I struggle with self-confidence. I always have, and probably always will. When I am in my element (gardening, studying herbs, etc.) I love what I do and feel confident in my abilities. Yet, stepping out to run errands, to try something new, or to simply visit with friends and family, my confidence crumbles. I notice how different I am from the rest of the world. I think to myself, ‘maybe I’m not enough. What if the world laughs at what I have to offer?’
Luckily, a recent visit from a plant friend has taught me a thing or two about self-confidence. Self Heal has popped up among the clover out front with a message of persistence. Despite being underappreciated in Western Herbalism today, Prunella Vulgaris shows up offering what she can. She desires to be all that she is and nothing more. Self Heal cherishes her lovable qualities. And she has been challenging me to follow her lead.
Self Heal is a perennial blooming all over the world. A member of the mint family, she’s unique in that she lacks much of an aroma. Bees and butterflies still make frequent visits to her delicate purple flowers. Yet, even some herb gardeners chalk her up to be a noxious weed as Self Heal (like other mints) can spread like wildfire when given the opportunity.
At first glance, Self Heal may appear dead. The stalks on which the purple flowers bloom often look brown, but Self Heal does not bloom all at once. Give it a closer look and you may see the blossoms tucked away inside awaiting their turn to open. The flower stalks are quite flexible, and remind me of a cat-tail. Given a taste, Self Heal is rather bitter. It has just a touch of rosemary flavor, due to the rosmarinic acid (an antioxidant found in rosemary) found within Self Heal.
History as a Medicinal Plant
Self Heal has acquired various common names over its centuries of use. Woundwort, All Heal, Heart of the Earth (my favorite) are all names interchangeable with Self Heal. Also known to many as Carpenter’s Herb, Self Heal was believed to be able to “join together and make whole and sound all wounds, both inward and outward.” Touch and Heal was another name given to depict her use as a valuable first-aid herb.
Traditional Chinese Medicine notes the use of Self Heal as early as 206 BC. In this practice, Self Heal flower tops are collected late in the summer when they are finished producing blossoms and they’ve begun to wither. Once dry, the flower tops are infused in tea as a way to cleanse the liver.
European countries have a long history of using Self Heal, too. However, they pick the flower heads just before or while they are flowering to use in tea or to make oils for topical use. Both traditions recognize Self Heal as a cooling, anti-inflammatory herb that can bring down the swelling in various glands (especially around the neck).
Self Heal’s Potential for Today
Self Heal is beneficial for both fevers and the flu. All in one plant you can find immune boosting antioxidants, plus anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral properties. This is a hopeful herb in an age of antibiotic resistant infections becoming a scary reality. Self Heal has an ability to prohibit viruses from replicating, giving it the potential to be an effective treatment for AIDS and Herpes viruses. Furthermore, Self Heal is a balancing herb (or an amphoteric). Jame’s Duke has noted Self Heal’s ability to either stimulate or reduce activity in thyroid glands that are either over or under active.
Despite all of this Self Heal is no longer held in high esteem among herbalists of the Western tradition. Many of us will reach for other wound healing herbs (Comfrey, Yarrow,etc.) when needed. Perhaps Self Heal has obtained a reputation as being far gentler than these other choices.
No matter the reason, Self Heal remains steadfast in completing the job she has to do. She continues to show up—all over the world. Her spirit shines through her vibrant purple-blue flowers. She doesn’t question her abilities or if they are enough. The world’s opinion of her doesn’t seem to matter, as long as she continues her presence.
It’s a mystery how an herb with so much history and potential is undervalued in herbalism today. Yet, this teaches me to live life with confidence, and honesty for who I am and what it is I find meaningful. I, too, can bring forth my abilities without reason to feel they are less than another’s. They may be different, but that’s what makes life beautiful. Where would we be if Self Heal diminished because she lacked confidence?