One of Ireland’s native flowers has astonishing healing properties that, like cannabis, treat ailments from head to toe. Named duán ceannchosach (aka ceannbhán beag) in Irish Gaelic, the plant’s common English name is self-heal, and for centuries it has been regarded as a cure-all. Even Western civilization, often averse to so much as dignifying natural remedies, has embraced self-heal.

With its capacity to treat Alzheimer’s disease, gingivitis, endometriosis, diabetes and many other serious conditions, self-heal intrigues both Mother Nature’s and Big Pharma’s constituents. Accordingly, research through clinical trials continues to expand and reveal ever greater medicinal potency for self-heal.

Cannabis, equally expansive in its medical applications, is obstructed from achieving comparable scientific progress owing largely to legal constraints. Nonetheless, even limited research has proven that the pharmacological portfolios of self-heal and cannabis do overlap at times. Read on to discover how similar these are, but also how unique self-heal is in the plant-based realm of restoring wellness.

Note: Consult your physician prior to using self-heal or cannabis to treat any of the ailments covered in this article. The following information is provided exclusively for education, and should not be used to diagnose or treat any ailment.

Self-Heal Overview and Etymology

Widespread throughout Ireland’s grasslands, roadside verges and lawns, self-heal is a perennial herb in the mint family. The plant is hairy, has creeping stems with paired oval leaves, and sprouts blue-violet flowers.

Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal) Photo by Emorsgate Seeds via Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal) Photo by Emorsgate Seeds via Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

The literal translation of the plant’s common Irish name, duán ceannchosach, reflects its self-proliferation mechanism. Using the Irish dictionary Foclóir Gaeilge—Béarla, you’ll find that “duán ceannchosach” means “slender hook.” Once the plant reaches any significant height, it falls over and attaches new roots to the ground, hooking into it if it can. Also, the flower’s petals resemble the ancient agricultural tool billhook (think of a machete shaped like a sickle).

The plant’s scientific name, Prunella vulgaris (duáinín an tseanchais in Irish Gaelic), aligns peculiarly with the Doctrine of Signatures. According to that theory, humans discover the medicinal uses of a plant by identifying which disease or body part the plant resembles. Self-heal’s blossom resembles a neck, and its earliest documented (in Western medicine) use was to heal throat ailments. Point in case: diphtheria, a serious infection of the throat and nose. Up until the 1800s, self-heal was regarded throughout Europe as the most important natural remedy for diphtheria. That disease – rather, self-heal’s treatment of it – is how the plant got its scientific name.

In the 1500s, German troops were plagued by diphtheria. They called the illness Bräune, referring to the way it turned the infected person’s tongue brown – “braun” in German. Leonhart Fuchs den Lippenblütler, one of the founding fathers of botany, wrote about German military physicians’ effective use of this herb in 1543. While doing so, Fuchs explained that the plant’s name derived from its effectiveness at removing the brown – spelled “Breüne” in his report though – from soldiers’ mouths.

German troops afflicted with diphtheria in the 1500s indirectly gave self-heal its scientific name, Prunella, by naming it after one of the diphtheria symptoms that the plant cured.

German troops afflicted with diphtheria in the 1500s indirectly gave self-heal its scientific name, Prunella, by naming it after one of the diphtheria symptoms that the plant cured.

When the plant received its botanical name 200 years later from Swedish physician Carl von Linné, it was given the nearest Latin equivalent (by pronunciation) of “Braunelle”: Prunella. Sometimes the “a” in “Bruanelle” is dropped, but the plant’s German name is Kleine Braunelle, often misspelled or incorrectly declined in English-language sources as “Brunellen.”

Self-Heal’s Commonalities With Cannabis

Part of a Balanced Diet

Both self-heal and cannabis are edible in their raw forms. Self-heal’s leaves are used in salads and to make pesto, and cannabis leaves are often tucked into baked goods (pun acknowledged). As an herb, self-heal goes well in soups and stews, too. And when dried and powdered, its leaves mix well with cold water as a tasty beverage. Its leaves are somewhat bitter due to the presence of tannin in them, but this is resolved simply by washing the leaves.

Interestingly, when you eat cannabis raw, you receive its medicinal benefits without getting high. Dr. Jessica Caporuscio of Medical News Today explains that this is because the chemical process decarboxylation is required to obtain cannabis’s psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). She also cites studies attesting to raw cannabis’s effect of protecting brain cells, inhibiting tumor necrosis, and stopping nausea when consumed.

