If you need a ground cover plant for those shady areas self heal is the plant for you. While it wont tolerate deep shade in forest like locations its excellent under single trees, woodland edges or north facing areas. Self heal is a semi evergreen perennial which forms dense lush green mats only a few inches tall. It's easy to establish and does not need much aftercare and is fairly drought and cold tolerant and produces blue violet flower spikes in early summer for that last about four weeks. Deer and rabbits don't eat it. Self heal is a very underrated herb that can be used in a multitude of conditions which lead to its name of self heal or heal all. Want a herb to help you then this is the place to start.
Description of Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
Short perennial plant with mid green spear shaped leaves about 2 inches long and 3/4 inch across with deep central veining. Leaves are sparsely located along square shaped stems which finally terminate in a flower spike. Flowers are produced in mid to late summer and last about a month. Flowers are produced in small groups dotted around the flower spike, not all at one time. They are tubular blue to light purple flowering from the base of the spike towards the top. Plants spread from central tap root and send stalks across the ground spreading out in a star shape from the central stem.
Growing Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris) from seed
Very easy to grow but germination can be prolonged and irregular at times. Can either be direct sown or started indoors for earlier larger plants.
If starting outdoors make sure all weeds are removed from the area and sow in later spring around the time of the last frost. Only lightly cover the seed in very fine soil. Keep weeds under control and water with a mist setting on the hose until plants are well established.
Germination can take up to ten weeks depending on temperature and conditions for best results temperatures between 53-64°F (12-18°C) are recommended. Since germination can be erratic starting in individual cell pots or a few seeds to one pot is suggested so transplanting larger seedlings does not disrupt seeds that are still germinating. Start seeds about ten weeks in advance of last frost for more details on growing seeds see our general growing instructions
Location and care of Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris).
It much prefers shady locations, but won't do as well in really dense shade. Once established it quickly spreads out forming dense mats about three inches tall. It's a fairly dominant plant so don't plant it with fragile shade plants. Grouping with hostas or under planting with spring bulbs it creates an excellent shade garden. It prefers a reasonably good soil, but if planted under trees the leaf mulch provided by the fall leaves is usually enough to keep it very happy. So don't rake the leaves! For lusher plants add compost or more leaf litter. Will grow on poorer soils but plants won't be quite as lush. With good soil with high organic content the plant can spread quickly and become well established even aggressive so outer edges of the patch will need to be tended. In poorer soils the plants don't spread as quickly and are not as aggressive, however this also means they won't beat out the weeds as well. In very poor soils some weeding might be needed until the plant is well established. Best to add a little organic material and get the plant well established, it's less work on the long run.
Its cold tolerant to zone 6 at least but unusual long very cold periods will often kill off plants. If living in zone 7a and higher make sure the plants have a good covering of mulch or chopped leaves to insulate them through the winter months. Come spring they will grow up through the chopped leaves and use it as fertilizer. Great way to use up your leaves!
If desired the plants can be mown down after flowering has completed. This encourages them to create thicker stockier stems and leaves and also removes dead flower heads keeping the plant looking more attractive. It also prevents seeds from forming and spreading to other unwanted areas.
It can also be used in rock gardens for those more shady areas, or in as filler plants shady patio planters.
Edible Uses of Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris).
Leaves are edible raw or cooked. Wash well first to remove some of the bitter tannins in the leaves. They can be used in salads for a little extra bite. Good in soups and stews. An interesting tea can be produced from fresh or dried leaves making a refreshing beverage.
Medicinal Uses of Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris).
Sadly this plant has fallen out of favor in recent years. In the 19th century and before it was used extensively for a large range of maladies hence its name self heal or heal all. It appears to contain a wide variety of substances that seem to gradually restore heath if taken over a long period. It has been used in herbal medicine for a multitude of things including: removal of gas, induce urination, reduce fever, cause a lowering of blood pressure, give strength and tone to the stomach, reduce bleeding by contracting the blood vessels, heal wounds, as an antibacterial on wounds, and to inhibit growth of bacteria, along with many other uses. Most commonly it is taken on a regular basis as a 'tonic'. It can be used fresh or dried, the whole above ground plant is best harvested in mid summer.
Prunella. All-Heal. Hook-Heal. Slough-Heal. Brunella. Heart of the Earth. Blue Curls.