self-heal defined in 1913 yearself-heal - Self-Heal (Prunella vulgaris);
self-heal - Said old Cole, in the reign of Charles II., "It" (i.e. the Self-heal) "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 inflamation of the mouth which they call 'die Breuen,' yet the generall name of it in Latine now-a-days is Prunella, as being a word of a more gentile Pronunciation." And since we are nothing if not "genteel" to-day, it is still, and chiefly, Prunella with us. This quotation disposes at once of the common belief that it was Linnaeus who softened down the harsh Brunella for euphony's sake, since the "Father of modern botany" lived a century later than the writer of "Adam in Eden." As to the disease referred to, "it is common to soldiers when they lye in camp, but especially in garrisons, coming with an extraordinary inflamation or swelling as well in the Mouth as Throat," Cole further explains; and then he destroys our faith in the plant's efficacy by giving as his reason for his belief in it as a remedy, "the very signature of the Throat which the form of the Flowers do represent signifying as much." For there once more we are confronted with the worthless old heresy - the Doctrine of Signatures. We now know that plants have not been labelled in some subtle way as to the benefits they are able to confer upon ailing humanity.
But the implicit faith of our forefathers in it, as is exemplified in its names - Self-heal, "Allheal," "Hook-heal," "Slough-heal" - was probably rooted in some measure of fact all the same; the old herbalists were so explicit on the point and appealed so confidently to experience. "There is not a better Wound herbe in the world than that of Self-heale is, the very name importing it to be very admirable upon this account, and indeed the Vertues doe make it good, for this very herbe without the mixture of any other ingredient being onely bruised and wrought with the point of a knife upon a Trencher, or the like, will be brought into the forme of a Salve, which will heal any green Wounde even in the first intention... after a very won-derfull manner," is one testimony; while another, made a hundred years previously, speaks similarly of "Prunell," then immediately adds, with a fine disregard of uniformity in spelling, "Prunel brused with oile of roses and vinegar, and laid to the forepart of the head, swageth and helpeth the pain and aking thereof," and sums up, "To be short, it serveth for the same that Bugle doth, and in the world there are not two better wound herbs as hath bin often proved."
This wonderful herb is one of the great Labiateæ - the two-lipped - clan, but happily it has a quite distinctive personality, which is by no means always the case in that perplexing family. It may at once be known because on the top of its flowering stalks the flowers are "thicke set together like an eare or spiky knap," i.e. an ear of corn. 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 "ear" are arranged in most regular tiers; each tier is composed of a ring of six stalkless flowers, supported by a couple of spreading, green bracts. The number of tiers varies; there may be a dozen, there may be only half a dozen. Each flower consists of a two-lipped calyx, the upper lip very wide and flat, edged with three blunt teeth, the lower lip much narrower and with two long, pointed teeth. Both lips have red margins and carry hairs. Out of this somewhat uncommon calyx the petals project as an aggressive-looking, two-lipped corolla, of a deep purple hue. The upper lip is strongly arched, and on the top of the arch many hairs stand on end. The lower lip, of much the same length, spreads out into three lobes. Both lips join farther back into a tube which fits into the calyx as scissors in a sheath. Under the roofing upper lip are two pairs of stamens, one pair longer than the other, but both of remarkable structure. Instead of the anthers being set straight on the top of their filaments as is usual, each filament ends in two little branches, one of which carries an anther, the other - the one towards the outside of the flower - remains as a little spike. Through the centre of the two pairs, and having a long and a short stamen on either side, the long style runs curving so as to fit under the lip. Its lower end is set between four nutlets. Honey lies at the bottom of the tube, and is protected by a thick hedge of hairs placed just above it.
The Self-heal, like the rest of its family, looks to the bees to fertilise it, its over-arching lip and petal tube being just made to fit their heads and probosces. It takes a bee about two seconds to extract the honey from a flower, and but a minute or so to pass through all the flowers in a head and effect their pollination. Its method is to dive into a flower; the stamen's side spikes keep the anthers in position. It pushes against them, the pollen falls on to its head as it sucks up the honey; it backs out of the blossom and transfers the pollen from its head and eyes first to its middle legs and then to its baskets on the hind ones, and in a flash is diving into the next flower to repeat the same operation, and, incidentally, to smear some of the pollen on to the curving style that runs up through the stamen pairs.
After fertilisation the corolla falls out of the sheath-like calyx and carries the stamens with it.
The calyx, however, remains in place, and so do the two bracts that support each tier. It is when all the purple, projecting corollas have fallen, and only the neat rings of the persistent calyces are left, that the aforementioned resemblance to an ear of corn is so marked.
The fruit is four little nuts that lie protected until they are ripe by the continually reddening calyx. The plant, however, does not trust its destiny wholly to them, though it indulges in a particularly long flowering season - namely, all through the summer months - for its creeping stems can throw up roots at any joint and thus propagate the plant. It is from these creeping stems that the flowering spikes rise, standing upright among the herbage three inches to a foot in height.
Sometimes there are found smaller and imperfect flowers - flowers that are only female and have either no stamens or merely rudimentary ones. One observer in Belgium reports that he has also found cleistogamous flowers upon it, i.e. flowers which never open to admit visitors, but, within minute and poor corollas, fertilise their own ovules with their own pollen.
The leaves of this plant are not specially remarkable. They occur on short stalks in pairs down the stem. Roughish on top, their midrib at the back often carries hairs; the margins, too, are fringed with minute hairs.
The Self-heal is one of those hardy immigrants that have found their way to North America and tended to oust the native plants. It is there known as "Heart of the Earth," as well as by the pretty and not inappropriate name of "Blue Curls."
pictures for self-heal
near self-heal in Knolik
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