Podcast 207: Herbs A-Z: Prunella & Pulmonaria
Today’s herbs from our apothecary shelf are self-heal and lungwort!
Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris, is a lovely lymph-moving herb who we often find in woodland trails. You can find it in lots of places – “vulgaris” does mean “common”, after all – but you probably won’t find it very readily in commerce. It’s not the easiest plant to grow for profit, but thankfully it is easy to grow for yourself! And you may well want to: it’s an excellent wound-healer, lymph-mover, inflammation-reducer, and all-around alterative. (Also worth mentioning is the look-similar plant carpet bugle, Ajuga reptans, which has many of the same actions.)
Lungwort, Pulmonaria officinalis, is an herb Katja likes to add to teas for flavor. It’s not a strong flavor, more of a base note to build on. Lungwort’s in the borage family but it does not have the dangerous types of pyrrolizidine alkaloids – that’s a relief! (Some plants in that family can be damaging to the liver, but not lungwort.) This is not only an herb for bringing moisture to the lungs, easing the elimination of mucous and soothing a cough; it’s also a nice mildly moistening herb to include for balancing the energetics of a formula. NB: don’t confuse this lungwort with Lobaria pulmonaria, a lichen which also has some respiratory actions (though of quite a different nature; the lichen is drying).
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Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we are here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of podcast.
All right. Well, today we are going to talk to you about self-heal and about lungwort.
Two of our favorite plants.
We are contractually obligated to comment that…
Do we say that every time?
The each of the plants we mention is one of our favorite plants.
Okay, but listen.
They kind of… Okay. This is why they’re in this sequence that we’re doing here. These are the plants that we keep on our apothecary shelves. These are the plants that we work with most frequently. There are others like in the cabinets and stuff, you know, and in the kitchen and out here and there. But these are like the regular rotation herbs.
These are ones that make it into tea weekly. Self-heal and pulmonary make it into tea more than once a weekly.
A fair while now it’s been. Lungwort especially has been a common player ever since Covid came around. It’s like well, how about a little extra for the lungs, while we’re at it. Whatever it happens to be here.
Plus, delicious. So tasty. Yes.
Yeah. Learn more in just moments. But first, do you find studying herbalism to be overwhelming? Fret not dear listener. There are lots of ways to study and lots of ways to enhance your learning. And we’ve collected our favorites into a free course for you called Herbal Study Tips.
Maybe you have not tried our online courses yet. And if you haven’t, you should try this one. It’s free, and it will help you to organize your thoughts around studying. Plus listen, everybody learns differently, and everybody has parts of, of herbalism that come easier to them or are more challenging to them. So, there are all kinds of ideas in there, like really fun things that will help you to get herbalism more into your everyday life, so that it is easier for you to learn.
Yeah. A few of our favorite tips include learn like a cat with lots of napping.
Come on. That’s not hard.
That’s pretty good.
That’s pretty good, right?
I like that one. That’s a good one. Write up postcard-sized scripts for common explanations that you find yourself needing to give over and over again, so you can refine it and get the words just the way you want.
Like your elevator pitch.
Choose an herb of the month, and study it, and interact with it every single day. That’s an incredible way to learn. And claim teatime as a radical act of self-care and self-instruction.
I love it. I love it. All right. So, like I said, free course, fun course. And designed to make all of your learning – whether that’s with us, or from other teachers, or from books, or from the plants themselves – more exciting and more effective.
Like all of our courses, this one is based on self-paced video instruction with audio files, integrated discussion threads, weekly Q&A live with us, and an active student community. And did we say free? Did we say it enough times? Did we say it loud enough?
You know what we did not say yet?
What we didn’t say yet is where do you get this fantastic free course? Online.commonwealthherbs.com.
Do you want to know what somebody said to me recently?
They said oh, there’s another. There’s a copycat course with a name that’s almost exactly the same out there. And I was like well, whatever. Gather as many study tips as you can. That’s fine.
