Materia Medica - Self-Heal


Self-heal LHF.jpg

Self-heal or Heal-all is a versatile herb that deserves a place in every herbal apothecary. Often considered a lawn weed, this unassuming little plant is a medicine chest in a small package. It soothes sore throats, heals wounds, protects skin from sun damage, supports the immune system and is antiviral against herpes and HPV.


Materia Medica

Latin Binomial: Prunella vulgaris

Common Name(s): Self-heal, Heal-all, Woundwort

TCM Name: Xia Ku Cao

Ayurvedic Name

Family: Lamiaceae (mint family)

Physical Description of the Plant: 

Prunella vulgaris has the classic characteristics of the mint family - square stems, opposite leaves, and lipped-shaped purple flowers growing growing on spikes.The plant grows close to the ground, up to one foot in height.

Habitat:  Prunella vulgaris is a perennial plant commonly found in China, the British Isles, Europe, and North America. It loves damp shady places and often grows in lawns. It will also grow in full sun. 

Harvest and Collection: Harvest flowering tops and leaves in midsummer. They can be dried for tea, tinctured, or infused in oil. Use within a year of drying for best results.

Parts of the Plant Used: Aerial parts

Qualities: Self-heal is used for wounds on the skin, including cuts, scrapes and burns. It’s also used for drawing out infections, such as abscesses and boils. Some herbalists liken its qualities to plantain’s vulnerary abilities, being somewhat astringent and demulcent, stabilizing tissue and protecting the skin’s moisture at the same time. 

Energetics: bitter, acrid, slightly pungent, cooling

Chemical Constituents: 

  • Alkaloids
  • Antioxidants
  • Caffeic and urosolic acids
  • Flavonoids
  • Glycoside
  • Mucilage
  • Phenols
  • Rosmarinic acid
  • Saponins
  • Tannins
  • Vitamins B1, C, and K
  • Volatile oils e.g., camphor and fenchone



  • Antiviral
  • Astringent
  • Demulcent
  • Diuretic
  • Hemostatic
  • Hypotensive
  • Immunomodulator
  • Inflammation modulator
  • Vulnerary

EasternChinese herbalists refer to it as the “summer-dry herb” and use it for signs of heat and liver constraint. According to Chinese medicine, Prunella Vulgaris can “change the course of a chronic disease.”

Indications: Allergies, burns, cancer, hemorrhoids, herpes, high blood pressure, insect bites, sore throat, ulcers, wounds. Chinese medicine specifically uses self-heal for signs of “Liver fire rising” and “Liver constraint.” Headaches and painful eyes that are worse at night are indications for self-heal. Self-heal is recommended for many types of eye complaints, including red eyes, conjunctivitis and eye-tearing. 

In TCM, Xia Ku Cao (Self Heal) is used to soften hardness (lumps, enlarged lymph nodes). It is used for goiters, lipomas, mumps, mastitis, lymphosarcoma and scrofula.  - David Winston

Contraindications/Cautions: Prunella Vulgaris is very safe for internal and topical applications. 

Drug Interactions: none known


Tincture1:2 fresh extract, 30% alcohol, 40-60 drops, (2-3 ml), 3 times per day

Infusion:  1-2 tsp of the dried herb per 8 oz hot water. Steep 1 hour. Take two to three cups per day.

The Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica recommends self-heal in dosages as high as 180 grams per day (roughly 6 ounces).

Combinations: Combine with plantain to draw out infections, abscesses or boils, or yarrow to staunch bleeding. For an effective first aid spray for superficial scrapes and insect bites combine tinctures of self-heal, St. John's Wort, calendula and witch hazel.

Folklore: Self heal has a long history of folk use, especially in the treatment of wounds, ulcers, and sores. It was also taken internally as a tea in the treatment of fevers, diarrhoea, sore mouth, and internal bleeding. It was historically used for sore throats, even severe ones like quinsy, which is an abscess of the tonsils. Herbalist William LeSassier praised self-heal for its kidney-strengthening abilities. 

Flower Essence: Self Heal helps a person focus on their own innate healing ability by lining up their etheric and physical bodies, making a space where healing energy can flow. By aiding in the etheric energy flowing into the physical body, it literally helps a person ‘re-cover’ from wounds or injuries to the body within a sheath of healing energy. It draws on the Higher Self, via the etheric body, to generate the life force needed in healing. It is beneficial for physical, emotional, mental and spiritual healing. Helps balance all chakras especially the Crown.

