Why Get to know this plant:
Self Heal is a common weed that has a long history of use in both European and Chinese Herbal Medicine. It has been a part of folk medicine for centuries where it has been used as a tonic for restoring health to the body and staunching uncontrolled bleeding both internally and externally. My own mother often suggests self heal whenever we have any complaint as it truly is a plant that can give benefit in many situations; So you should DEFINITELY get to know her!
Taken internally self heal treats fevers, diarrhea and perhaps most specifically a sore throat. Its ability to help sore throat and mouth in upper respiratory infections is due to the combined actions of being immunomodulating due to its polysaccharide content and also soothing to the mucous membranes due to the high amount of mucilage.
Self heal has been the subject of scientific students for its antiviral properties, particularly in its ability to work against the herpes simplex virus and HIV. It has been shown to inhibit viral replication in petri dishes. Canadian researchers also discovered that self heal blocks cell to cell transmission of HIV virus and also interferes with the virus’ ability to bind to T cells.
Infused in an oil self heal is healing to skin cells that are hot and inflamed and it is also useful for sun damaged skin.
Add some fresh flowers or leaves to a salad or eat as a trail snack to connect to this plant and you can learn some of its more subtle medicine that it offers.
Where This Plant grows:
Grows on moist edges, predominantly in shade with some sun. Can be in roadsides, clearings, fields, lawns, trail edges; common in mid to low elevations. Is also often seen growing as a weed in your front lawn. Remember if harvesting from a lawn, make sure that herbicide is not used there.
How to Identify Self Heal:
Is a perennial plant that spreads from a short rhizome. Stems are solitary and erect and may be spreading. Since it is in the mint family, the stem is square in cross section (look at other mint family plants and compare: field mint, lemon balm, apple mint). Height in those growing in lawns is considerably shorter and may appear as a different plant since in woodland habitats can grow 10-50 cm tall.
Flowers bloom in early-mid summer and are purplish to pink (occasionally white) and are small 2 tipped lips, fused into a spine tipped tube. Leaves are lance-shaped and opposite
This plant is apparently now a hybrid between two species; one introduced from Europe is the p. vulgaris and the native is p. lanceolata and to determine which you have is hard to do. For herbal uses both species, or the hybrid whichever the case may be, offer the same actions and uses.
All aerial parts, however flower heads and new leaves are best harvested when fresh and newly blooming. Picking flowers during early blooming encourages the plants to continue producing flowers.
Hemostatic (stops bleeding), astringent (dries up mucous membranes), demulcent (soothing to mucous membranes), vulnerary (wound healing), hypotensive (lowers blood pressure), antipyretic, inflammatory modulator, immunomodulator, antiviral and diuretic.
Tips from Experience:
Self heal grows abundantly and likes to be harvested, if you pick the flowering tops early it encourages the plant to continue blooming.
Eaten fresh or infused in a tea the plant subtly tastes like rosemary (faintly) due to the constituent rosemarinic acid (also found in rosemary). Herbal oils are great to infuse with self heal as it soothes most skin ailments and offers healing in beauty oils.
This plant is incredibly safe and can be used with confidence. As with all plant medicine ensure that you have the right plant identification before ingesting!
Constituents in the plant:
Betulinic acid, camphor, oleanolic acid, rosemarinic-acid, rutin, tannins, ursolic-acid
Keane, Kahlee. (2015) The Standing People; Wild Medicinal Plants of British Columbia. Save Our Species Publishing. Pages 86-87
Pojar, Jim and MacKinnon, Andy. (1994) Plants of Coastal British Columbia: Including Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Lone Pine Publishing. p. 246
MacKinnon, Andy et al. (2009) Edible and Medicinal Plants of Canada. Lone Pine Publishing. p. 279