The more the merrier. We have always said that we are about community, not competition. So…
The more the merrier. That’s right.
But our stuff you will find at online.commonwealthherbs.com. Okay. One more thing before we get rolling here. This is what we call our reclaimer. This is where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalist and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some good and entertaining and new information to think about and also some ideas to research further. I was improv-ing that just a little bit.
Yeah. Just a little off script. Yeah. It’s good. Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. And this doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey, and it doesn’t mean that you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it was discussed on the internet by your favorite podcasting herbalist or prescribed by your favorite podcasting physician. Either way it’s always your choice to make. Okay.
Do I say this every time too? That like we say this every week, and I still have to read it?
Do I really? I think it every time. I think it every time. But I’m like, do I say that every time too? Am I that predictable?
Yeah. What we have to do is write it up on index cards, so that you can memorize each piece. And then… yeah. That’ll do it.
Prunella vulgaris: Grow Your Own & Harvest the Flower
I have the shorter parts too, and I still don’t remember them. Whatever, whatever, whatever. Self-heal. Prunella vulgaris.
Oh, one of these vulgar herbs.
Right. So, in botanical names, right, you’ll see vulgaris pretty often. And it just means common.
It’s the original word of vulgar. It’s actually why vulgar became a derogatory term. Because listen. Vulgar, it’s like the basic of the 1800s or whatever.
Yeah, it is. Yeah. With the masses, yeah.
It’s not the fancy special Prunella. It’s just the one you find everywhere. It’s the common one, Prunella vulgaris. And hey, let’s start off with it’s such a good thing that you find it everywhere. Because where you don’t find it frequently is in commerce. Prunella is a small plant. It’s low to the ground. It is not large. Okay, if you’re an herb farmer, and you’re going to grow herbs, you’re going to sell them per pound. And you’ve got a row that you’re going to plant, and that row is however many feet long it is, right? It’s only as big as it is. And you could plant nettle, and you would have lots of pounds of stuff to sell. Or catnip. Lots of pounds of stuff.
Because they’re going to grow tall and kind of bushy.
And also, they keep growing back even after you cut them. Or you could grow Prunella, which is like super short. And so you would take up that entire row with just a teeny, tiny little plant, so you won’t end up with as many pounds to sell. It’s just not as profitable. And I don’t kind of want to use the word profitable, because that doesn’t sound awesome. But I mean, it’s not easy to make a living as a farmer in this country.
Right. There are many forms of sustainability, one of which is economic. Yeah. It’s hard. What you’re saying is you take up the same square footage on the ground, but the amount of area and the amount of mass that your plant grows into is so much smaller that it’s hard to…
Yeah. So, a lot of people get frustrated when they can’t purchase self-heal very easily. Usually you can get some every year. But if you miss the window, then you’re kind of just stuck for that year. And people feel a lot of frustration about that. Like, if this herb is so great, why is it so hard to get? And so I like to explain it. Because why it so hard to get is actually very logical, and it’s about like farmers being able to provide for themselves. So, that’s why. But here’s the thing. It is small, but it’s easy to grow, super easy to grow. And so if you yourself get yourself some seeds. And it’s going to be spring someday right now, so you could get them right now. Get yourself some seeds and throw them in your yard. You don’t really… they will literally grow in your lawn. And then don’t let the dog pee on them, right? And then you’ll be able to harvest your own Prunella. I particularly like to harvest the flower spike. The flowers are tucked into a long spike of bracts. And those are like little pockets that the flowers go into. And so you can just snip the flower. And you’ll get more than one harvest off each plant, it’ll be slow over the course of the year, over the course of the summer. But anyway, you can grow it yourself. It’s not difficult. And it’s worth it.
Yeah. It’s a mint family plant. And if you have done any gardening, then that may give you both a sense of ease. And also perhaps a sense of I better watch out that it doesn’t spread all over everything.
