Selfheal Prunella vulgaris---a healing herb

There is no other plant like the wonderful selfheal a member of the Labiate {Mint } family.It has always been a favourite flower of mine, its simplicity makes it beautiful.

Selfheal is a plant of grassland

photograph by Dal

Selfheal description.

Prunella vulgaris is a native perennial with a creeping rhizome, but it also produces stolens that root wherever the nodes touch the soil. In this respect it is very like the Bugle Ajuga repens.

From the rhizome there rises up flower stems which may attain the height of 30 cm where growing conditions are favourable. However, in short regularly mown situations such as lawns, roadside verges and church yards it may never grow taller than 3 cm. In these localities the rhizome spreads underground sending up new plants that may form a dense mat, it may become troublesome to the gardener at this stage, it is the plants attempt to survive the regular cutting.The selfheal produces very little foliage and two pairs of opposite, oblong and blunt, about an inch long and half an inch broad appearing on the square stalk is the norm. There is a  prominent gap between the pairs. The foliage is covered by fine hairs.

Flower head of the selfheal plant

photograph by Dal

The flowers

The many individual flowers that make up the flower head are tightly packed forming an elongated cube shape. immediately beneath the flower head are tow stalk-less leaves standing out on either side as the photograph above clearly demonstrates.

The individual flowers are set in whorls {rings} of six stalk-less flowers each supported by spreading, hairy sharp pointed bracts. The number of whorls produced varies and may number form just three to up to a dozen. at first the flower head is small and compact but elongates as the flowers open. This elongated shape stays until the flowers fade unlike most flowers such as the hedge woundwort they do not taper pyramid -like at the top of the flower spike.

Each individual flower is composed of a two lipped calyx,{sepal} the upper lip very wide and flat edged with three blunt teeth. The lower lip much narrower with two long pointed teeth. Both lips have reddish margins and carry hairs.  The two lipped corolla {petal tube} is of a deep purple-blue, the upper lip strongly arched {hooded} on top of the arch the petal has many hairs. The lower lip of much the same length  spreads out into three lobes. Bees are the main pollinators of the flowers.

They may be encountered in flower from June until October.  The flowers are succeeded by four nutlets {seeds} that sit in the calyx tube until they are ripe.

Selfheal and medicine

Selfheal as the name suggests was once a very popular medicinal herb much sought after by herbalists and country folk alike. It was once used to cure a variety of ailments. Culpeper the 17th century herbalist wrote in his herbal that-" he needeth neither Doctor or Surgeon who hath selfheal to heal himself" he continued to praise the plants virtues by stating--" It is an especial remedy for all green wounds to close lips of them and to keep the place from further inconveniences. The juice used with oil of roses to annoint the temples and forehead is very effectual to remove the headache, and the same mixed with honey of roses cleaneth  and healeth ulcers in the mouth and throat"

It was regarded as a highly prized wound herb  for internal and external wounds. It is astringent, styptic,and a tonic. An infusion of the herb, made from 1oz of the plant to 1 pint of hot water and taken in wine glass full doses was considered to be a general tonic {stengthener} . Sweetened with honey it was utilised as a mouth wash for sore throats and mouth ulcers, in the form of a gargle.

The whole herb is gathered in mid-summer when it is in its best condition. 


Photograph by Dal.


In archaic times there was a genuine belief in the "Doctrine of Signatures" . It was believed that divine intervention gave a sign either by its form or colour of the disease the plant was meant to cure. In the case of the selfheal the hooded flower had a superficial resemblance in form to a billhook a tool in every day use in times gone by. Because of this use many injuries were caused by them, thus selfheal was the plant to cure these wounds.  

Another example of this belief was the form of the small tubers on the species of lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria, which was said to resemble the affliction commonly known as the piles. Thus the plant was used in the form of an ointment to alleviate the affliction. There are many more such examples in the flower world. Many of these will be incorporated into the pages of this site, as I review the subjects in question.

Any one thinking of using selfheal or any other wild herb for medicinal or culinary purposes is advised to read the page WILD HERB ADVISE, before doing so! 

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