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