It doesn’t, though.
This one is not as, people use this word, aggressive for plants. I don’t know. Is that right? Well anyway, it’s not as aggressive as some of the other mints in terms of taking over your whole bed, and then your whole yard, and then the rest of the state.
Honestly, if it did, it would be fine, because it’s such a helpful plant. And it’s also really pretty.
It’s beautiful. Yeah. So I mean, we found this in a couple of different areas in terms of like landscape and microclimate and that kind of thing. Sometimes in a bright, sunny field, but with some other plants around it that would grow at its same height or even a little taller. So, it’s not like frying in direct sun all day long. Plus that particular field was soggy for most of the year. And I think that that made a difference for Prunella to grow there.
Yeah. It doesn’t really like to dry all the way out, but it doesn’t mind growing in a whole variety of amounts of shade.
We’ve found it in a bunch of different parks or little nature reserves and stuff in Massachusetts.
Where there’s like walking trails.
Yeah. Like if anybody’s from around this area, and you know the rock house. It’s not a big reservation or park or anything.
It’s a couple acres, maybe.
It’s pretty tiny, but like all of the trails there had self-heal all over them, yeah.
Don’t harvest it off public land, because everybody else wants to see the beautiful self-heal too. But seriously, just buy some seeds and literally just throw them in your yard. Don’t let the birds eat them. Whatever, okay. But you just don’t have to work very hard to grow this plant.
Self-Heal & Its Historical Documentation
So, you may be saying okay, cool, but why should I care? Maybe you don’t know self-heal and it’s wonders. So, let’s talk about a couple of them. Maybe start with the name. That often works out well for us on this podcast. Because it’s also called heal-all and a couple of other common English names that are quite similar and give you the sense like, aha. We’ve got a panacea here. We’ve got a fixes every problem kind of a plant. And that again, may give you a feeling of excitement or a feeling of skepticism.
So, okay. Self-heal has a long tradition in European herbal history, but Europe is not the only place that it grows. Prunella vulgaris also grows in Asia. Plants grow in all kinds of places. Like Solomon’s seal grows in Korea and in lots of other places of Asia. And it’s the same species, and they work with it as medicine too, and whatever. So, sometimes plants just show up in lots of places. Because we live in North America, we have this concept of new world plants. Where like oh, there are some plants that didn’t grow where we came from. They only grow here on this continent. But that’s actually not… I don’t know if it’s more common or less common. Maybe it’s a 50/50 split. But the point I’m trying to make is that plants grow all over the world. You’ll find the same plant in other parts of the entire world.
Yeah. Or like they’re differentiated by species, but they’re not different. They’re not different from the herbalist perspective.
Very small differences. Yeah. But in the case of Prunella vulgaris, it is Prunella vulgaris that grows in China. And the reason for talking about all this is because in traditional European medicine, we don’t have as much documentation. There is some documentation, but not as much documentation, and it doesn’t go as far back.
There’s more like lacuna in between. You know, spaces of time when it wasn’t like from this author. This next one is like, thanks Hippocrates. I’m going to do the next project, you know? There’s more of like a, you know, perhaps the collapse of an empire or something. And then somebody else picks it up and says I can do better. And it’s like all right. Cool, Avicenna, it’s your turn. But there’s like time and space in between. And the center of gravity for where a lot of the activity and the sort of academic collection of medical knowledge as well as other knowledge that sort of moved from center to center.
I mean, and so many things in European history were not written down, especially the things that were common. So, the kings and the empires and the whatever, they wrote down their own names, you know, like whatever. And the church wrote things down, so like whatever. But women took care of their families. And so not everybody just wrote down all of our traditional European medicine.
There are recipe books from some of the educated, wealthier households and so on.
