloid, and other substances common to plants, but no starch. He describes the alkaloid as uncrystallizable, acrid and nauseous to the taste, not volatile, oxidizable in the air, soluble in ether, alcohol, chloroform, but little soluble in water. It unites with acids to form soluble salts. The hydrochlorate, in solution, is precipitated by excess of ammonia, or the hydrate, or carbonate of potassium. Rutin or rutic acid (see Ruta) is present in the ether extract; it produces dark-green with ferric chloride.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Sedum acre has little or no odor, and its taste, at first herbaceous, is followed by a persistent acrid pungency. The leaves, pounded and applied to the surface of the body, will occasion a troublesome vesication. Taken internally, the plant, or its expressed juice, has an emeto-cathartic action, and was recommended in scrofulous affections, malarial fevers, and even in epilepsy; however, it is rarely employed at the present day, except, occasionally, as a local application to glandular enlargements, to scrofulous ulcers, and to some chronic cutaneous maladies—the fresh leaves only (bruised) being used—thus applied to warts, corns, or similar growths, it is said to ultimately effect their removal. It is said to relieve "the extreme sensitiveness associated with disorders of the reproductive function" (Scudder, Spec. Med., p. 238). Internally, the expressed juice has been used in doses of from 1 to 2 fluid drachms, taken in beer or wine.
Related Species.—Sempervivum tectorum, Linné, Common houseleek. Houseleek has a fibrous root crowned with several rosaceous tufts of numerous, oblong, acute, keeled, fringed, extremely succulent leaves. The stem from the center of one of these tufts, is about a foot high, erect, round, downy, clothed with several, more narrow, sessile, alternate leaves, and terminating in a sort of many-flowered cyme, with spiked branches. Flowers large, pale rose-colored, without scent. Segments of the calyx 12 or more, with a similar number of petals, stamens, and pistils. Offsets spreading (L.). This is a well-known perennial plant, a native of Europe, and so succulent and hardy that it will grow on dry walls, and on the roofs of houses. It sends out runners with offsets, rarely flowering (W.). Its period of flowering is in August. It is much cultivated in some places. The fresh leaves are the parts used. They are thick, fleshy, mucilaginous, somewhat plano-convex, smooth, odorless, and of a mixed flavor, combining slight acidity with astringency. Their most important constituent, according to Vauquelin, is calcium malate. The fresh leaves are useful as a refrigerant, when bruised, and applied as a poultice, in erysipelatous affections, burns, stings of insects, and other inflammatory conditions of the skin. The leaf, sliced in two, and the inner surface applied to warts or corns, and changed twice a day, will, it is said, positively cure them. The juice, applied locally, has cured ringworm, shingles, and many other cutaneous affections. Erysipelas has been benefited by the free internal use of the leaves bruised in milk and water, in quantity sufficient merely to stain the liquid. The bruised leaves, applied as a poultice, have cured severe cases of herpes circinata. The leaves also possess an astringent property, which is beneficial in many cases. Minute doses of the tincture of sempervivum are said to "be indicated by a flushed surface and stinging pains, as from the sting of a bee or mosquito" (Scudder).
Sedum latifolium leaves are chewed and applied to wounds by the Cree Indians, who also used the leaves for tea.
Sedum dendriodeum, Mocino.—Mexican species used like Sedum acre.