Self-heal, Heal-all or Brunella – Flowers

(Prunella vulgaris)

Mint family

Flowers—Purple and violet, in dense spikes, somewhat resembling a clover head; from 1/2 to 1 in. long in flower, becoming 4 times the length in fruit. Corolla tubular, irregularly 2-lipped, the upper lip darker and hood-like ; the lower one 3-lobed, spreading, the middle and largest lobe fringed ; 4 twin-like stamens ascending under upper lip; filaments of the lower and longer pair 2-toothed at summit, one of the teeth bearing an anther, the other tooth sterile ; style thread-like, shorter than stamens, and terminating in a 2-cleft stigma. Calyx 2-parted, half the length of corolla, its teeth often hairy on edges. Stem: 2 in. to 2 ft. high, erect or reclining, simple or branched. Leaves: Opposite, oblong. Fruit: 4 nutlets, round and smooth.

Preferred Habitat—Fields, roadsides, waste places.

Flowering Season—May—October.

Distribution—North America, Europe, Asia.

This humble, rusty green plant, weakly lopping over the surrounding grass, so that often only its insignificant purple, clover-like flower heads are visible, is another of those immigrants from the old countries which, having proved fittest in the fiercer struggle for existence there, has soon after its introduction here exceeded most of our more favored native flowers in numbers. Everywhere we find the healall, sometimes dusty and stunted by the roadside, sometimes truly beautiful in its fresh purple, violet, and white when perfectly developed under happy conditions. In England, where most flowers are deeper hued than with us, the healall is rich purple. What is the secret of this flower’s successful march across three continents ? As usual, the chief reason is to be found in the facility it offers insects to secure food ; and the quantity of fertile seed it is therefore able to ripen as the result of their visits is its reward. Also, its flowering season is unusually long, and it is a tireless bloomer. It is finical in no respect ; its sprawling stems root easily at the joints, and it is very hardy.

Several species of bumblebees enter the flower, which being set in dense clusters enables them to suck the nectar from each with the minimum loss of time, the smaller bee spending about two seconds to each. After allowing for the fraction of time it takes him to sweep his eyes and the top of his head with his forelegs to free them from the pollen which must inevitably be shaken from the stamen in the arch of the corolla as he dives deeply after the nectar in the bottom of the throat, and to pass the pollen, just as honey-bees do, with the most amazing quickness, from the forelegs to the middle ones, and thence to the hairy “basket” on the hind ones—after making all allowances for such delays, this small worker is able to fertilize all the flowers in the fullest cluster in half a minute 1 When the contents of the baskets of two different species of bumblebees caught on this blossom were examined under the microscope, the pollen in one case proved to be healall, with some from the golden-rod, and a few grains of a third kind not identified ; and in the other case, healall pollen and a small proportion of some unknown kind. Bees that are evidently out for both nectar and pollen on the same trip have been detected visiting white and yellow flowers on their way from one healall cluster to another ; and this fact, together with the presence of more than one kind of pollen in the basket, shows that the generally accepted statement that bees confine them-selves to flowers of one kind or color during a trip is not always according to fact.

The older name of the plant, Brunella, and the significant one, altered by Linnaeus into the softer sound it now bears, is doubtless derived from the German word, braune, the quinsy. Quaint old Parkinson reads : ” This is generally called prunella and brunella from the Germans who called it brunellen, because it cureth that disease which they call die bruen, common to soldiers in campe, but especially in garrison, which is an inflammation of the mouth, throat, and tongue.” Among the old herbalists who pre-tended to cure every ill that flesh is heir to with it, it was variously known as carpenter’s herb, sicklewort, hook-heal, slough-heal, and brownwort.