Self-heal is edible: the young leaves and stems can be eaten raw in salads; the plant in whole can be boiled and eaten as a potherb; and the aerial parts of the plant can be powdered and brewed in a cold infusion to make a beverage.
The leaves are lance shaped, serrated and reddish at the tip, about 2.5 cm (1 inch) long and 1.5 cm (half an inch) broad, and growing in opposite pairs down the square stem. Each leaf has 3-7 veins that shoot off the middle vein to the margin. The stalks of the leaves are generally short, but can be up to 5 cm (2 inches) long.
The flowers grow from a clublike, somewhat square, whirled cluster; immediately below this club is a pair of stalkless leaves standing out on either side like a collar. Flowers are two lipped and tubular. The top lip is a purple hood, and the bottom lip is often white; it has three lobes, with the middle lobe being larger and fringed upwardly. Flowers bloom at different times depending on climate and other conditions, but mostly in summer (from June to August in the USA).
Self-heal propagates both by seed and vegetatively by creeping stems that root at the nodes.
Heal-all is edible, and can be used in salads, soups, stews, and boiled as a pot herb. The Cherokee cooked and ate the young leaves. The Nlaka'pamux drank a cold infusion of the whole plant as a common beverage. The plant contains vitamins A, C, and K, as well as flavonoids and rutin.
The plant is considered by the Chinese to "change the course of a chronic disease".
The plant's chemical constituents include betulinic acid, D-camphor, D-fenchone, cyanidin, delphinidin, hyperoside, manganese, lauric acid, oleanolic acid, rosmarinic acid, myristic acid, rutin, linoleic acid, ursolic acid, beta-sitosterol, lupeol, and tannins.
Prunella is derived from 'Brunella', a word which is itself a derivative, taken from "die Bräune", the German name for quinsy (a type of throat inflammation), which it was historically used to cure.
Vulgaris means 'usual', 'common', or 'vulgar'.
Robert Frost's 1916 poem The Design describes a spider on a heal all:
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth.
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