Monday, June 25, 2012

Self Heal Salve

Prunella vulgaris is one of those pretty little mints that doesn't like to call attention to herself. Her beauty is mostly appreciated by small children and bees who are close to the ground and don't mind squinting at her delicate tiny flowers. They lose interest though, because she doesn't smell particularly nice and she is far too common in meadows and on the edges of fields. She patiently watches over the children as they play games and scrape their knees. She is a fairy flower, one with motherly love, and completely lacking mischief.

She goes by many names: self heal, all heal, prunella, heart of the Earth, woundwort, blue curls...

Culpepper describes her aptly: "Self-Heal whereby when you are hurt, you may heal yourself,' tells us that: "it is an especial herb for inward or outward wounds. Take it inwardly in syrups for inward wounds, outwardly in unguents and plasters for outward."

Because of this herb's abundance and wound healing abilities (she also has natural antibiotic properties) I decided to finally make a salve with Prunella. I went to a local park and found her growing in a lush patch with plantain between some secretive woods and a ball field. Plantain (Plantago sp.) is another fantastic herb for wounds. I gathered a few handfuls of each and let them wilt down for a few hours in a basket.

To make the salve I chopped the leaves and flowers and placed them in a metal bowl I use to make salves. You can also use a simple glass jar (pint sized). I covered the herbs with a mixture of oils: grapeseed which is a nice light oil and what I had on hand, and coconut oil which is a heavier and more stable oil. If my brain had been working after having spent all day out in 100 degree humid heat I would have just used the coconut oil, or maybe olive oil if I had it on hand. The reason being, olive oil has natural antimicrobial properties and doesn't spoil as readily as more delicate oils like grapeseed. Grapeseed is great for skin preparations because it is easily absorbed, but it can go off or become rancid in a short amount of time if care isn't taken. Coconut oil is far more stable due to the presence of saturated fats. There is also something about it being a tropical oil which makes it less prone to rancidity in hot humid heat. Other solid fats work well. I hear lard is fantastic. That's enough about oils...

I placed the little metal bowl over a pot of simmering water (double boiler method) and let it warm to about 100-110 degrees. Then I turned the stove off. Then back on, and off, and so on over the course of the evening until the oil had taken on the lovely green hue of the prunella and plantain. The goal here is to warm but not fry the herbs which will take on a noticeable scorched smell if it gets too hot. This method also allows some of the moisture in the plants escape. Trapped moisture will make the oil go off, or worse get all fuzzy with mold. I have lost many infused oils this way. In drier climates folks can do solar infusions or other slower methods. Once the oil is done infusing, strain and set aside covered loosely with a napkin or piece of cloth, again to let moisture escape. After a few days any moisture will settle to the bottom of the jar. Pour off the oil and leave the last little bit at the bottom of the jar.

To make a salve simply melt a bit of beeswax into some of the herbal oil. Making salves is all about simple proportions - the ratio of oil to wax. 4 parts oil to 1 part wax yields a firm salve. You can play with it until you get a consistency you like. I added some lavender essential oil (just a few drops) for its preservation, antiseptic, and aromatherapy properties. Pour into little pots, jars or twist tubes. Use on bites, scratches, and the little wounds that seem to happen in the summer.


  1. What a beautiful description of the plant! Thank you.

  2. Oh, I should probably mention that the neon green color of the oil in the jar is partially from the grapeseed oil.

  3. Great post! I have not used this plant before, but love your description .. will look out for it.

  4. Just found this post as I am making some plantain/comfrey salve and thought I’d add self-heal this time around. I was wondering if they would go well together - thanks!

    1. It would blend very nicely with comfrey and plantain. Go for it!