Later, later in history, yeah. But the thing about self-heal is that in China they have like 10,000 years of written documentation of their medicinal tradition. And that is fascinating. And the very next thing I want to say is that doesn’t mean that it’s available for us to take. But it is available for all of us to share in collaboration, but not to appropriate. And so what I mean by that is when I see that there’s another culture that also works with the same plant, that’s very interesting to me. And it makes me say hold on a second. I don’t see self-heal being talked about very much. I should go dig further back. I should go back to older books. I should see what I can find. And then the thing is that if you look at PubMed, you also see a tremendous amount of science being done with self-heal in Asia. I mean, the number of studies on Prunella coming out of Asia will make your eyes pop out of your head. And they’re studying it in so many different things that don’t seem like they’re related in any way.
I think it was when we were putting together or when we were filming the material for the Immune Health course that we had a round like this.
Well, and probably also the material medica too, because it just always…
But both times. There were some years in between filming those two courses, right? But I remember when we were poking around, and we were like yeah, self-heal. We should probably include it in immune health. It moves the lymph around. It can be pretty good. And then we were like yeah, okay. Let’s find some studies. Let’s poke around for every course we’re going to cover in here and see some neat stuff. And then you had a whole pile of stuff for self-heal one day. And you were like check all this out. And I said, what, really?
Yeah. I mean, I think that it goes even further back, even when we were teaching that only in person. But seriously, I mean obviously immune health, but even like Alzheimer’s and really so many things that look totally, completely unrelated. And so for me, when I see that kind of thing, you know, great. Like all the studies that are in PubMed, those are available to anybody, the ones that aren’t pay walled. And so that’s really excellent. But what I’m really trying to get at is that when I see that there are two cultures that both work with the same plant. And one of them has a longer tradition of documentation and also an enormous amount of documentation. It really motivates me to do the harder work of finding documentation from the European traditions. It’s out there, it’s just a little bit harder to find. And if you maybe aren’t very familiar with this plant, then you might not be thinking oh, I should definitely go see if Hippocrates was writing anything about self-heal. Or I should definitely go see if there’s anything in King’s Dispensary about self-heal or somewhere in between those two things that were separated by a great deal of time. I should definitely go do a deep dive research project to see if anything’s written about self-heal. If you’re not super familiar with the plant, then you might not be thinking that. But when you see wait a minute, we work with that plant and so does traditional Asian medicine. And wow, they have a lot of documentation. Hold on. I never really did a deep dive. Maybe it’s time for me to go do a bunch of research and see if we can see that in this culture too. So, anyway.
Free Flowing Fluids & Lymphatic for the Legs
Yeah. And you know, you were talking about the variety or diversity of different things that it’s being studied to help with or combat against and all of that. And there is a sort of a unifying element to it.
Oh yes. I kind of implied that it seems like the things didn’t make sense, but yeah.
No, yeah. But the unifying element is we could sum it up and say anti-inflammatory action.
We could, yeah. I mean, maybe we sum it up with alterative. Because listen, so alterative is an old word. And a lot of people try to modernize that word as blood cleanser, but that’s not modern. That’s more like the early 1900 modernization of alterative. I don’t know. And blood cleanser, it’s not a word that makes immediate sense to modern speakers of English. And also it is not actually the most descriptive interpretation of what the word alterative means.
Yeah. It puts a lot of people now in the mind of a cleanse or a detox, a purge kind of a situation. But that is… Well, that’s not the way we work with alteratives, I’ll tell you that much.
No. When I think about alteratives, I think, seriously, I want bumper stickers that say free flowing fluids with a big explanation mark. Oh, you know those yay stickers? Like, yay camping or yay, whatever. Like yay, free flowing fluids. That’s what I think about with alteratives, because yes, it does have to do with blood. But not blood just the red stuff with platelets and red blood cells in it, right? All of the fluids. So, when we think about all of the fluids, lymph, super important, right? It’s like the superhighway of your immune system. And if it’s not functioning, then your immune system is not functioning. And if it’s not functioning, then your inflammatory processes are not functioning properly.
