Live-long (botanical name, Sedum telephium), also known as ‘Evergreen' or ‘Live-forever', usually grows up to a height of three feet. The herb has derived its name from its persistence to sustain for a long time. It may be noted that this plant possesses the unique power to remain alive for quite sometime even after it is uprooted. This perennial plant has a big and succulent rootstock with tubers shaped like parsnips, while the crust or outer covering is whitish-gray. The rootstock of live-long herb is said to enclose substantial amounts of a number of nourishing substances that are beneficial for our health.
The plant has several straight, round and solid stalks that do not have any branch. The stalks usually have a flushed shade and are spotted as well as streaked. At the top, the stalks have a deeper reddish hue. Akin to the stalks, live-long also produces numerous leaves that have a bluish-green hue and are arranged alternately on the stem at brief distances. In addition, the leaves are roughly jagged. While the leaves at the upper part of the plant are smoothed at the base having no foot-stalks, those growing in the lower part have short foot-stalks and are narrow at the base roughly similar to the shape of a wedge. The leaves are biggest as well as most close to each other around the middle of the stem - leaves at this place are approximately 1.5 inches to 3 inches in length.
Live-long bears flowers whose colors vary from whitish-pink to reddish-purple. While the flowers bloom between the period of July and August, the seeds of this plant mature during August-September. Live-long flowers are hermaphrodite, denoting that they possess both male and female parts together, and are pollinated by self, flies and bees. These flowers are reputed to entice wildlife. The flowers of live-long are expansive, intensely sharp/ piercing and almost thrice as long as the calyx. At the center of each flower, there are 10 prominent stamens having reddish hued anthers, while the ovaries of the flower they encircle are also reddish.
The specific name of live-long (telephium) has been derived from the name of Hercules' son Telephus, who is believed to be the first to recognize the remedial properties of this plant. In English, live-long is most commonly known as Orpiment or Orpin, which denotes a yellowish sulphuret (anything combined or treated with sulfur) of metallic arsenic. While the name ‘Orpin' may be fitting for the vivid yellow flowers of other species of the genus, it is not appropriate for live-long (generic name, Sedum), which bears crimson flowers.
Notable 16th century English herbalist John Gerard had remarked that live-long is full of vivacity. His remark is substantiated by the fact that when a stalk of the plant is cut and placed in clay, it would remain green for several days even without any watering. Over the ages, live-long has been a thing of superstition owing to its opposition to dehydrate and die. In effect, in earlier times, people believed that keeping the live-long plant in one's home would make certain that the people of the house remained healthy. People in the Scandinavian regions planted the live-long on their rooftops with a view to protect against lightening. Then again, if the live-long plant kept at home died all of a sudden, superstitious people would become apprehensive about the imminent death of a person in the household.
Since the ancient days, the juice extracted from the leaves of live-long was used in the form of a balm to cure various skin disorders. Pliny, the renowned Roman naturalist and philosopher of the first century A.D., had remarked that the live-long leaf juice was also an excellent remedy for fistulas and injuries. This herb has been held in esteem for being an ideal medication for internal use to cure lung ailments, ulcers as well as dysentery. In addition, live-long has been used externally in the form of an astringent to treat wounds that heal very slowly.
As discussed earlier, live-long has obtained its name from the persistence of the plant to live for long. In other words, this plant possesses firmness for life. The succulent leaves and large rootstock of the plant provide it with the unique knack of remaining fresh as well as alive for a prolonged period of time even after it has been dug up. The plant's Latin (specific) name ‘Telephium' is derived from the name of Hercules' son Telephus, who is believed to be the first person to identify the plant's attributes and used the herb to heal a leg injured in a battle, which was not healing otherwise. According to legend, the herb, also referred to as ‘midsummer men', was collected on Midsummer's Eve long back to decide on the fate of a love relationship - two leaves of the plant would be kept beside one another and if they dropped in the direction of one another, it was believed that love between the individuals concerned was genuine.
It may be noted that for long people have traditionally accepted and used live-long as a medication to treat diarrhea. According to Hieronymus Tragus, the 16th century German botanist and physician, the herb was used in curing health conditions, such as sore throats, stomach disorders, lung ailments, liver diseases, bowel problems, inflammations and even burn injuries. It has been established that this herb possesses anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulant attributes, as it encloses two vital polysaccharides. It is understood that the two polysaccharides are likely to facilitate in slowing down the growth of tumours and, at the same time, augment the action of phagocytes that are effective in eliminating bacteria and viruses.
The whole live-long herb is considered to be astringent and cytostatic (any substance that retards/ slows down cell growth and cell division) - the reason why the herb is effective in treating tumours. Live-long also has a tonic action on the kidneys and is known to be helpful in treating cancer. A poultice prepared with the bruised live-long leaves is widely used in curing carbuncles and boils.
The leaves of the live-long plants may be consumed raw or after cooking. At times, the leaves of this plant have also formed an ingredient of different salads. On the other hand, the roots of this herb are also edible, but they need to be cooked before consumption. Live-long roots are often used as ingredients in stews, soups and such items.
Habitat and cultivation
The perennial plant live-long is native to places that have temperate climatic conditions and is grown in several countries around the world. This herb also grows in tropical regions, especially in the mountainous regions and places that are comparatively cooler. In the lower regions, live-long grows well in places like the banks of hedges on the periphery of shady woodlands.
Live-long thrives well in almost all types of soils, but has a preference for a luxuriant soil that has a proper drainage system as well as that which is not very parched. This plant has the aptitude to endure poor soils and reasonably deep shade. Nevertheless, this plant flourishes in different types of soils and a well-grown plant can even tolerate drought. As mentioned earlier, live-long thrives well in arid soils having proper drainage and one can even grow this plant in the fissures on the walls. The plant is also able to endure temperatures as low as -20°C. Plants belonging to the genus appear to be unaffected by invasions by rabbits. Live-long bears flowers whose colors vary from pink to red.
Live-long is propagated by its seeds. It is best to sow the seeds in adequately drained soil in a sunlit location inside a greenhouse during spring. Although this plant can grow in different conditions, it is important to ensure that the soil should not become dry or parched, as live-long cannot tolerate dry soil. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, prick them out and plant them in separate pots. Provided the young live-long plants grow sufficiently well, you may transplant them in their permanent positions outdoors in the ensuing summer. Alternately, if the growth is not well, it is advisable to keep the plants in the green house or place them in a cold frame throughout their first winter and plant them outdoors during the early part of summer next year.
Propagating live-long by means of the division method is simple and may be undertaken roughly any time during the growing period. However, it is perhaps most appropriate to carry on with the division process during spring or the early part of summer. The smaller divisions should be planted in pots and grown in a somewhat shaded location in a cold frame and they may be planted outdoors in summer when they have become sufficiently established. On the other hand, larger divisions may straight away be planted in their permanent positions outdoors. Live-long can also be propagated with its cuttings at just about any time during the plant's growing period. However, it is best to undertake this method of propagating live-long early in the plant's growing season.
Chemical analysis of the entire live-long herb has revealed that it possesses mucilaginous and somewhat astringent properties. The plant encloses polysaccharides, sulfur, lime, ammonia and perhaps also some amount of mercury.
Side effects and cautions
As mentioned earlier, like live-long, every member belonging to this genus is known to be edible, especially the leaves of the plant. However, consumption of plant species of this genus that produce yellow flowers may result in stomach disorder when they are eaten in large amounts.