Healall (Prunella vulgaris)

Family:

Mint Family (Lamiaceae)

Other Names:

Brunella vulgaris, blue curls, blue lucy, brownwort, brunella, carpenter's-weed, dragonhead, heart of the earth, Hercules woundwart, hook-heal, hookweed, panay, prunella, self-heal, sicklewort, slough-heal, thimble-flower, thimbleweed, wild sage.

Origin and Distribution:

Some forms of heal-all in North America are native and others were introduced from Eurasia as ornamentals and then escaped cultivation. Presently, the species' range extends throughout the U.S. and includes all of Ohio. Heal-all is commonly encountered in such habitats as woods, fields, pastures, gardens, lawns, and roadsides. Although the plant prefers moist conditions, it can be found in a variety of sites from dry to swampy, open to shady, and disturbed to undisturbed.

Plant Description:

Heal-all is a perennial that usually grows as a sprawling plant with upright flower clusters, but it can have an erect habit when growing in undisturbed areas. Characteristics it shares with other mints include square stems and opposite leaves. Features setting it apart include a lack of odor even if crushed, ovate-oblong leaves, relatively long leaf stalks (petioles), and roots emerging at stem nodes. The most common variety found in Ohio has blue-purple flowers. Flowers are produced in erect, head-like spikes that are denser than those of most mints. Crowded among the flowers are hairy, green bracts. Plants reproduce by seeds and creeping stems that root at the nodes.

  • Root System:

    Roots are shallow, fibrous, and often formed at stem nodes.

  • Seedlings and Shoots:

    Young stems and petioles are covered with stiff hairs. The upper surfaces and edges of young leaves also have hairs.

  • Stems:

    Stems are up to 2 feet long, erect or prostrate, square, and branching. Young stems are rough-hairy but they tend to lose their hairs over time. Stem nodes coming in contact with soil often form roots at the nodes.

  • Leaves:

    Leaves are 1 to 4 inches long, opposite (2 leaves per node), oval to oblong, and may or may not be shallowly and irregularly toothed around the edge. Sometimes, leaves are purple-tinged and have hairs. Petioles attached to leaves at the base of the plant are longer than those attached to upper leaves.

  • Flowers:

    Flowers consist of 5 petals that are blue-purple or rarely white, less than 1/2 inch long, and united to form a 2-lipped tube consisting of a rounded upper lip and a 3-lobed lower lip. Sepals enclosing petals are purplish and fused into a toothed tube. Underneath each flower is a hairy bract. Flowers form in dense, terminal, head-like spikes. Spikes are short at first but elongate as flowers continue to open and may be over 3 inches long by the time all flowers are open. Flowering branches emerge from the stem at the axil of a broad, kidney-shaped bract. Usually, 3 such branches emerge from each axil.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    Heal-all produces pods with 4 nutlets that are brown with dark vertical lines. Nutlets are slightly flattened, pear-shaped if viewed lengthwise, triangular in cross-section, and have 2 flattened sides and third side that is rounded.

Similar Species:

Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) also is a low-growing perennial in the Mint Family and it has purple-blue flowers shaped similarly to those of heal-all. Compared with heal-all, ground ivy flowers form in much smaller clusters containing fewer than 6 flowers and its leaves are kidney-shaped rather than oblong. Also, ground ivy stems creep over the soil surface forming a carpet-like, tangled mass. Red dead nettle and henbit (Lamium purpureum and L. amplexicaule) are winter annuals that flower in early spring. Vegetative growth of red dead nettle can be distinguished from heal-all by its reddish stems and triangular leaves. Henbit is easy to distinguish from heal-all by its upper leaves that, lacking petioles, encircle the stem.

Biology:

Heal-all flowers form in June through September. Plants growing in lawns or other areas with lots of traffic that are frequently mowed tend to grow prostrate along the ground and produce roots at every node. Stems tend to be upright when growing in undisturbed or crowded conditions. Heal-all does not tolerate such crop management practices as cultivation.

Toxicity:

None known.

Facts and Folklore:

  • 'Brunella' was derived from brunellen, which was the common name that Germans called the plant because it cured an inflammation of the mouth found among soldiers called 'die Braeuen'.

  • Among natives of North America, the Chippewas used heal-all to treat 'diseases of women', the Delaware and Mohegans made soothing body-washes to treat fevers, and several tribes found that a tea made of fresh leaves remedied dysentery.