Yeah, they’re going to be exacerbated, harder to put out, burn longer, that kind of thing.
Yeah. And then of course, if all of your fluids are not flowing freely, then parts of your body are not being nourished. And they’re not having the trash taken out. So, they’re starving and drowning in trash. That sounds disgusting.
It sounds pretty bad. We don’t want this to happen.
And so self-heal works on all of those aspects. And when you think about how central that is to the functioning of your entire body, right? That nourishment can get to every cell easily. The quality of the fluids that are transporting that nourishment there is good. Trash can be removed easily. Immune cells can get where they need to go easily. Inflammation can be regulated easily. Like oh, okay. Now I see where this actually is related to basically everything.
Yeah. An alterative, it’s an action not in the same way as like a pharmaceutical action. You know, this aspirin molecule binds to this receptor and tells it not to make pro-inflammatory signals into the body anymore. It prevents it from being able to do that. It’s not even the same as a lot of other herbal actions like say diuretic. Where okay, something’s happened to the kidney, and now there’s more pee coming out. Okay. Pretty straightforward. With alterative it’s a complex of things that all build to that common goal of keeping your fluids freely flowing and clean and healthy, right? And so there’s lots of ways to achieve that. It could be through nourishing you more efficiently, providing some nutrients that were lacking. It can be through making sure that your digestive organs function well to help you break down and absorb those nutrients. It can be to support the activity of your liver and kidneys for filtering and cleaning the blood and eliminating wastes. It can even be things with the bowels and so on. With self-heal it’s actually got several of the alterative actions happening simultaneously, right? When you first drink the tea, you’re going to get this wound healing and anti-inflammatory effect through your GI tract. So, if there’s damage and ulcers and irritations, or just like longstanding inflammation has weakened the mucous membranes or made them more porous – like when we get leaky gut syndrome down in the intestines – self-heal is a really excellent herb to help to resolve that. And if you can do that, then you can improve your nutrient absorption. You can improve the status of your gut flora. You can relieve some stress on your liver from all of that activity and from things getting through your guts that shouldn’t have.
You’re reducing inflammation both in the digestive tract itself, but also throughout the body. Because the digestive tract is better able to regulate what is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Yeah. And that leaky gut thing is a big one, especially because self-heal is so good at helping to resolve leaky gut. Part of what gets through when leaky gut is really bad is microbes that would be fine living in your intestine. But now they’re getting into the liver or into the blood circulation, and your immune system is not cool with that. So, now you get a bunch of issues going on. So, all of that’s happening. But then at the same time, self-heal has this capacity to move lymph. And you have lymphatic channels and vessels and nodes and whatever all twined around your whole digestive tube, right? Because remember that’s you absorbing things from the outside world. And so having some immune response right there. And the lymphatic channels are going to carry the immune responder cells and get them right where they need to be. That’s a good way to surveil what enters the body.
Digestive tube. It makes it seem so simple. It is kind of like a colander of spaghetti, actually.
Each individual spaghetti is a tube. It’s just one tube like lady in the tramp. There’s just one spaghet, and it’s just like a giant mass of it on the plate, except it’s in your guts. That’s your intestines. And then like, okay.
So, but yeah, the self-heal is helping again at like several steps and a bit of a diuretic quality to it as well. So, it’s one of the kind of classic alteratives, because it has several pieces of that puzzle. Yeah.
I’m so hungry. And now I’m like oh, spaghetti and meatballs. There was a song that went with it in Lady and the Tramp. Isn’t that the pizza pie song? That sounds delicious also.
When the moon hits your knees and you mispronounce trees, sycamore-ay. I heard it on the internet. I can’t take any credit for that one.
Oh wait, okay. One more thing about self-heal and that’s legs.
All right. My thing with the knees got you though, okay.
