Pennywort is a delicious wild food ingredient which is all too often overlooked . . .
Also known as navelwort (Umbilius rupestris), this gets its name from the way the stalk joins the leaf in the middle, marked by a dimple it the middle of the upper side of the leaf. Its more common name comes from the size of the foliage which is roughly the same as that of a pre-decimilisation penny.
At first glance this is an unusual plant to find in Britain, particularly in our dampest regions, because it is basically a desert plant, equipped with thick waxy leaves to withstand heat and drought. The reason is that it grows in the arid conditions of rocky crevices and drystone walls. In former times it was far more widespread, – in the 16th century John Gerrard found it on the wall of Westminster Abbey – but today it is largely confined to the West Country and Wales.
Thanks to the rich moist texture of its leaves, it was once used as a poultice for burns, but modern fabrics and antiseptics do a far better job today. Much more preferable, however, is to eat it. The succulent leaves are delicious raw in green salads, with a flavour reminiscent of lambs lettuce. Pennywort is slow-growing, however, so only harvest selectively from areas where it is locally abundant and be selective, leaving plenty to regenerate.