Looking down on a Self Heal flower head makes identification easy. No other plant has flowers with this lovely shade of lavender in this arrangement. Even better is the long blooming time so the pleasant experience of spotting one of these plants comes in many places many times over the summer.
Prunella vulgaris L.
May to September N Family: Lamiaceae
Flower: A terminal flower spike keeps lengthening to extend the blooming season. Whorls of calyxes with small bracts circle the spike. Each calyx cup can be green to reddish and has lines of hairs on the edges. Each hosts a single flower. The flower has an upper lavender lip forming a hood and a lower white, fringed lower lip with two small lavender side lobes. The outer part of the top hood has spiky hairs up the center.
Leaf: Opposite leaves are wedge shaped. The lower leaves are larger and have partially winged petioles. The upper leaves have short petioles and finally are sessile. Each leaf has blunt teeth along the edge and scattered very short hairs on top and underside.
Stem: A single central stem can reach 12 inches. The stem has four sharp angles making it square. The angles can have lines of short hairs. The stem is usually green but can have reddish angles.
Root: The root is a short, perennial taproot. There are fibrous roots and short rhizomes.
Fruit: Four seeds develop in each calyx cup.
Habitat: This plant likes low, moist areas such as ravine floors and stream banks. It favors disturbed areas like old fields and roadside ditches.
Edibility: This plant has a long history of medicinal use and has been shown to have both antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. The leaves can be eaten fresh or cooked or brewed as tea.
Self Heal is found in one variety or another almost world wide. It is a smaller plant I usually find along the creek bed. But other plants show up in many diverse places as long as they are near moisture.
Most often the plant is spotted because of the lavender hoods sticking out as seen from the top. Since the plant is rarely over a foot tall, the rest of the flower is visible only by getting down and looking.
Toward fall the up to six inch flower spikes have browned. A few flowers may still ring the top. The seeds are hidden down inside the brown cups.
There is an idea that the brown, stiff calyx cups act like springboards in the rain. A drop of rain hits the top pushing it down. When it rebounds, seeds are tossed out to land a short distance from the mother plant.