It did. No, but so when we think about alteratives, right, there’s a whole category. Or we can even simplify it and say specifically lymphatic stimulants. So, self-heal can do many things. One of the things it can do is act as a lymphatic stimulant. And so when we think about lymphatic stimulants, they do have areas of influence that they like best. So, if you think about violet, for example, the area of influence is in the pulmonary cavity, like around the breast, around the lungs in that whole area. When we think about calendula, I’m usually thinking about like the lower trunk.
Yeah. And so, when we think about ground ivy, I’m thinking about ear-nose-throat kind of lymphatic movement. When I think about self-heal, self-heal is my all around It’ll work in a pinch, but I’m really thinking about lower body fluids.
At some point self-heal supplanted clover, red clover, as you’re all around do it everywhere.
No, red clover too. The two of them are really closely tied in my mind.
But I feel like if you do have to pick an area for each of them, then they are different. Red clover is another pectoral, chest, breast, lung situation.
Yeah, it’s true. It’s true. But also a lot of kidney stuff going on there, yeah. Okay. Self-heal in the legs. And I care a lot about that, because I’ve had varicose veins since I was 16 years old. And I just get a lot of fluid stagnation in my legs. And self-heal just helps to keep that stuff moving.
Yeah. And look, please don’t be saying that’s a venous problem. That has nothing to do with lymph. Guys, the fluid all has to go somewhere.
All the fluids are fluids.
It’s not like these are walled off tubes that never connect to each other. That’s the whole point of the capillary bed and the extracellular space and all of that.
Right, right, right. Okay. There are some tubes,
So yes, lymphatics can help with varicose veins. I’ve seen people who want to push back on that and be like you don’t understand this problem mechanically. And it’s like well okay, but I’ve seen people’s legs have less fluid in them after they drink the self-heal tea for a while. So, what about that?
Yeah. No, it is. It’s not just about the blood in the veins, it’s about all of the fluid. If lower leg fluid stagnation were only about blood, first of all, then you wouldn’t have enough blood to run the rest of your body, because all your blood would be stuck in your legs. So, that would be bad. But also your legs would be entirely blue. And they’re not. And if you’re a person who has a lot of varicose veins and did from a very young age, then you probably also have some of those bruises that never go away, because they’re not actually bruises. They’re actually associated with the varicosities and whatever. And they’re always kind of a little purply. Never quite all the way to blue, but like dark purple kind of thing going on or maybe like blotchy dark purple. But if it was just about blood, your whole leg would be that color, and it’s not. There’s all this other fluid activity. And we have to consider all of it, all the fluid activity. It’s not just the blood. It’s not just the lymph. It’s all of it together. Think of the blood vessels. Think of the lymphatic vessels. Think of all the capillary beds. Think of it like a highway where there’s like a… You know, you drive on the highway, and there’s like lanes. But then sometimes there’s like a HOV lane, like a high occupancy vehicle lane. And it’s just a lane on the highway, but it has like a little division. So that you can only get in it if you have more than one person in the car, and that way you’re allowed to drive faster. That’s like blood vessels. It’s all on the highway. They’re all going in the same direction. They’re all whatever. And you get there the same way, because you’re in the capillary bed. And now you’re going to choose your lane. And then you’re going to get in your lane, and the sign says stay in lane. So okay, we’re going to do that, but we’re all flowing. Or in the case of a traffic jam and fluid stagnation, we’re not flowing. Self-heal.
Self-heal for when a lake has appeared in the middle of your highway.
Taking Tea & Overlap with Other Herbs
Sure. Yeah, yeah. Good friend. We like it primarily as tea. A lot of times when you’re trying to move lymph around, it’s a good idea to take your herbs as tea. Introduce a little extra fluid into the system. Give the kidneys a little something to work on. Help to get the rest of the extra fluid out.
