Self-heal is a short, creeping, native British grassland herb, found in many of the gardens. A member of the mint family, it particularly enjoys our fertile limestone soil and the moderate shade of the orchard areas.
The plant has a short stem and bright-green oval leaves borne in opposite pairs. Self-heal flowers are hooded and violet and grow in a whorled cluster. Flowering is from June to September. The plant spreads both by seed and by creeping stems that root at the nodes.
Self-heal has powerful disinfectant and soothing properties and the leaves would have been gathered by our gardening predecessors, the Austin Friars, to treat skin irritations, dress wounds and relieve bee-stings. It was particularly renowned as a cure for sore throats and mouth ulcers. Self-heal was a popular medieval pot-herb and adds a bitter, slightly pungent flavour to salads, soups and stews.
The plant's Latin name prunella vulgaris underlines the herb's healing powers. 'Prunella' is a derivative of 'die Bräune', the German for quinsy, an abscess of the tonsils. Other common names the plant goes by include Heal-all, Woundwort, Heart-of-the-earth and Carpenter's Herb. The last seems to be because carpenters relied on it to treat injuries sustained in their work.
Visit Kew Gardens' informative site.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018
Self-heal is extremely attractive to bees.
The Elizabethan herbalist John Gerard suggested 'there is not a better wounde herb in the world.' The 17th-century botanist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that the plant's common name arises because ‘when you are hurt, you may heal yourself with it’.