Being such a worldly little flower, chances are pretty good that you've seen it around somewhere. The plant grows easily and is often found in shady areas of pastures, lawns or along roadsides.
All-heal has many names, including Heart of the Earth, Heal All and Self Heal, Cure-all, Carpenter's Weed, and Woundwort. As a member of the Mint (Lamiaceae) family, Self-heal-Prunella-vulgaris comes from an impressive lineage of herbs, along with basil, horehound and lavender to name a few. Members of the Lamiaceae family are noted for distinctive medicinal, culinary, or aromatic qualities, growing on sturdy square stems with opposite leaves and remarkable longevity.
All-heal is unique from the others in the mint family, as most mints have intense aromatic oils and prefer hot, sunny locations. All-heal is found growing abundantly in cooler, shadier locations where the ground is moist.
Although P. vulgaris can be found growing wild throughout North America, Europe and Asia, it is actually native to Europe. It was interesting to find that the Plants.usda.gov shows P. vulgaris to be native throughout the United States; hardiness to Zone 3.
Prunella vulgaris is an ancient medicinal herb with some proven antibacterial and astringent properties, called “Self-Heal” and “Heal-All” by medieval herbalists, or “Heart of the Earth” by early American herbalists; it is still valued by modern-day herbalists. Long ago, the barbs of P. vulgaris were said to resemble the throat, and thereby it was used to treat throat ailments. I make a gargle/tea by steeping the dried plant in hot water, which does help relieve a sore throat.
The standard way to make an infusion is to pour a cup of boiling water over the herb(s) to be infused.
Fresh plants - Use 1/4 cup of fresh All-heal
Dried plants - Use 2 teaspoons of dried All-heal
Let it stand for 5 minutes, strain and drink.
Although edible, it is mainly used in a healing capacity. Fresh leaves of All-heal are commonly made into a poultice or compress for wounds or other skin afflictions, likely due to its ability to stop bleeding and speed up the healing process.
A poultice is typically made by smashing the fresh herb into a paste.
Its healing abilities are said to include antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent and diuretic properties. Studies have shown its antibacterial benefits to inhibit the growth of pseudomonas, Bacillus typhi, E.coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi. Other uses include treating mouth ulcers, liver complaints, as an anti-inflamatory agent, and for treating heart disease. More recently, research has found it to inhibit the HIV virus, lessen Herpes outbreaks, and possibly contain anti-cancer fighting abilites.
This unassuming little little plant has been used for centuries in infusions to aid healing of both internal and exteral ailments.
I spent many hours researching P. vulgaris, generally from internet resources, and I was rather taken aback when I could not find any clear answers as to how this little plant became regarded as the healer of all maladies. Actually, I discovered that herbalists have been conducting researches on the herb for years and are also bewildered as to how the plant came to gain its many names, implying that it's a panacea for all ailments. It's a bit of a mystery. I wonder if its vibrational energy is the force behind it.
Here's a poem about Prunella vulgaris that says it very well, I think.
The Selfheal Fairy Song
When little Elves have cut themselves,
Or Mouse has hurt her tail,
Or Froggie's arm has come to harm,
This herb will never fail.
The fairy's skill can cure each ill
And soothe the sorest pain;
She'll bathe and bind,
And soon they'll find
That they are well again.
~ by Cicely Mary Barker (1895-1973)
Heal All is a host for the Clouded Sulphur Butterfly Colias philodice. Its nectar will attract many other butterflies and bees too.
P. vulgaris is a creeping perennial that self sows, sometimes agressively. I find it easy enough to control, having short roots, the plant is easily pulled up if found growing where you don't want it. Normally growing between 1 and 2 feet high, it is sometimes used as a turf alternative and will tolerate some light foot traffic. If you are planning to use some in your herbal medicine cabinet, however, the plants certainly should not be trodden upon and would be best grown away from the road or other traffic areas. As with any herb you plan to use in the kitchen, you want your All-heal to be free of pesticides, chemicals or other pollutants.
PROPAGATION: The seeds can be started in spring, wintersown, or as is often the case with wildflowers, they will happily grow from seed sown in the fall. It can also be propagated by root division. From what I have observed, it flourishes best in damp areas with partial shade and doesn't seem so picky about the soil. This plant is a very hardy perennial that will continue to self sow year after year.
Its creeping, low growing habit allows the plant to root at the nodes and spread. I have also successfully dug up plants from the wild (on my property) and relocated them.
HARVESTING: The edible leaves and flowers should be gathered when in full bloom for medicinal purposes. As with most herbs, it is best to harvest in the morning after the dew has lifted.
SEED COLLECTING: Once the flower heads have dried completely, the seeds can be removed by rubbing the flowerhead between the hands which will release the tiny seeds. As you can see from this photo of the dried flower heads, I collected plenty of seeds, which I shared with some of my garden friends.
Yes, All-heal is much more than a common weed, in my book. I'm glad to have gotten to know her better and I welcome her into my world. After all, a weed is merely a plant growing where you don't want it.