I just returned from a relaxing vacation on the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and met some sweet new plant friends. Although I saw many herbs that were new to me, a couple really caught my attention and inspired me to get to know them better. I wanted to share my research with you.
Prolific is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this plant. Several sources classify this plant as invasive, and I can see why. It was everywhere along the coast, on and near the dunes.
I was attracted to the succulent, brilliant green, and round foliage, with a small, whitish dot in the center. It exudes archetypal wholeness, a sacred naval of the world, appearing to contain a full universe within each perfect leaf. Very plump and moist and healthy, even though it was growing out of dry, hot, sand.
I only know the name of this plant because of a book I picked up at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge we visited while at the beach. The book is titled “A Guide to Ocean Dune Plants common to North Carolina” by E. Jean Wilson Kraus. None of the other herbal reference books on my shelves (and I have a lot) mention Hydrocotyle at all.
In my internet research, I found very little specific and reliable information on the possible medicinal properties of this plant. The few references I did find, indicated it may have possibly been used as an alterative for various skin and kidney disorders, as well as arthritis.
Not knowing a single thing about this lovely little plant when I discovered it, except that I found it beautiful, I didn’t do very much hands-on experimenting on our first meeting. As I sat with it, I imagined it could bring moisture and coolness to dry, inflamed tissues. Perhaps it could deliver some kind of cosmic energy to a tired spirit, renewing life force in the cells of the body. Its personality seemed to me to be very similar to Chickweed. Roundness, balance, greenness, longevity… these are the words that came to mind. Since many sources indicated that H. bonariensis is edible, raw and cooked, I will feel safe to experiment a bit more next time I am on the coast.
Other common names I came across for this particular species: Water Pennywort, Beach Pennywort, Marsh Pennywort, Salt Pennywort, Coast Pennywort, Dollarweed, Sombrerillo, Waternaval. I will certainly be looking for more ethno-botanical information under any and all of these names. If you have any tidbits to share, I would love to hear them.
In my next post I want to talk about Fire-wheel, Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), another coastal plant that captured my heart and imagination while I was in the Outer Banks.