Vegetarians and vegans will be pleased to know that fresh self-heal leaves and stems are a great source of protein, plant fat, carbohydrates, carotene and Vitamin B. A 2020 report in the Belgian publication “Biotechnologie, Agronomie, Société et Environnement” provides self-heal’s complete nutrition information.

Antibacterial and Antibiotic Properties

Self-heal inhibits the growth of gram-negative bacilli, such as dysentery bacillus, typhoid bacillus, paratyphoid bacillus, vibro cholera, Escherichia (E.) coli, pseudomonas aeruginosa, proteus, yersinia pestis and bacillus anthracis; and gram-positive bacilli, such as α- or β-hemolytic streptococcus, diphtheria bacteria, streptococcus pneumoniae and human-type mycobacterium tuberculosis.

As reported in “Pharmacologia,” the alcoholic decoction of self-heal inhibits the growth of germs that cause pneumonia, blood infections and other ailments, and the plant’s water decoction inhibits fungi. The plant is also good for the treatment of sepsis, the body’s extreme response to infections, because self-heal decreases the cytokine released in late-phase sepsis.

Cannabis resists the growth of bacteria, mold, mildew and fungi. Research conducted for an article published in the periodical “BioResources” identified the specific bacteria (e.g., staph) that cannabis in its low-THC form, hemp, was proven to kill simply through contact. We examine that too in our research-intensive article on hemp swimwear.

Also, a study published in the periodical “Antibiotics” proposes using cannabis sativa instead of antibiotic drugs when longer periods of treatment are necessary. Unlike synthetic drugs, the cannabis plant does not introduce the danger of toxicity while fighting off infections.

Both self-heal and cannabis minimize bacteria and can serve as antibiotics. Photo via Unsplash.com

Both self-heal and cannabis minimize bacteria and can serve as antibiotics. Photo via Unsplash.com

Alleviates Headaches and Migraines

Self-heal’s cooling properties help clear liver heat that rises to the eyes and causes swollen, red and painful eyes and headaches. Cannabis reduces nociception and decreases the frequency of migraines by engaging with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

A self-heal tea, diluted tincture or fresh plant poultice is effective topically at reducing swelling from insect bites, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and eye inflammations (e.g., sties, conjunctivitis). Cannabis counteracts inflammation by mitigating the dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system through its production of phytocannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids.

Hemorrhoids, varicose veins and other kinds of painful swelling can be treated effectively with a diluted self-heal tincture or cannabis tincture. Photo by: tinnakornlek/123rf.com

Hemorrhoids, varicose veins and other kinds of painful swelling can be treated effectively with a diluted self-heal tincture or cannabis tincture. Photo by: tinnakornlek/123rf.com

Diabetes Management

Self-heal extract suppresses the rise in blood glucose and can even lower blood sugar levels by preventing the body’s enzymes from breaking down and metabolizing carbohydrates. An aqueous extract protects against diabetic renal dysfunction, making it a viable candidate for therapies targeting two conditions that lead to diabetic nephropathy: glomerulonephritis and glomerulosclerosis.

Cannabis is capable of but not guaranteed to treat diabetes, given the inconclusive evidence. Where it has proven useful, according to data obtained from the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, it provided benefits spanning the portfolio of diabetes symptoms and complications. It stabilized blood sugar, suppressed arterial inflammation, prevented nerve inflammation, eased the pain of neuropathy, lowered blood pressure (over time), kept blood vessels open and improved circulation, and relieved muscle cramps and gastrointestinal pain. Also, one study concluded that cannabis can increase insulin sensitivity and lower fasting insulin levels.

External Wound Treatment

Self-heal’s universally recognized capacity to heal cuts, scrapes and even burns derives from the plant’s vulnerary, demulcent and astringent properties. Cannabis helps to heal burns through its non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD), and the plant’s antibacterial properties accelerate wound healing.

Relieves Stress

In a study published in 2010, Indian and Malaysian scientists report that self-heal has adaptogenic (i.e., anti-stress) and antioxidant activity. As they explain, this is critical because: “There is extensive evidence that single-dose administration of adaptogens activates corticosteroid formation, and that repeated dosage with adaptogens normalizes the levels of stress hormones … Adaptogens are also thought to function primarily due to their antioxidant … effects … Antioxidants may offer resistance [to] oxidative stress.”

Avena Botanicals founder Deb Soule promotes self-heal’s anti-stress properties from a nonscientific, holistic-healing perspective. “The flower essence of self-heal is highly regarded for its abilities to help people and animals who face physical, mental or spiritual challenges,” she says. “It can … stimulate the deeper energy channels of the body to awaken an inner commitment to be well and to affirm the gift of life.”

