Mrs Grieve on Heal-all [also called Self-heal]
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Botanical: Prunella vulgaris (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Labiatae
---Synonyms---Prunella. All-Heal. Hook-Heal. Slough-Heal. Brunella. Heart of the Earth. Blue Curls.
---Habitat---Common throughout the British Isles and Europe.
The Self-Heal holds an equal place with Bugle in the esteem of herbalists
Description - It may at once be distinguished from other members of the greatLabiate order because on the top of its flowering stalks, the flowers - to quote Culpepper - are 'thicke set together like an eare or spiky knap.' No other plant is at all like it. Immediately below this ear are a pair of stalkless leaves standing out on either side like a collar. The flowers and bracts of this spike or 'ear' are arranged in most regular tiers or whorls, each tier composed of a ring of six stalkless flowers, supported by a couple of spreading, sharp-pointed bracts. The number of whorls varies from half a dozen to a dozen. The flower-spike is at first very short, compact and cylindrical, but then opens out somewhat, maintaining much the same size throughout its length, not tapering as in the flower spikes of most other flowers. The flowers do not come out simultaneously in any one ring, so that a somewhat raggedlooking head of flowers is produced.
The plant does not rely wholly for its propagation on the four little nutlets that ripen within the continually reddening calyx, even though the flowering season is particularly long, lasting through all the summer months, for its creeping stems can throw out roots at every point, new plants thus being formed, as in the case of the Bugle. It is from the creeping stems that the flowering spikes arise, standing upright among the herbage, 3 inches to a foot in height.
The leaves, oblong in form and blunt, about an inch long and 1/2 inch broad, grow on short stalks in pairs down the square stem, from which they stand out boldly, and are often roughish on the top, with scattered, close hairs, their mid-rib at the back also carrying hairs and their margins fringed with tiny hairs. Their outline is either one continuous line, or they are slightly indented along their margins.
Habitat - Self-Heal is a very common plant throughout Britain and all over Europe, abundant in pastures and on waste ground. In open and exposed situations, the plant is diminutive, while in more sheltered spots it is larger in all its parts. It branches freely, lateral stems being thrown out in pairs at almost every node, from which the leaves spring. The main stem is often deeply grooved and rough to the touch, the lower parts tinted with reddish purple.
Self-Heal is one of those common wildflowers that have found their way to North America, tending even to oust the native flowers. It is known there as 'Heart of the Earth' and 'Blue Curls.'
Cole, in Adam in Eden (1657), says:
'It is called by modern writers (for neither the ancient Greek nor Latin writers knew it) Brunella, from Brunellen, which is a name given unto it by the Germans, because it cureth that inflammation of the mouth which they call "die Breuen," yet the general name of it in Latin nowadays is Prunella, as being a word of a more gentile pronunciation.'
Cole further explains that the disease in question 'is common to soldiers when they Iye in camp, but especially in garrisons, coming with an extraordinary inflammation or swelling, as well in the mouth as throat, the very signature of the Throat which the form of the Floures so represent signifying as much' - an instance of the doctrine of signatures of which William Cole was such a ready exponent.
Constituents - The chemical principles of Bugle and Self-Heal resemble those of the other Labiate herbs, comprising a volatile oil; some bitter principle, not yet analysed; tannin, to which its chief medicinal use due; sugar and cellulose.
Part used - The whole herb, collected when in best condition in mid-summer.
Medicinal action and uses - Astringent, styptic and tonic.
Self-Heal is still in use in modern herbal treatment as a useful astringent for inward or outward use.
An infusion of the herb, made from 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water, and taken in doses of a wineglassful, is considered a general strengthener. Sweetened with honey, it is good for a sore and relaxed throat or ulcerated mouth, for both of which purposes it also makes a good gargle. For internal bleeding and for piles, the infusion is also used as an injection.