Prunella vulgaris: The little plant that can.

Self heal, or heal all (Prunella vulgaris), was blooming away along the trails of one of our favorite parks yesterday. Very simple lance shaped leaves and a slender stalk that are all but invisible until they flower.  Then what a show!  The plant spreads quickly.  So if you put some in a corner of your garden expect to watch it conquer new territory.  The good news is that it is easy to remove or relocate plants that appear where you rather they didn’t.  The plant prefers a shady, moist area to grow and you will often see it growing in disturbed edges of woodland, though I have also seen it spread happily through bark paths in my garden in full sun.

As the common name suggests, this plant has a long history of use to heal wounds and staunch bleeding.  It has been used as an alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic, antioxidant, antiviral, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, carminative, febrifuge, hemostatic, hypotensive, styptic, tonic and vulnerary.  The plant contains beta-carotene, vitamin B1, vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc, the flavonoids hyperoside and rutin, pentacyclic triterpenes, rosmarinic acid, essential oils and tannins.

Medicinally, the plant can be used externally as a compress or poultice.  Internally, it is prepared as a tea or gargle or tincture.  Traditional uses include a gargle for sore throats, thrush and gum disease.  It is used as a tea for treating internal bleeding and diarrhea.  Native Americans use the plant for colds, fevers, coughs, stomach cramps, venereal disease, diabetes, and as a general heart tonic.  It has been used externally for acne, burns, cuts and abrasions, bruises, hemorrhoids,  and backaches, among many others complaints.

Contemporary science is now looking at the compounds in Prunella for treatment of cancers, HIV and diabetes and the research is additionally finding supporting evidence for the more traditional uses of the herb.  In a 2012 study looking at the impact of Prunella vulgaris on vascular inflammation associated with diabetic complications, the results showed anti-inflammatory effects through inhibition of reactive oxygen species.  An early 2010 study focused on the ability of Prunella to stimulate nitric oxide expression, indicating possible therapeutic benefit for cardiovascular disease and other vascular conditions.  A 2006 study looked at the impact of an aqueous extract as an antiviral on the herpes simplex virus.  The study showed a significant effect on the free herpes simplex virus.

Self heal is not for use during pregnancy.


Foster S, Hobbs C. 2002. A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Hwang SM, Lee YJ, Yoon JJ, Lee SM, Kim JS, Kang DG, Lee HS. Prunella vulgaris Suppresses HG-Induced Vascular Inflammation via Nrf2/HO-1/eNOS activation. International Journal of Molecular Science. 2012;13(1):1258-68.

Mars B. (2007). Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine: The Ultimate Multidisciplinary Reference to the Amazing Realm of Healing Plants, in a Quick-Study, One-Stop Guide. Laguna Beach, CA:Basic Health Publications, Inc.

Nolkemper S, Reichling J, Stintzing FC, Carle R, Schnitzler P. Antiviral Effect of Aqueous Extracts from Species of the Lamiaceae Family Against Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 and Type 2 in Vitro. Planta Medica. 2006 Dec;72(15):1378-82.

Xia N, Bollinger L, Steinkamp-Fenske K, Forstermann U, Li H. Prunella vulgaris L. Upregulates eNOS Expression in Human Endothelial Cells. American Journal Chinese Medicine. 2010;38(3):599-611.


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