Soule adds to that statement when describing the self-heal tincture made and sold by Avena Botanicals. “True healing engages the whole of your being in a spiraling process of deeper and deeper levels of understanding and self-awareness,” she explains. “Self-Heal addresses the special connection between your soul and your body, encouraging you to take responsibility for your individual journey.”

To learn about how cannabis relieves stress, read Head’s thorough analysis of it in “Can Marijuana Help Manage Stress?” by Robert Job.

As this Head article explains, our bodies are biologically constructed to process the compounds in cannabis as a means of regulating stress. Photo by Grav on Unsplash

As this Head article explains, our bodies are biologically constructed to process the compounds in cannabis as a means of regulating stress. Photo by Grav on Unsplash

Self-Heal’s Unique Pharmacology

The two most frequent self-heal extraction methods for clinical trials are boiling for aqueous extract, followed by ethanolic extraction. By identifying polysaccharides, polyphenolics, triterpenes and a range of essential oils in these ways, subsequent experimentation has been able to identify the plant’s healing properties. Here are the ailments that self-heal treats that aren’t in common with cannabis. Health conditions discussed in detail in this article are marked with an asterisk (*).

  • Allergies.*
  • Back pain.
  • Breast maladies.*
  • Cancer (lung, liver, breast, endometriosis, etc.).*
  • Cognitive impairment (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, schizoaffective disorder).*
  • Colic.
  • Colitis (inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).*
  • Diabetes.*
  • Diarrhea.
  • Edema.
  • Eye maladies.*
  • Fever.
  • Gastroenteritis.
  • Gingivitis.*
  • Halitosis (bad breath).
  • Heart weakness.*
  • Hemostasis and blood clotting.
  • Herpes.*
  • High cholesterol.
  • High blood pressure.
  • HIV.*
  • Hyperlipidemia.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Lipid peroxidation.
  • Liver weakness/disease.
  • Mouth sores.
  • Muscle knots.*
  • Nephritis.
  • Nodules (e.g., goiter, scrofula, lipomas, lymph nodules).
  • Oily skin.
  • Oxidative stress.
  • Phlegm buildup.
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light).
  • Scrofula.
  • Skin damage from ultraviolet rays or other light.*
  • Sore throat.
  • Spasms.
  • Thrombosis.
  • Toxicity from heavy metals.
  • Vaginal discharge.
  • Vertigo.
  • Viruses (in addition to herpes and HIV).*
  • Water retention.

Consider talking to your physician about trying self-heal to treat the following conditions, rather than navigating the endless side effects caused by prescription drugs that treat these. Photo by Erin DeMay via Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

Consider talking to your physician about trying self-heal to treat the following conditions, rather than navigating the endless side effects caused by prescription drugs that treat these. Photo by Erin DeMay via Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

Allergies

Self-heal’s anti-inflammatory qualities aid in treating allergic reactions, including systemic anaphylactic shock. An aqueous extract of self-heal was evidenced in a 2007 study to inhibit mast cell-derived immediate-type allergic reactions and decrease the local allergic reaction.

Breast Maladies

Self-heal is an effective lymphatic herb whose fresh or dry flowers can be infused in olive oil with additional ingredients (violet, calendula, chickweed and red clover blossoms) to produce a healing massage oil. When applied to the breasts, it grants relief from swelling and pain from fibrocystic breast tissue, systemic cysts, mastitis or sore nipples.

Cancer

Self-heal’s anti-mutagenic properties inhibit the mutagenicity of environmental mutagens and carcinogens, including benzopyrene, 1, 6-dinitropyrene and 3, 9-dinitrofluoranthene. The plant’s carbohydrates have been shown to induce cancer-cell death and prevent tumor growth in test-tube studies and human studies examining breast cancer. Also, the plant’s caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid (an antiproliferative) and other compounds act as antioxidants that fight underlying cell damage.

Multiple types of cancer have been fought using self-heal. In studies cited across many reports, self-heal’s anti-estrogenic activity inhibited tumor growth in endometriosis – and without reducing fertility; its polysaccharides fought lung cancer; and its aqueous extract affected the migration and invasion of human liver carcinoma cells. In one study, the plant also inhibited the gene expression of tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), as well as the release of histamine in human mast cells.

