Shilpa’s Wildflower Highlights » Self-heal
The Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) is a herbaceous perennial plant from the mint family, it looks a lot like mint but it does not have the minty or other aromatic fragrance. The genus name “Prunella” comes from the German word for “quinsy” (a severe sore throat caused by a tonsil abscess for which self-heal is said to be a cure) and the species name “vulgaris” means “common”, indicating the plant’s ubiquitous nature. It has been used medicinally for centuries. It is found in Europe, Asia, and it’s native in the lower 48 states of the United States. Self-heals are found in moist shady places and are usually considered as weeds. The wetland indicator status of the self-heal is facultative (FAC) or facultative upland (FACU) species.
Shilpa is an ecologist and conservation expert. She recently moved to the U.S. after earning a Ph.D. in marine ecology in 2016, which thesis focused on mangrove crabs and their ecosystem functioning in mangrove conservation.
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❋ The reddish stem of common self-heal is square and it arises from a fibrous rootstock that creeps around the ground for two feet or so before moving upward. Each stem has a dense, cylindrical, terminal purplish spike of flowers. The stems branch at the leaf axis. The leaves are lanceolate with serrated somewhat wavy margins and pointed tips. The leaves are much longer than they are wide, and are oppositely arranged. The stems and leaves are slightly hairy. Although the lower leaves have stalks, the pair of leaves just below the flower head are almost without stalks.
❋ The blooming season for common self-heal is from May through September. The flower spike is made up of numerous whorls of six florets. Each whorl has a pair of greenish-white bracts beneath it. The florets are with violet to purple corolla. The upper part of a floret, which is often more intense in color, forms a little hood, and the lower is a three-parted apron, a steady landing platform for the insect pollinators (bees, butterflies). When the flower head matures, the spike elongates but remains more or less cylindrical. From a distance, the flower head looks brown and purple as only some of the florets are open at once.
❋ Although many gardeners consider self-heal as a weed, the entire plant can be used for many internal and external health issues.
(i) Self-heal has been traditionally used for sore throats (even severe ones). The plant can also be used for the treatment of skin problems to kidney and heart diseases (all about the healing power of self-heal). If I was to include all the therapeutic, medicinal, and other benefits and claims of self-heal, it would be a much longer article!
(ii) The chemical composition of the plant is pretty impressive. It contains betulinic acid, D-camphor, D-fenchone, cyanidin, delphinidin, hyperoside, manganese, lauric acid, oleanolic acid, rosmarinic acid, myristic acid, rutin, linoleic acid, ursolic acid, beta-sitosterol, lupeol, and tannins. Scientists have been working for years with the self-heal trying to establish its possible role in UV protection as well as its anti-cancer, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory powers.
(iii) The plant is tasteless, so it can be added to salads or soups or stews. The dried leaves can be used to make tea or infusion or alcohol extract. (iv) From an ecological standpoint, the self-heal plant acts as the larval host for the Clouded sulphur butterfly and attracts many species of pollinators.
Aug 1st 2018 | by Shilpa Sen
Disclaimer: I’m not a wildflower expert.. but being an environmental scientist (professionally) and a #naturalist (by heart), I am passionate about the natural world around me. I use this wildflower series to share my passion with my connections. (All the photographs are taken by me).
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