Tradescantia zebrina is a native trailing plant of Mexico that has been used medicinally in an herbal tea in Jamaica to treat the common cold. The plant, also known as Wandering Jew, is used additionally to treat problems of the uterus, high blood pressure and tuberculosis. Sometimes Tradescantia zebrina is used in a mixture with other types of herbs to treat amenorrhea and to strengthen the blood. Matali, a Mexican beverage made with lemon and Tradescantia zebrina, is another medicinal remedy. The mixture is brought to a boil and steeped for a few minutes, just as one would make a cup of black tea. The beverage is sweetened and consumed cold as a tonic for improved health.
Anyone who handles Tradescantia zebrina either medicinally or in the garden should be aware that it can cause itching and other allergic reactions in susceptible people. Known also as Zebrina pendula for its trailing habit, the plant makes a lovely showing in window boxes and hanging baskets, both outdoors and indoors. Gardeners can also plant it as a groundcover, but some people who use the plant this way take extra care to keep it restricted in its own container because the Wandering Jew, as its name implies, likes to wander and escape its boundaries.
The plant has a habit of dropping pieces of its colorful leafy stems, outdoors or indoors, and these fallen pieces can take root in virtually any type of soil. Gardeners who enjoy making cuttings of their plants to give as gifts to friends or to expand their own plant collection like the plant’s ability to propagate easily in soil or water, although this tendency makes other people consider the Wandering Jew invasive in a garden and a bit messy in the home. The Tradescantia zebrina, despite this problem, is still valued by many for its tenacity and looks.
Tradescantia zebrina is valued for its foliage, although under ideal conditions it does produce tiny flowers. Depending on the variety, the flowers can be either pink or white. The leaves are about 2 inches (5.08 centimeters) long, dark green and silver with purple edging, and purple undersides. Wandering Jew, also known as Creeping Jenny, Red Water Grass and inch plant, is a succulent that grows well in shade with a few mistings of water per day.