Cognitive Impairment

Ethanolic self-heal extract counters cognitive impairment proactively. It enhances cognitive functions by activating intracellular signaling molecules, such as the NMDA receptor linked to synaptic plasticity changes, and by up-regulating adult hippocampal neurogenesis. This renders the plant useful in preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease and schizoaffective disorders through a person’s daily consumption of self-heal extracts.

Drinking a tea infused with self-heal extract has the potential to prevent or reverse cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash Photo for illustrative use only.

Drinking a tea infused with self-heal extract has the potential to prevent or reverse cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash Photo for illustrative use only.

Colitis

A 2015 report in “World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics” states that self-heal is effective against the colon inflammatory condition colitis. The plant relieved the subjects of diarrhea and rectal bleeding caused by this condition.

Eye Maladies

You can treat sties and pinkeye with an eyewash that’s a weak cold-water infusion of self-heal’s freshly chopped or dried and powdered leaves.

Gingivitis

A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial performed in 2004 by a Czech university concluded that toothpaste containing self-heal extracts reduces gingivitis symptoms. This applied to all subjects in the study, each of whom was evaluated using three indices: the Plaque Index, the Community Periodontal Index of Treatment Needs, and the Papillary Bleeding Index. When combined with rosmarinic acid, the self-heal was even able to suppress biological changes in gingival fibroblasts by modulating inflammation.

Heart Weakness

A 2012 report in “American Journal of Chinese Medicine” states that self-heal can protect against atherosclerosis, which is when the arteries harden to the point of risking heart attack. Although that study’s results derived from mice, human results were achieved a year later at the Korean Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB). In a 2013 issue of “BMB Report,” an article was published on a test-tube study in human heart muscle cells. This study found that self-heal extract suppresses the activity of the inflammatory proteins known to lead to the development of heart diseases and stroke.

Self-heal provides unique protection against artery hardening, mitigating the risk of heart attacks and other related heart conditions. Photo by Albarubescens, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Self-heal provides unique protection against artery hardening, mitigating the risk of heart attacks and other related heart conditions. Photo by Albarubescens, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Herpes

Topical creams containing self-heal can prevent, stop the spreading of, and treat herpes simplex virus (HSV), which manifests as contagious sores around the mouth and genitals. To prevent HSV, self-heal stimulates macrophages and other cells in the immune system to keep the infection from occurring. If an infection has already occurred, self-heal can prevent HSV cells from replicating by fighting those with the lignin-carbohydrate compound it contains. Where an outbreak has already occurred, the self-heal cream can reduce the number of sores, if not completely heal them. Of note, it achieves that even when the standard HSV prescription treatment, acyclovir, can’t. Also, this isn’t a new development. As early as 1990, this was proven by M. Zheng, who used human embryonic skin muscle monolayer cell culture technology to demonstrate self-heal’s ability to fight HSV.

HIV

Different dilutions of self-heal extracts inhibit the replication of a particular strain of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, the extracts must be used almost immediately after contracting HIV. In 2011, “Virology Journal” reported that self-heal inhibited both virus-cell interactions and post-binding events when aqueous extracts were added during the first five hours after the infection.

Muscle Knots

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association shared a recipe for a massage oil based on self-heal that dissolves hardness in muscles. The association says that fresh or dry self-heal flowers can be infused in olive oil with violet, calendula, chickweed and red clover blossoms for two weeks at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, simply apply it as you would any other topical.

High-impact activities in which the body is repeatedly hit in the same place, such as martial arts, can make your muscles vulnerable to knots, and self-heal can treat that. Photo by Gleb Krasnoborov/pexels.com

High-impact activities in which the body is repeatedly hit in the same place, such as martial arts, can make your muscles vulnerable to knots, and self-heal can treat that. Photo by Gleb Krasnoborov/pexels.com

Skin Damage From UV Rays

In 2018, scientists in China discovered that self-heal can reverse the aging process in skin damaged by ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause photoaging and photo-inflammation. They credited this to the plant’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Specifically, self-heal counteracts photoaging by activating a type of procollagen and increasing a certain protein to reopen obstructed skin pathways called Smads. This outcome supported the findings of an earlier study conducted by Czech scientists who discovered that self-heal helps to regulate the renewal and differentiation of human keratinocytes.

Viruses (Other)

Self-heal’s antiviral properties can be applied to much more than herpes and HIV, as decades of research confirms. A 1990 study in China found that self-heal was effective against Hepatitis B. A 2009 study for “Virology Journal” concluded that self-heal worked against equine infectious anemia virus. In 2016, a report in “Antiviral Research” stated that self-heal had successfully treated patients infected with Ebola. And the 2019 study “Ethno-botanical Potential of Prunella vulgaris and Human Health” added the following to the list of viruses that self-heal treats: influenza, streptococcus, kata bacteria, staphylococcus aureus, pneumococcus, pseudomonas aeruginosa and E. coli.

