Friday Herb Blurb
The season for wild flowers and herbs is winding down here in my part of the world – now that we’ve reached the Autumn Equinox. But self-heal happily puts out a few last blooms.
The purple blossoms dot my front lawn in late summer. Barely taller than the grass itself, they swim together in great swathes. Each fat tubular flower whirls up in a way that reminds me of lavender, yet this plant doesn’t have much of a scent.
Self-heal holds a special place in my heart because it is one of the first medicinal wildflowers I learned about – and I was delighted to then discover it growing in the nooks and crannies of nearby forests, meadows and lawns.
This plant resonated for me so much that I chose it for the logo of the store I founded, Moonrise Herbs.
A History Of Healing
Self-heal is naturalized throughout many parts of the world and has been used medicinally throughout history – although it is not so often seen in modern herbal formulas.
Perhaps some of today’s herbalists consider self-heal’s subtle action too mild, but at one time this plant was considered almost a panacea, and given the name ‘Heal All.’ Other popular names included ‘Woundwort,’ ‘Blue Curls’ (for the curly purple flowers,) and my favorite – ‘Heart of the Earth.’
It’s botanical name, Prunella vulgaris, comes from the German, “brunellen,” because it was used to cure an inflammation of the mouth they called die braune. This plant is still used now, as then, for healing ulcerations of the mouth. Culpepper, the 17th century herbalist, extolled its virtues, calling it “an especial herb for inward and outward wounds.”
In fact, many people of that era considered self-heal one of the best herbs for healing battle wounds. Culpepper gave this plant the name self-heal, explaining, “whereby you are hurt you may heal yourself.”
To use self-heal for mouth ulcers, just brew up a tea, let it cool, then swish it around your mouth several times a day.
Some old stories tell of witches growing self-heal in their gardens to disguise the fact that they were witches, since this was a plant thought to be sent by God to cure all ailments of man or beast. More likely the witches (who were the healers of their villages) grew this useful herb to use as medicine.
So Many Uses
One of my favorite herbalists, Susun Weed calls this ubiquitous little plant “one of the great unsung healers of the world.” The leaves and flowers contain cancer-preventing antioxidants, which also work to strengthen the immune system and prevent heart disease.
Although it is not so aromatic, this plan is in the mint family and like many other mints it is imbued with minerals, especially calcium. Fresh or dried, the flowers can be made into tea or used in salads and soups.
It’s a great one to add to homemade salves and ointments because of its reputation in wound healing. A salve made with self-heal is wonderfully emollient and speeds the healing of minor burns, wounds and other irritations. In poultice form it can stanch bleeding and treat burns, sprains, and hemorrhoids.
When you are out hiking, you can use the juice of the crushed stems to sooth nettle stings, insect bites, and even minor cases of poison oak. As noted earlier, this plant’s antiseptic properties make it quite effective as a mouthwash for sores and gum problems and you can use the tea as gargle for sore throats and even thrush.
Got a sty in your eye, or a kid with pinkeye? Self-heal makes a great eyewash too.
Some herbalists prescribe self-heal as part of an herbal protocol to treat liver disorders such as jaundice, hepatitis and general weakness.
A Flower Essence To Find Your Inner Wellness
The curly purple blossoms of self-heal make a therapeutic flower essence, although it is not one of the original 38 popularized by Dr. Bach. Flower essences, which are made by placing flowers in water, work on the subtle energy fields of the body helping to heal emotions.
An essence of self-heal is used to build confidence and awaken one’s vital force. Some flower essence practitioners recommend it for people who have lost belief in their own capacity to be well. It is such a boon to wellness that it is the only flower essence that is also made into a topical skin cream.
Finding Some Self-Heal
There may still be time to gather your own self-heal in some parts of Northern hemisphere. If not, the cheerful purple blossoms will be back next summer. You will find the healthiest plants in shaded areas that stay moist and cool. The juiciest, most useful part is at the base of the stem, so cut the plant just above ground with sharp shears.
Don’t just pull up the your self-heal plants – the roots are interconnected and you don’t want to damage next year’s growth. As always, gather your herbs well away from the road – unless you want lead and other emissions tainting your medicine. And of course stay away from areas that are sprayed with herbicides.
This plant is best used fresh but if dried carefully it will store for six months to a year and can be used in teas. When using the fresh plant to make an herbal oil or salve, let the plants wilt for a full day to decrease the moisture content and increase the shelf life of your herbal oil.
If you can’t find any self-heal growing near you, or if the flowers you do see are past their prime, you can purchase the dried flowers here. Get the flower essence or skin creme at your local health food or herb shop – or order online.
Take a look next time you are out walking, see if you can spot some purple flowers sprouting up in the lawns you pass. She may be small and unassuming, but self-heal carries with her a quiet power. The more you get to know this plant, the more you understand how it got its name.
Have you ever heard of or used self-heal? Share your stories and questions in the comments.
Every other Friday or so I’ll be writing about an individual plant and some of its characteristics. The content of these blurbs may lean toward wild plants growing in Northern California – that’s because I’ll occasionally draw from the columns I wrote for our local newspaper several years back.
The above is a revised version of a column I wrote for The Arcata Eye in 2005.
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