This week’s plant for #WildEdibleWednesday is Prunella vulgaris, or Heal All. As the name implies, Heal All is useful for treating a wide range of ailments and disabilities. Known as Self Heal in its native Europe, it quickly became popular with Native American tribes throughout the Eastern Woodlands almost immediately after its introduction. It is hardy, tenacious, and common. It spreads quickly, and is called a lawn weed by some people who don’t know any better.
Like Mountain Mint last week, Heal All is a member of the mint family. It is a semi-upright herbaceous perennial forb. It grows 1’-2’ high before falling over and growing roots out of its stem. In this way, one plant can quickly form dense mats that cover large areas. Heal All has reddish-colored stems with the square shape characteristic of mints. Its leaves are 1”-2” long and lance-shaped, and appear in opposite pairs up and down the plant’s stem. Heal All’s most distinguishing characteristic is its flowers, which are in bloom from July to September. The flower heads are compound and the flowers themselves are tubular in shape, with their upper lip forming a hood, and their lower lip forming three lobes. They vary from white to pink to purple in color. It has no deadly or toxic mimics. As far as anyone can tell, Heal All is native to Central and Eastern Europe, but it has long since spread to almost every temperate area of the world, so it’s difficult to pin down its exact origin point. It prefers full sun or part shade, and if it’s a damp area, so much the better. It’s found most often in bottomland pastures, lawns in low-lying areas, creek banks, and roadsides.
Heal All is a great edible. All parts of the plant can be eaten, and it’s a great addition to salads, soups, stews, or other dishes. One good use for them is to add some chopped leaves to mashed potatoes in the final minutes of cooking. They have a mild, slightly bitter flavor that’s pretty inoffensive. Their flavor is better cooked as a potherb, but their nutritional value is higher when eaten raw. I guess it depends on what your priorities are. They’re also great when chopped up and used in a cold water infusion with lemon and honey. It makes a great, refreshing beverage for a hot day. Heal All’s rich nutrient profile qualifies it as a superfood by nearly any metric. It’s nutritionally similar to kale, chard or any other dark leafy green – very high in vitamins C, A, E, B, and K, as well as magnesium, manganese, calcium, and a whole host of other trace minerals… and its full range of phytonutrients has been strongly linked in study after study to an ability to fight free radicals and prevent cancer.
And speaking of cancer…. where Heal All excels, of course, is as a medicinal plant. It’s been used by people as diverse as ancient Siberian shamans, medieval European physicians, and Cherokee medicine men for hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of years. And it’s served as a treatment for, well, just about anything. Internally, all parts of the plant have traditionally been used as an antibacterial for controlling internal infections, an antispasmodic to relieve muscle cramps, a carminative to relieve gas, a diuretic to treat edema and other fluid retention issues, a febrifuge to reduce fevers, a hypotensive to reduce high blood pressure, and a vermifuge to expel parasitic worms. It can also be used to treat diarrhea, acid reflux, and stomach ulcers. In addition, it’s been used to treat coughs, colds, bronchitis, chicken pox, and shingles. And finally, a tea can be used as a mild sedative and anxiolytic to calm nerves and induce sleep. These qualities are best taken advantage of through a basic infusion. Most interestingly, many traditional societies swore by it as a treatment for cancer, herpes, endometriosis, heart disease, and hypertension. Externally, it’s used as a poultice or salve as an antiseptic and an astringent, and is also known to speed healing of external wounds like cuts, scrapes, and bruises. This is the origin of one of its many alternate names: Carpenter’s Herb. It was so named because it “could join together and make whole all wounds.” It was also endowed with great spiritual power wherever it grew – in medieval Europe, it was considered a powerful weapon against demonic spirits, and was even used in exorcisms. It was common for people in those days to hang bundles of it above their door frames. In North America, tribes of the Eastern Woodlands swore by it to help give them supernatural sight when hunting.
Like most medicinal herbs, Heal All was cast aside by modern medicine more than a century ago in favor of synthetic pharmaceuticals. Plant medicines have been considered by most physicians and pharmacists in the past hundred years to be unreliable folk tales at best, and dangerous at worst. Even among the herbal medicine community, Heal All was marginalized to a second-tier herb in favor of more powerful and trendy plants. But modern science may be vindicating it. Dozens of peer-reviewed clinical studies in the past two decades have led to strong evidence that compounds isolated from Prunella vulgaris may be used in the prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, herpes, AIDS, hypertension, and several different types of cancer. Don’t believe me? Check out the list here: https://altnature.com/gallery/prunella-vulgaris-clinical-study-links.html
Turns out that maybe all those people all across the world who swore by this herb for thousands of years may have been on to something. Crazy, right? What about you? Have you ever used Heal All? Do you have any growing in your yard? Tell us in the comments!
Are you a fan of #WildEdibleWednesday? Want to learn more about practical uses of native plants in a hands-on setting? Well, we’ve got two opportunities coming up for you: One is our Sunday Afternoon Bushcraft: Bug Repellent course on Sunday, August 26th from 2pm-7pm. We’ll be making a salve and a spray out of natural components, and best of all, it really works. Register for that one here at sarcraft.com/sunday-afternoon-bushcraft. The other one is our Summer Wild Edibles seminar at REI Alpharetta on Wednesday, August 29th from 7pm-8:30pm. You can sign up for that one at https://www.rei.com/event/summer-wild-edibles-with-sarcraft/alpharetta/216823. Check them out and join us for one, or both!