Applications: Traditionally, it’s been used as an astringent for internal and external use, as a poultice for open wounds, as an anti-inflammatory for digestive conditions, and to support the immune system.


Self-Heal Skin Serum Recipe

  • 5 ounces of jojoba oil

  • 4 ounces of argan oil

  • 1 ounce of pomegranate oil

  • 1/2 ounce of freshly dried self-heal herb

  • 1 teaspoon of rosemary extract

Measure out the jojoba oil, argan oil and pomegranate oil by volume into a double boiler or a metal bowl that fits over a pan of water. Add the self-heal herb. Turn on the heat under the double boiler and warm the oil until it is warm to the touch. Turn off the heat and cover with a lid. Throughout the day heat it again slightly, then let it sit. Take care not to let the oil get too hot. Some people use a modified crock pot for this – just be careful that it doesn’t get too hot or “fry” the herbal material. After heating the oil for 24-48 hours, place the mixture in a blender and blend on high until thoroughly incorporated. Strain off the herbs from the oil through several layers of cheesecloth and then squeeze the herbs really well to get most of the oil out. You can strain the oil again through more layers of cheesecloth to get any of the fine particles out. The end result should be a deep dark green oil. Add the rosemary extract and stir well. Bottle into 2 ounce bottles with treatment pumps.This recipe makes approximately 8 ounces. Keep in a cool place. It should last a year if not longer. Consider this a sun-protectant. It’s not a sunscreen, but it can protect your skin from oxidation and UVA damage.

Scientific Research:

Chemical properties, mode of action, and in vivo anti-herpes activities of a lignin-carbohydrate complex from Prunella vulgaris. Zhang Y1, But PPOoi VEXu HXDelaney GDLee SHLee SFAntiviral Res. 2007 Sep;75(3):242-9. Epub 2007 Apr 17.


The chemical nature, the mode of action, and the in vitro and in vivo anti-HSV activities of the polysaccharide from Prunella vulgaris were characterized. The polysaccharide was isolated by ethanol precipitation, dialysis, CTAB precipitation, and gel exclusion chromatography. The isolated compound (PPS-2b) was a lignin-carbohydrate complex with a molecular weight of 8500. The carbohydrate moiety was composed of glucose, galactose, mannose, galacturonic acid, rhamnose, xylose, and arabinose with glucose as the major sugar. In plaque reduction assay, PPS-2b showed activities against HSV-1 and HSV-2. The anti-HSV activity could be abolished by periodate oxidation. Mechanism studies showed that PPS-2b inactivated HSV-1 directly, blocked HSV-1 binding to Vero cells, and inhibited HSV-1 penetration into Vero cells. A similar inhibition was observed with a gC-deficient strain of HSV-1. The in vivo activities of a Prunella cream formulated with a semi-purified fraction was assessed in a HSV-1 skin lesion model in guinea pigs and a HSV-2 genital infection model in BALB/c mice. Guinea pigs that received the Prunella cream treatment showed a significant reduction (P<0.01) in skin lesions. Mice that received the Prunella cream treatment showed a significant reduction (P<0.01) in mortality. In conclusion, the anti-HSV compound from P. vulgaris is a lignin-polysaccharide complex with potent activity against HSV-1 and HSV-2. Its mode of action appears to be inhibiting viral binding and penetration into host cells. PMID: 17475343. 10.1016/j.antiviral.2007.03.010

Immune modulatory effects of Prunella vulgaris L., Fang X1, Chang RCYuen WHZee SYInt J Mol Med. 2005 Mar;15(3):491-6.


Prunella vulgaris L. (Labiatae) is a perennial plant known as 'self-heal' in Western herbal medicine. It has a wide array of biological effects exhibiting numerous therapeutic potentials. Its anti-microbial effects including anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects are, presently, receiving increasing attention. While its anti-viral effects are attributed mainly to the inhibition of virus replication, the biological mechanisms of its anti-bacterial effects or actions remain unknown. In view of the fact that polysaccharides isolated from medicinal herbs often function as biological response modifier of body immunity, we hypothesized that the anti-microbial effect of polysaccharides isolated from P. vulgaris is probably also mediated via immune modulation. We have isolated four polysaccharides containing fractions from P. vulgaris, one of the fractions, PV2, could markedly stimulate the production of superoxide and nitrite representing nitric oxide from murine macrophage RAW264.7 and brain macrophage BV2 cells. The amount of nitrite and superoxide produced after PV2 stimulation was as high as that seen in stimulation using bacterial endotoxin lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and this stimulatory response is dose-dependent. In addition to monocyte/macrophage, PV2 also stimulated the proliferation of splenocytes. In this study, we have shown that the polysaccharides isolated from P. vulgaris have marked immune stimulatory effects, which may bring about the anti-microbial effects of P. vulgaris. PMID: 15702244. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Jul;93(1):63-8.

