Telephio or "The Madonna's Herb" or "Saint
The great naturalist Linnaeus called it Sedum telephium, summarizing
with friendly synthesis its two characteristics: genus (Sedum)
the posture of being seated, and the species, its healing powers.
King Telephus was in fact cured, according to Pliny's legend,
of a leg injury which would not heal, by a plant whose characteristics
are told by Linné to be similar to ours.
Until not very long ago (I'm referring to my infancy), turning
to this plant to cure inflammatory ailments of the skin was something
natural. I remember being cured by my mother of whitlow at the
age of seven. I also remember recognizing the most appreciative
characteristics of the leaf's action, the maceration, or as I
called it, its "boiling" of the finger which remained
in contact with the juice of the plant all night long.
----------(whitlow) is something so banal and of common observation
that normally the doctor and especially the surgeon pay it little
attention in its initial phase, suggesting to the patient (worried
by the immense pain) that he or she do nothing more than soak
it in salt water.
The patient then goes to the pharmacist who, looking through
his equipment, will advise him or her to use tosylchloramine sodium,
ichthyol or the "monk's bandage" (a specialty of the
Benedictine Vallombrosan monks called bandage of Father Rimbotti).
Perhaps the inflammation, under the cure of these revulsive remedies
will subside. On the other hand, instead of healing, it gets worse,
forcing the poor patient (who has already passed several painful
sleepless nights) to return to the doctor who will then send him
or her to his surgeon colleague, or more often than not, to the
nearest emergency room.
After a more or less variable waiting period, our patient
is treated, according to the degree and location of the inflammation
which by this time may be frankly suppurative (full of pus). All
surgical procedures call for bloody interventions on the digital
bone (of the finger or toe) which, involves atrocious pain and
Unfortunately, notwithstanding the suffering, healing is not
always guaranteed. Sometimes the suppurative inflammation reaches
the bone whereupon, it may be necessary to call for an amputation
of the digit.
The writer has personally encountered all of these cases and
knowing that a few applications of the leaves of Madonna's Herb
heal without loss of blood, pain or complications, can't do anything
less than recommend its use, I would say even its abuse - given
that contraindications don't exist, aside from an allergy which
may show up after several days of applications.
Click here to download a leaflet about the telephio.
The Telephio has been studied and used by many authors throughout
the centuries, but the one who has summarized and synthesized
the plant's characteristics perfectly and still validly was a
physician and Benedictine Vallombrosan monk, Fulgenzo Vitman
who, in his "DE MEDICATIS HERBARUM FACULTATIBUS"
of 1770 described its virtues in the following manner:
- "Ulcera detergit..."(cleans the affected
area): taking off the outer layer on the underside of the leaf
and applying the leaf to sores, skin ulcers or necroses, it dissolves
the superficial layer, bringing up to the surface the underlying
- "...et ad cicatricem perducit..."(and brings
about the scab): in a way that the epithelium coming from the
sides of the wound, can finally cover the granulation tissue.
- "...tumorum suppurationem promovet..." (favors
suppurative phlogosis ): favors the formation of the abscess.
This is a notable property, both on a therapeutic and a speculative
level. When applied over the area where the inflammatory process
has covered, the leafs, either thawed-out frozen leaves or taken
directly from the plant, can make it regress if the order of events
has not yet caused the formation of pus. Otherwise, if the process
has already induced an enormous recall of white blood cells, treatment
provokes the gathering of pus in an abnormally rapid amount of
- "...et dolores mitigat..."(and relieves the
pain): the fourth and last virtue which connects the other three.
The inflammatory process is always accompanied by a more or less
intense pain (for example, a tooth abscess). All of this explains
why the plant is cultivated in more or less all parts of the world.
Dr. Sergio Balatri
(Last updated: Saturday 10 February 1996)
Copyright © 1995 by Associazione San Giovanni di Dio