Self-heal, heal-all, woundwort, brownwort, carpenter’s herb, and blue curls are all names for a surprisingly useful and attractive edible herb.
With a scientific name like Prunella vulgaris, that might sound like a stretch, but it’s true.
The Prunella vulgaris plant is used both as food and medicine. Young leaves and stems can be added to salads. Entire plants can be boiled and eaten the same way you might eat cooked spinach or collard greens. You can also dry the aboveground portions of a self-heal plant and use them to make a tea. As the name suggests, people have been using self-heal for far more than just food.
Traditionally, self-heal plants were boiled in water, which was then used to bathe to relieve muscle pain. Self-heal was also used to treat bruises, burns, fever, sores, stomach upset, ulcers, and wounds. Modern research is beginning to show us that some of those uses may not have been entirely unfounded. Because of its antibacterial, antiseptic, and other beneficial characteristics, self-heal is currently being considered for use in treating conditions ranging from HIV and cancer to pink eye and sore throat. More research is being done, but those ancient cultures may have been onto something when it comes to self-heal.
The self-heal plant
Self-heal is a low-growing perennial member of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It rarely reaches more than twelve inches tall. Like many other mints, its reddish stems tend to be square. There are two major (and several minor) varieties of self-heal: vulgaris and lanceolata. The former has broader leaves and the latter has lance-shaped, serrated leaves. Self-heal flowers are lovely whorled purple and white clusters with two stalkless leaves just below. Unlike most mints, self-heal is not particularly aromatic.
Self-heal has a rugged creeping growth that can become invasive, so you may want to grow your self-heal in a container. Those stolons can move surprisingly fast when you’re not looking. Self-heal also readily self-seeds an area.
How to grow self-heal
If you know someone who has a self-heal plant, ask for a cutting. Simply cover it with soil, keep it moist, and you’ll have your own plant before you know it. You can also grow self-heal from seed.
Self-heal grows in grasslands, wastelands, wooded areas, and wetlands. Did I mention this plant is rugged? It seems to prefer damp, somewhat shaded environments, in Hardiness Zones 4a-9b, so plant accordingly.
Honey bees (Apidae), gossamer-winged butterflies (Lycaenidae), humbleflies/bee flies (Bombyliidae) scoliid wasps (Scoliidae), skippers (Hesperiidae), and small bees (Halictidae) will all be attracted to your self-heal plants’ nectar and pollen.
Self-heal plants can live for up to 10 years, making them a nice addition to your butterfly garden, herb garden, stumpery, or tea garden.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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