Selfheal: Botanical name…Prunella vulgaris

“Prunella” originally “Brunella” (Latin meaning Brown) from“die braune” German for “the brown one”. Used in German mid 16th century for treatment of infectious, severe throat condition, associated with brown tongues. “vulgaris”…common.

Selfheal: Prunella vulgaris
Selfheal: Prunella vulgaris

“Selfheal” is part of the mint family, although it has no obvious smell. It is a low growing perennial, with spiky blue/ purple flowers, often seen growing in short grass. Common in lawns. It is a useful late source of nectar. 

Forager’s love “Selfheal” as the whole plant can be eaten. The flavour has been compared to Romaine lettuce when eaten raw. Cooked, it is an addition in soups and stews. Dried leaves form the basis of a “refreshing beverage”. It is rich in vitamins A,B,C,and K, as well as being high in anti-oxidants, and other loads of other “goodies”.

The name “Selfheal” was given to this plant due to wound healing benefits. For hundreds of years, it has been used to treat bleeding of fresh wounds. The plant has been called numerous names including “wound wort” and “carpenters herb” (carpenters have spent many years cutting themselves!).

John Gerrard, a 16th century herbalist stated there was “no better wound herb”. 

Gargling infusions of “Selfheal” was a most popular treatment for any throat complaints. Used in cases of quinsy, a painful and serious abscessation of the tonsil region. Swallowing the medicine added more benefits!

Claims made over the years for the “cure all” benefits of “Selfheal” are endless. I am naturally suspicious of the writings of long dead herbalists, that one plant can be antispasmodic, anti-tumour, antiviral, hypotensive, anti-inflammatory etc. But when I read modern science supporting some of these claims, I started to take notice.

 Research into “Biofilms” during the last 40 years is of great interest. In wounds, nasal passages, lining of intestines and elsewhere in the body, bacteria clump together with other cells in a web matrix. By “hiding” from the body defences, treatment with antibiotics is less successful. 

Dental plaque is a classic biofilm. Agents which disrupt the “biofilm” are proving useful. “Selfheal” apparently has this ability. That property alone could explain why it has been useful in wound treatment and throat conditions. 

An Asian research paper has this year stated that “Selfheal” has an inhibitory effect on SARS virus, in addition to it’s uses against Herpes virus in cold sores and mouth ulcers. 

It is easy for myself, as a western trained scientist, to scoff at these medical herbal claims. It is often the case that tests are only done on cell cultures in a petri dish. It is unlikely that researchers will receive sufficient financial assistance to adequately test the usefulness of “Selfheal” and other plants, on human patients. I am also deeply suspicious of claims published in minor foreign journals. I still, however, believe that some plants, such as “Selfheal”, may have a use, in some conditions, and in some patients.

Simon Papworth   

“A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open”. (Frank Zappa) 

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