Self-heal even treats the flu, so don’t feel limited to remedies not found in nature when you’ve got a fever, stomach troubles and all kinds of other icky things. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/pexels.com

Self-heal even treats the flu, so don’t feel limited to remedies not found in nature when you’ve got a fever, stomach troubles and all kinds of other icky things. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio/pexels.com

Self-Heal’s Debated Evidence of Healing

The chemicals in self-heal have been identified and isolated, providing assurance that the benefits derive from physical substances, not optimistic speculation. The major ones are triterpenoids, steroids, flavonoids, phenylpropanoids, organic acids, volatile oils and polysaccharides. These substances are what generate immune regulation and anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antibacterial and antiviral, antihypertensive, hypoglycemic, lipid-lowering, antioxidant, free-radical scavenging, liver protection, and sedative and hypnotic effects. As summed up in a 2022 article in “Frontiers in Pharmacology,” “[Self-heal’s] efficacy in these diseases has been verified at the clinical level.”

Self-heal’s chemicals have been isolated for comparison to those in parallel clinical trials, along with clinical trials studying self-heal exclusively. Photo by Edward Jenner/pexels.com

Self-heal’s chemicals have been isolated for comparison to those in parallel clinical trials, along with clinical trials studying self-heal exclusively. Photo by Edward Jenner/pexels.com

The aforementioned 2022 article does, however, point out the factors that foster distrust in even clinical trials:

“First of all, some pharmacological experiments lack a reasonable control, such as whether the positive or negative control is needed. Secondly, only one dose group is set up without the investigation of dose dependence, and it is easy to ignore the minimum effective dose, safe dose and minimum toxicity dose. Thirdly, the number of pharmacological indicators is too little, which is easy to cause the neglect of the potential mechanism of action. Fourthly, only the study of crude substances of [traditional Chinese medicine, referring to the use of self-heal] is carried out without the comparison of monomer compounds. Finally, In addition to obtaining intuitive index evaluation through animal experiments and clinical experiments, it should also be combined with new technologies and methods of molecular biology, cell biology and histology to further explore its intrinsic activity mechanism.”

Granted, those aren’t doubts to be easily dismissed. Nevertheless, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that cultures on nearly every continent have been using self-heal as medicine for hundreds of years without needing the Scientific Method to co-sign. The lesson to be learned there is, regardless of the authority conferred upon pharmaceutical companies, open your mind to the possibility that plant-based medicine (including cannabis) can be as effective as – and far safer than – synthetic, laboratory-compounded drugs.

Self-heal’s recognition in Western medicine as a critical healing-plant predates the Scientific Method, documented in such almanacs as John Gerard’s 1597 “The Herbal or General History of Plants” (sampled above). Image Public Domain.

Self-heal’s recognition in Western medicine as a critical healing-plant predates the Scientific Method, documented in such almanacs as John Gerard’s 1597 “The Herbal or General History of Plants” (sampled above). Image in Public Domain.

Let’s Go Shopping!

With your physician’s approval to treat your health issues with self-heal and/or cannabis (hemp only), browse the following options to start your plant-based wellness journey.

Note: Head neither endorses nor is endorsed by any of the manufacturers and/or vendors of these products. Hyperlinks and product availability are subject to change without Head’s knowledge following the publication of this article.

Dried Plants

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

Extracts

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

Fresh/Raw Plants

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

  • Local cannabis farms and nurseries (no online starting points)

Powders and Pills

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

Seeds

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

Tinctures

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

Topicals

Self-Heal

Cannabis (Hemp)

Conclusion

Plant sciences expert Dr. Shahbaz Anwar and his research colleagues weren’t exaggerating when they called self-heal a “prehistoric ethnobotanical icon” in their glowing review of the plant. As this article has shown, the plant can do just about anything to boost your wellness – just like its botanical relative cannabis. Cannabis has been revered as a sacred herb in numerous cultures throughout the centuries for its seemingly endless healing powers. If your physician OK’s your suggestion to ditch drugs and give plants a try for your wellness, odds are that self-heal and/or cannabis has your ailment covered. 

Kathleen Hearons is a writer, editor, linguist and voice over actor from Los Angeles. She specializes in creative writing and research-intensive analysis and reporting.  

 

 

 

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