Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Heal-all or Self-heal, PRUNELLA VULGARIS

from the the June 21, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

Heal-all, also called Self-heal and a host of other names, PRUNELLA VULGARIS, is flowering now, as shown above.

This is one of the best-known of all "weeds," not only because it's so common in disturbed, temperate habitats worldwide, including along sidewalks in cities, but also because of its memorable flowers, which are worth taking a close look at, as is done below:

Heal-all or Self-heal, PRUNELLA VULGARIS, flowers

There you have two flowers side-by-side. The flowers display bilateral symmetry, which is typical of the Mint Family in which they belong, but different from the radial symmetry most commonly seen in the flower world. On the flower at the left notice the fringed lower lip. Inside the flower at the right you can see how the blossom's four stamens and style arc beneath the curving canopy created by the upper lip. The white, ear-shaped things are the stamens' pollen-producing anthers.

The two inner stamens are shorter than the two outer ones, plus notice the two outer stamens' forked filaments, with only the inside branches bearing anthers. It looks like the outer branches might hold the anthers in place as the pollinator pushes its way into the flower's mouth, thus assuring that pollen is placed exactly where the next flower's stigmas will be waiting for it when the pollinator visits there.

So, does Heal-all really have medicinal qualities?

Yes. The little plant is unusually endowed with chemicals whose medical values have been well documented in respected research journals. Heal-all's constituents have been proven to be antibacterial, inhibiting the growth of pseudomonas, Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi, and many other pathogens. Heal-all derivatives can be used internally and externally and are showing promise in research on cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and many other maladies. On the Internet it's marketed as especially effective against Herpes Simplex; many sites sell Heal-all pills and lotions at hefty prices. I even read that indigenous Americans used to make a tea from the root they'd drink in ceremonies before going hunting to sharpen their powers of observation.

What a wonderful little plant, and it's one people pull up just to throw away, because it's such a common, undesirable "weed."