Prunella vulgaris is an herbaceous perennial wildflower favored by bumblebees and butterflies and possesses a host of medicinal properties.

Scientific Name: Prunella vulgaris
Common Name:  Selfheal; Self-Heal; Common selfheal; All-heal; Aleutian selfheal
Plant Family: Lamiaceae / Labiatae

Etymology: Prunella comes from a German word for quinsy, a sickness this plant was used to treat, while vulgaris is a Latin adjective meaning common.

Indigenous Uses

The Cherokee used selfheal for food. The leaves could be cooked alone or with sochan, creasey, and other potherbs for consumption.

Medicinal Uses: The Blackfoot Indians made use of infused Prunella vulgaris in a variety of ways. For both humans and horses, it could be used as an eyewash on cold or windy days and as a dermatological aid (applied to neck sores or used to wash burst boils on humans; applied to saddle and back sores on horses). The Cherokee also employed selfheal as a dermatological aid, using infused root as a wash for bruises, diabetic sores, cuts, and acne. Additionally, the Cherokee used the plant as an adjuvant for flavoring other medicines, or in a cold infusion for washing burns. The Cree natives of Hudson Bay chewed the herb for sore throats. The Iroquois harnessed selfheal for a use as an antidiarrheal, emetic, antiemetic, blood purifier, cold remedy, cough medicine, gastrointestinal aid, gynecological aid, hemorrhoid remedy, orthopedic aid, pulmonary aid, respiratory aid, tuberculosis remedy, sedative, and venereal aid. Among many native groups, including the Algonquin, Delaware, Iroquois, and Mohican, selfheal was used as a febrifuge (fever reducer), typically in liquid form.

Prunella vulgaris has a long history of use as an herbal remedy for throat ailments.

Edible Parts

The leaves of selfheal can be eaten either cooked or raw. They can be added to stews, soups, and salads. The presence of tannin in the leaves can result in a somewhat bitter taste; however, this can be mitigated by washing the leaves. Freshly chopped or dried and powdered leaves can be made into a beverage when infused in cold water.

Gathering and Using

Because plants can concentrate lead and other pollutants, they should not be gathered from roadsides. Selfheal can be gathered any time and can be picked from the root or the stem, depending upon the intended purpose. The top portion of the plant (stem, leaves, flower) can be dried for tea by laying the contents on a towel in the open for a few days, then storing them in a paper bag or glass jar away from sunlight.

Permaculture Functions and Considerations 

Edible leaves, medicine, wildlife food, biomass, organic matter, pollinator habitat, erosion control, carbon sequestration. The P. vulgaris subspecies lanceolata can be used for erosion control alongside roadsides, streambanks, and pond edges due to its fibrous, rhizomatous roots and spreading growth habit. This subspecies can also be used as a cover crop to provide habitat for pollinators and other beneficial species in vineyards, orchards, cane fruit, or blueberry plantations


You can expect to find Prunella vulgaris growing in grasslands, gardens, fields, pastures, and woodland edges, usually on basic or neutral soils, but can also be grown on mildly acidic soil. Selfheal prefers moist soil, which can be either light (sandy), medium (loamy), or heavy (clay). It grows best in light shade or full sun, although if grown in very hot conditions should be planted in a spot protected from hot afternoon sun. Due to selfheal’s ability to rapidly thrive in damp conditions, it is often considered a weed of lawns and moist shady spots.

How to Identify

Selfheal is a low-growing (roughly 1 foot tall), perennial herb with gray-green ovate leaves, many-flowered spikes and associated overlapping hair bracts. Flowers are a vibrant violet, appearing in dense, oblong clusters at the top of its stems. It can be in bloom between May and October, with seeds ripening from August to September. Seeds are smooth, shiny brown nutlets.

Wildlife Support

Selfheal’s conspicuous flowers attract many insects in search of nectar or pollen, including the first and second-largest family of bees (Apidae and Halictidae, respectively), Scollidae (wasps), Bombyliidae (flies), Lycaenidae (butterflies) and Hesperiidae (skippers). Selfheal is also a larval host to the Clouded Sulphur butterfly.

Additional Information

P. vulgaris exhibits phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation when colonizing new area.

Web Sources

Planting Considerations

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7
  • Native Range: Europe, Eurasia, and America
  • Height: 8-18 inches
  • Spread: highly variable (3-45 cm depending on growing conditions)
  • Growth rate: rapid
  • Sun: full sun to part shade
  • Bloom: violet from July to September
  • Attracts: bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, skippers
  • Tolerates: extended dry periods (but grows best in moist soil)
  • Soil moisture: moist is preferred
  • Soil texture: can grow in sandy, loamy, and clay soils, prefers well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: can grow in acidic, neutral, and basic soils

Plant profile by Hannah McCarthy '23