Self Heal; Prunella vulgaris

Self heal is one of those little wild flowers that you come across in lots of different places and seems to get overlooked.

I have some growing in my lawn, it also grows in our section of Ninewells wood, there is loads of it growing on the steep slope down to the ruined church at Lancaut on the banks of the river Wye (also home to a rarity Green Hellebore)…. I could go on, it is found almost everywhere.

It is supposed to prefer alkaline or neutral soils, In Ninewells wood, which is acidic, it is confined to an area of hard standing where limestone chippings have been bedded in.

Possibly, because it is so common I have not got round to writing about this woodland plant till quite late in the day. I have earmarked 168 plants as woodland or ‘woodlandish’ that I want to cover and so far I have written about 130 of them so this is number 131. I feel I should apologies to all the Self heals out there for leaving them to this late stage. It is not as if I haven’t got any photos of them, I have lots, they are after all quite pretty and certainly have the edge on many plants I have already covered.

It is a low growing plant that spreads out into a mat of stems and leaves. When it flowers the stem does a right angle turn and grows upright for a few centimeters to elevate the flower. This species is in the group known as Labiates which includes all the nettle family. It thus typically has square stems and the usual lipped flower structure. In this case they are an attractive purple/blue colour. They flower from about June onward and keep going right through to November.

The name is maybe because the plant has healing properties but I also picked up from somewhere that it was because at each junction along the stem (node) the plant was able to produce roots and thus could root itself from the join which a gardener would call the heel of the plant. OK I know its heel and not heal but many plant names get changed and morphed into something slightly different with time.. I would be interested to know if anyone else has come across this explanation of its name. I can’t remember where I picked this up from, but I do know that I told lots of students that this was the reason for its name…. So I may have misinformed a generation of students. Still hardly the most important thing they were ever told at school and probably not the only thing that was incorrect… if indeed it was.

I have received this info from a regular reader of this blog… Thank you Gordon.

You asked for other origins of name Selfheal. The Readers Digest Field Guide of 1981 offers: The old belief of “doctrine of signatures”, because the upper lip of flower is clearly in the shape of a hook, and billhooks and sickles were the main causes of wounds in Medieval farming communities. Selfheal was also made into a syrup for internal injuries. Before all that, scholars identified the plant as the herb used by Dioscorides Greek physician to cure inflammation of the throat and tonsils, and Latin name Prunella comes from Germanic word for sore throat. Also known in England as hook-heal, sickly-wort – also in France as Brunelle and carpenter’s herb – used to stop bleeding, ans as antisceptic.

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