A polysaccharide fraction from medicinal herb Prunella vulgaris downregulates the expression of herpes simplex virus antigen in Vero cells. Chiu LC1, Zhu WOoi VE.


Herpes simplex viruses (HSV) are pathogenic. With the emergence of drug-resistant strains of HSV, new antiviral agents, especially those with different modes of action, are urgently needed. Prunella vulgaris L. (Labiatae), a perennial plant commonly found in China and Europe, has long been used as a folk medicine to cure ailments. In this study, a polysaccharide fraction was prepared from Prunella vulgaris (PPV), and its effects on the expressions of HSV-1 and HSV-2 antigens in their host Vero cells were investigated with flow cytometry. The HSV antigen increased time-dependently in the infected cells, and PPV reduced its expression. The effective concentrations of PPV with 50% reductions of the HSV-1 and HSV-2 antigens were 20.6 and 20.1 microg/ml, respectively. The novelty of PPV is that it also reduces the antigen expression of acyclovir-resistant strain of HSV-1. After incubations with 25-100 microg/ml of PPV the HSV antigen-positive cells were reduced by 24.8-92.6%, respectively, showing that this polysaccharide fraction has a different mode of anti-HSV action from acyclovir. Results from this study show that PPV is effective against both the HSV-1 and HSV-2 infections, and flow cytometry offers a quantitative and highly reproducible anti-HSV drug-susceptibility assay. PMID: 15182906. 10.1016/j.jep.2004.03.024


A new anti-herpes agent has been identified from the spike of a common herb called self-heal or all-heal (Prunella vulgaris). In herbal literature, P. vulgaris has been described as a hot water infusion to treat sores in the mouth and throat, as an astringent for internal and external purposes, as a crude anti-cancer drug, and as a herbal remedy to lower high blood pressure. The agent was a lignin-carbohydrate complex with potent activity against herpes viruses responsible for cold sores and genital herpes. The lignin-carbohydrate was effective in treating herpes skin lesions in guinea pigs and protecting mice from genital herpes infection. The lignin-carbohydrate has a different anti-herpes mechanism than acyclovir, the current clinical anti-herpes drug. The findings suggest that the Prunella lignin-carbohydrate has the potential to be developed into a new anti-herpes drug.

The research was conducted through collaborative efforts by Drs. Song Lee and Spencer Lee at the Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and Drs. Paul But and Vincent Ooi at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong. The work was conducted with the support from Dalhousie University and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council and Innovation and Technology Fund. The research results were presented at the 103rd American Society for Microbiology Annual meeting, Washington DC, May 19, 2003.

The lignin-carbohydrate complex was isolated from the spike of P. vulgaris by a number of experimental steps and was shown to have a size of 8,500 Dalton. The carbohydrate moiety was composed of glucose, galactose, mannose, galacturonic acid, rhamnose, xylose, and arabinose with glucose as the major sugar. In plaque reduction assay, the lignin-carbohydrate complex showed activities against herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus-2 (HSV-2) and displayed a low cytotoxicity to cultured Vero cells. Mechanism study showed that the lignin-carbohydrate complex inactivated HSV-1 directly and blocked HSV-1 binding and penetration into Vero cells. Two surface-localized herpes virus proteins, gC and gD, were identified as potential targets for the lignin-carbohydrate complex. The anti-herpes efficacy of the lignin-carbohydrate complex was assessed in a HSV-1 skin lesion model in guinea pigs and a HSV-2 genital infection model in BALB/c mice. Guinea pigs received the lignin-carbohydrate complex cream treatment showed a significant reduction in skin lesions than those received no treatment. Mice received the lignin-carbohydrate complex cream treatment showed a significant increase in survival rate than animals that received no treatment. In conclusion, the anti-HSV compound from P. vulgaris is a novel lignin-carbohydrate complex with potent activity against HSV-1 and HSV-2. The mode of action of this lignin-carbohydrate appears to be inhibiting viral binding and penetration into host cell with the potential viral targets being gC and gD. Given the high incidence of herpes infection and the emergence of acyclovir-resistant strains of herpes viruses, the Prunella lignin-carbohydrate complex may prove to be a useful new anti-herpes drug.




Mimi Alberu