Foraging & Using Self Heal

Learn how to forage for Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris), plus how to use it, including tincture, tea, and salve recipes!

self heal plants, salve, and tincture; text says "Foraging and Using Self Heal"

Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris), also called “heal all”, is a common weed found growing on lawns, field edges, and creek banks all throughout North America and other parts of the world.

Besides being a great plant for bees and butterflies, all of the aerial parts are edible and used medicinally – this includes the flowers, stems, and leaves.

Self heal doesn’t really have a smell or scent, and the leaves taste pretty plain – they’re not unpleasant at all, but are reminiscent of nibbling on a tasty bit of lettuce.

Closeup of self heal (heal all) flower heads
close-up photos of self heal’s flowers and flowering heads

How to ID Self Heal

When foraging, I recommend doing a preliminary check on all plants using a plant identification app. (We love the PictureThis identification app.) The app isn’t always 100% accurate, so it must be coupled with foraging books for your region, but it’s a great starting place!

Self Heal is a low growing perennial, with a sprawling or creeping habit. It blooms with clusters of purplish flowers in mid to late summer, depending on where you live.

self heal has opposite leaves, green or reddish calyx, and square stem

The leaves are oval to lance shaped and grow in pairs, along a square shaped stem. The square stem indicates it’s in the mint family, but self heal doesn’t have a characteristically minty scent.

Often the leaf edges are smooth, but they may have slightly noticeable and widely spaced serrations.

self heal growing in the garden
This self heal was started from seed from Strictly Medicinal. You can see it has a redder hue and darker flowers than the wild variation that grows here.

The cylindrical flowering heads contain whirls of 1/2 inch tubular flowers. The calyxes can be green (like the ones shown here) or have a reddish tint.

parts of self heal flowers
closeup of self heal flowers

The “hood” or upper lip of each flower is purplish, while the bottom lip has three lobes and is a lighter purple, or sometimes is white. The middle bottom lobe is fringed and is sometimes compared to a beard, or teeth (or I think of a fringed blanket or shawl.)

In lawns, or areas where it’s frequently mowed, self heal grows or appears to be fairly short. Out in the wild, where it can grow undisturbed, it looks larger and is easier to spot.

Below is a photo of a patch of self heal growing at the edge of a field that gets frequent mowing. It’s small, barely noticeable, and easy to walk right past, unless you keep a close eye out! However, all of that “pruning” by the mower encourages branching.

self heal plants growing in grass
Patch of Self Heal (All Heal) growing in a field edge that’s frequently mowed – note the clover on the right for size comparison.

And here’s a photo of self heal growing at our creek, where it remains undisturbed by mowers and human trampling. (Notice how long and leggy the stem/plant is, since it hasn’t encountered frequent mowing or pinching back/collecting by humans.)

heal all growing at creek bank
Single Self Heal (Heal All) plant growing on a creek bank – note the larger leaves and long stem, compared to frequently mowed plants.

How to Dry

Drying self heal is super easy.

All you need to do is gather the top portions of the plant – flower, stem, and leaves – and spread them out in a single layer over a screen, paper towel, or clean dish towel.

Allow to air dry for several days or until completely dried.

Store in a paper bag or glass jar out of direct sunlight. Keep the herbs whole and only crumble up right before using, in order to keep them fresh longer. Use for teas and salves – recipes can be found below.

Shelf life of dried self heal is around 9 months to a year, or as long as the herb has a good color and scent. Drab faded herbs have lost potency and should be composted.

self heal flowers and leaves on a screen
self heal flowers, stems, and leaves air drying on a screen

Uses for Self Heal

Now that you’ve collected self heal, what can you do with it?

Besides adding a few leaves here and there to your salads, here are a few recipes and remedies to try!

Self heal is rich in rosmarinic acid – a powerful antioxidant. It’s used internally for fevers, inflammation, sore throats, and enlarged lymph nodes, among other things. Externally, it’s used for general first aid, clogged lymph, and protective skin care. It’s also specifically helpful for canker sores and cold sores.

bottle of tincture beside tin of salve and fresh self heal flower heads

Self Heal Tea

Drink up to 2 to 3 cups per day for sore throat, cold sores, canker sores.

To make: Place 2 to 3 tsp dried self heal in a mug, cover with 8 ounces simmering hot water. Cover with a saucer and steep for 45 minutes to an hour, or to taste. Sweeten with honey, if desired.

You can also use the tea as a gargle, mouth rinse, or throat spray for more direct application to sore throat or mouth sores.

Self Heal Salve Recipe

Useful for first aid, minor wounds, cuts and scrapes, bruises, and sores. Unscented self heal salve may also be helpful for cold sore sufferers to use as lip balm.

To make: Combine about 1/3 cup crumbled dried self heal with about 3/4 cup oil of your choice (olive or sunflower works well for salves). Leave uncovered and set the jar in a saucepan with a few inches of water; heat over medium low for 2 to 3 hours. Alternatively, cap the jar and tuck in a cabinet to infuse at room temperature for 4 to 6 weeks, shaking occasionally.

Once the oil is infused, combine 1/2 cup infused oil (3.5 oz by weight) with 1 tbsp beeswax pastilles (0.5 oz by weight) and melt together in a heatproof jar or empty tin can. Pour into a jar or tins; allow to cool before covering with a lid. Makes around 4 ounces of salve. Shelf life is 9 months to a year.

How to Make Self Heal Tincture

This tincture can be applied directly to cold sores, or diluted into water first, for those with more sensitive skin. You can also add a dropperful to a glass of tea or beverage of your choice, or we like to mix tinctures with a spoonful of honey, for ease in taking. You can also use it to make throat spray.

To make: Finely chop fresh self heal flowers and leaves (a few stems are fine too). Combine one part fresh herb with 2 parts high proof vodka. Example: If you have 1/4 cup chopped herb, cover it with at least 1/2 cup vodka. Cap, label, and tuck in a dark cabinet to infuse for 4 to 6 weeks. Strain. Shelf life of tincture is usually at least 1 year.

self heal plant beside a field guide to plants and herbs

References & Further Reading

Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams, OR: Horizon Herbs, 2000. Print.

Fang, Xuya, et al. Immune modulatory effects of Prunella vulgaris L. International Journal of Molecular Medicine, 2005 Mar;15(3):491-6.

Foster, Steven and Duke, James A. Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2014. Print.

Nolkemper, Silke, et al. 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. doi: 10.1055/s-2006-951719. Epub 2006 Nov 7.

Our articles are for information and idea-sharing only. While we aim for 100% accuracy, it is solely up to the reader to provide proper identification. Be sure to seek out local foraging classes and plant walks, and invest in mushroom and foraging guides suitable for the area you live in, since some wild foods are poisonous, or may have adverse effect.

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    1. Hi Heiderose! All parts of self heal are edible, so if the flower heads formed a few seeds while drying, then as far as I’m aware, that should be fine to use.

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