All-Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
I was first introduced to this humble plant in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. Although most herbalists seemed to know its name, not that many could tell me how to work with it. It seemed as though we Western herbalists had forgotten the amazing powers hidden in this odd little non-aromatic mint. But when you look closely down the top of the inflorescence, you can see this wonderful signature: two mirror image green hearts nested within a lovely crown of fringed, double-lipped flowers. I always wondered if there was some meaning hidden there …
Years later, when I began researching Prunella for use in a topical acne remedy, I learned some amazing things about its history. The name comes from the German word Brunel, which refers directly to its ability to heal inflamed, bleeding gums. It has long been used for this purpose by country folks all over Europe. During the terrible days of World War I, when ‘trench mouth’ was a common problem among the soldiers, the anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antiseptic powers of this little plant were put to good use when other medicines were in short supply. One traditional method is to chew several fresh leaves daily, allowing the ‘mash’ to remain in contact with the gums as long as possible. I can attest to the value of this, both in humans and dogs! Although for the dogs, I mix equal parts of Prunella tincture with decoction of Myrrh, Goldenseal, and Plantain; after straining, this delivers very nicely with a spray bottle. The dogs make funny faces, but they forgive me, and it really helps keep their gums and teeth in good shape.
We are growing several clay pots of Prunella here at CSCH, and it’s almost time to plant them out in the garden. We’ll be experimenting with this interesting green ally, learning more about its actions and energetics as we go along. I suspect it will make a nice addition to formulas for enhancing the integrity of mucosal barriers (e.g., with leaky gut syndrome) … Lovely Prunella, perhaps we can do our part to help re-introduce your medicine to contemporary Western herbalism!
Prunella is regularly used in TCM for the clinical treatment of herpetic keratitis and for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and immunomodulating activities. [PMID: 18983886] David Winston tells us that Prunella is a lymphatic tonic that clears heat in the lymph, and was traditionally used for various swellings. lumps, and mastitis.
Prunella contains a rich variety of anti-inflammatory polyphenols (flavonoids, tannins, caffeic acid). It has more rosmarinic acid than Rosemary. Rosmarinic acid is a COX-2 and 5-LOX modulator. [PMID: 20149856] A water extract of Prunella was found to inhibit mast cell-derived immediate-type allergic reactions and involvement of pro-inflammatory cytokines and NF-kB. [PMID: 17609508] In addition, this herb is rich in ursolic and oleanolic acids, triterpenoids with strong anti-inflammatory activity. It is extensively used in TCM for its anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activity, as well as for healing inflamed / infected mucous membranes (e.g., in gingivitis). Also for sore throat, fever, wound healing; the herb is antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and immunomodulating! There is good evidence that it can help regulate blood sugar balance and help prevent glycation in diabetes as well. The highest concentration of medicinally-active compounds is found in the leaves and flower spikes when the herb is in full flower. [PMID: 23096361]