Selfheal Prunella vulgaris

Prunella vulgaris L.

Family Lamiaceae: Dead-nettles/Mints

Plant height 15-30 cm. Flower length 1.3-1.5 cm.

Forming a tight cylindrical flower spike, this small, rather odd but beautiful perennial with its reddish-purple calyces can resemble a pine cone. The flowers are usually a deep violet-blue, but pink flowers may occur. The dull-green leaves are paired, oval in form and short-stalked. The plant produces creeping runners.

It flowers June to November and can be found forming patches in grassy places, lawns, brownfield sites, roadside verges and woodland clearings. A native species, it is very common and widespread throughout Great Britain.

Uses: Selfheal is a herb which has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat liver complaints. It was traditionally called the Carpenter’s Herb for it effectively healed cuts from chisels and other sharp woodworking tools. It was also used to treat sore throats and mouth ulcers. In the modern world of western herbal medicine, it is used to treat feverish colds and flu due to its antiviral and antitoxidant properties. Medical research is looking into its use to treat diabetes and high blood pressure.

Etymology: Prunella is a reference to the plant’s medicinal properties in the treatmeant of Quinsy, which is a streptococcal infection of the tonsils. It is from the German term for Quinsy which is die Braune. Vulgaris is Latin and refers to the plant’s common nature.

Field notes: I usually spot this low-growing plant pushing through grasses on the local canal towpath or the riverbank. One you have to bend the knees to get closer to really appreciate.