You will find self-heal flowering virtually continuously from June through to October. The tight cluster of crowded purplish sepals and bracts have been described as resembling a fir cone. It has the typical square stem associated with the Lamiaceae family (Fletcher).
Barker describes self-heal as a short, creeping perennial which is no more than 30 cm in height. He describes the flowers as blue-violet. Found throughout Europe in grassy places or bare waste ground.
This plant seems to have had a wide range of names. Today, more commonly known as self-heal or, occasionally, all-heal or heal-all. However, Culpeper noted it was also known as Prunel, carpenter’s herb, hook-heal and sickle-wort.
Culpeper also added it could sometimes be found in flower as early as April and that it can be found in woods and fields everywhere. If you wish to see Prunella vulgaris growing I am sure you should easily find it somewhere in your garden or certainly very nearby! The photographs in this post were taken in or around my own garden here in the Aude.
Well it is no surprise one of the common names is all-heal as this little plant certainly seemed to be used to heal many ailments!
Hoffmann tells us it has a long tradition as a wound healing herb.
The common name of self-heal seems to be attributed to this use as according to Culpeper “…when you are hurt you may heal yourself.”
Culpeper described it as a special herb for wounds advising to take as a syrup internally, for internal wounds and externally as an unguent or plaster, for external wounds. Other recommendations included ulcers, wounds, bruises and to cleanse the “foulness of sores” whereby they would be speedily healed.
For headaches he suggested a juice of Prunella with rose oil anointed on the temples and forehead. He added this same combination with rose, albeit rose honey rather than oil, cleanses and heals ulcers in the mouth, throat and secret parts!
It seems that Gerard was in agreement with Culpeper:
“The decoction of Prunell made with wine and water, doth joint together and make whole and sound all wounds both inward and outward, even as Bugle doth.
Brunel bruised with oile of roses and vinegar, and laid to the forepart of the head, swath and helpeth the pain and aking thereof.”
John Gerard, 1636
Mills adds it was a traditional internal remedy for eye problems such as conjunctivitis and blepharitis, eye tiredness and strain, inflammation and redness.
The following is from A Curious Herbal. A book illustrated by Elizabeth Blackwell and published in 1737.
Barker notes not much used nowadays. Indeed it was not included in the curriculum for my own herbal training. Barker advises the tannin content provides haemostatic and anti-diarrhoeal actions. He adds it is a useful mouthwash or gargle for infections of the mouth or throat.
However, Hoffmann states self-heal is a great spring tonic and useful in convalescence. Fresh leaf aids cleaning of cuts and wounds. A poultice or compress can be made too. Hoffmann adds, as a gentle astringent, it is useful internally for diarrhoea or haemorrhoids. If piles are bleeding he suggests applying externally as a lotion or ointment. Finally he recommends use as a gargle, sweetened with a little honey, for sore throats.
Menzies-Trull lists a number of actions including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal (in particular he includes candida), anti-viral, anti-oxidant, hypotensive, haemostatic and more… He indicates use for ophthalmic inflammation such as blepharitis and conjunctivitis. He also includes sore throats and pharyngitis, hypertension and headaches, glandular fever and mumps.
Mills describes Prunella as having relaxing and restorative properties. He considers it a remedy for the head to relieve tension and inflammation. This, he indicates, makes it useful for headaches and vertigo and also notes modern research into the hypotensive (lowering blood pressure) effects. In addition, he highlights an affinity with the lymphatic system. In particular indicating Prunella for lymphadenopathies, swellings, glandular fever, mumps and mastitis.
… and a little bit of science….
Hoffmann notes constituents include volatile oil, bitter principles and tannins. Bai et al reviewed the plant chemistry and pharmacological actions of Prunella vulgaris. The plant contains triterpenoids and saponins, phenolic acids, sterols and glycosides, flavonoids, organic acids and volatile oil. Modern pharmacological studies have found anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, immunoregulatory, anti-oxidative, anti-tumor, anti-hypertensive and hypoglycaemic actions. These actions are mainly due to the presence of the triterpenoids, phenolic acids, flavonoids and polysaccharides.
This little plant really does seem to be living up to that all-heal name!
… and a bit of energetics…
A herb of Venus (Culpeper). Mills describes the temperament as cool. Holmes also describes it as cool. In fact he highlights it as a ‘refrigerant’ for clearing heat and for hot conditions in general.
… and a Recipe:
On a dry morning* gather enough fresh Prunella blossoms and leaves to fill a jar and cover with oil. You can choose olive oil or sunflower oil, as you prefer. Cover the jar. Check each day or two that all plant material is submerged.
At some stage, usually around two to three weeks, the colour will have drawn from the plant material. Strain, bottle and label.
Apply self-heal oil externally to cuts, scrapes, bruises, sores and swellings. You could add a couple of drops of essential oil of lavender, or even the more expensive rose, if you wished. Not only would this add to the medicinal properties it would also smell gorgeous.
*Note: water content can turn the oil rancid so be sure to collect when the weather is fair.
A simple remedy, ideal for a home first aid kit.