A lot of times people are like well, I already have too much fluid. I don’t want more fluid. But the thing is that you don’t want to have no more fluid. Well, you might want anything you want. It’s not up to me to tell you what you want. I don’t want to have no more fluid. I want a fluid exchange. My fluid is stagnant. I need to have fresh fluid that has fresh nutrients and all that other stuff in it. So, I don’t just want to dry myself out. I want a replenishment of fresh, clean, mountain stream resources to think about starting the flow.
Yeah. So, tea’s preferable. You can work with tincture, but those are the primary ways that we’ve gone about it.
Plus you get more mineral content from the tea.
Yeah. That’s true too.
That’s better. Yeah.
Yeah. And it tastes pretty good. You know, self-heal is not a strong flavor. We said it’s in the mint family, but it’s not a minty flavor. I guess mildly bitter, but it’s hardly even worth mentioning.
Yeah. Pretty mild. It’s in the same kind of bitter with quotey marks around it category as like wood betony or something. It’s not that bitter.
Wood betony is a pretty close one flavor-wise.
Also, they do have some resemblance. It’s kind of like self-heal. It’s a teeny tiny, short wood betony. Not exactly. Okay, not exactly. If you look at them, they are different. But from a distance they do have a kind of lovely high and low similarity to them.
Yeah. And that makes me think of carpet bugle, which is also called Ajuga reptans. And I mention this one because it is an even more similar lookalike – that’s the word I want – looks similar plant. Because you know, there’s no such thing as a true lookalike, because if there was, then that would be the same plant. So, it looks similar, yeah. So, carpet bugle is one that it really, really looks very, very similar to self-heal. The differences are in their inflorescence, and whether it has layers of leaves in between the flowers, or whether it’s just all the flowers up top. Also they both have purply flowers, but bugle’s on the blue end of purple, and self-heal is on the pink end of purple. And while we’re mentioning bugle, you’ll see this as carpet bugle or common bugle. It is not the same plant as bugle weed. Totally different.
Yeah. That one’s Lycopus virginicus. This here is Ajuga reptans. And the Lycopus, the bumper sticker of that in contemporary herbalism is this is an herb that’s good for hyperthyroid. And there’s obviously more to it than that. But yeah, don’t get them mixed up. Don’t get them mixed up. But the carpet bugle, the Ajuga here, it’s funny because it looks very similar. And I will admit that there were one or two herb walks where I was so excited that I had found self-heal. And then later we realized no, it was carpet bugle. And I was like oh no. But I told people this would be good for moving lymph and healing wounds. And then we started digging into this plant. And it turns out that this is a wound healer, and a lymphatic, and essentially the exact same medicine purposes.
They’re very similar. They’re very similar. You did not lead anybody too far astray.
Yeah. So, that was a relief. But, you know, always be rigorous about your plant id. One of these years what we should do is we should teach this in reverse. And we should teach about carpet bugle first and then be like and also there’s self-heal. Because we always do it this way. It’s always like self-heal, self-heal, self-heal. Okay. Oh yeah. And then, you know, carpet bugle.
That would be lovely. We should do that.
It gets short shrift, you know?
Yeah. We should do that.
Yeah. But I would love to have a yard full of both of them.
Pulmonaria, Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids, & Full-Bodiedness
And lungwort. Let’s talk about lungwort.
Lungwort and Prunella grow in similar conditions. They’re really happy in similar places. Pulmonaria is a borage family plant. And so one thing to get out of the way right off the bat is yes, Pulmonaria does have pyrrolizidine alkaloids. No, they are not the dangerous kind. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids, it’s plural because it is an entire category of similar alkaloids, some of which cause significant damage to the liver, some of which are reasonably benign.
Right. By which in this case it’s a scale everywhere from this is going to really harm your body, to we don’t think this causes any damage as far as we can tell so far. Because that’s the way things go in science. You don’t say this is perfectly safe forever. You say this doesn’t seem to cause any damage as far as we can tell so far.
Yeah. But I mean, science (TM) got very interested in pyrrolizidine alkaloids and studied the whole borage family and other plants where pyrrolizidine alkaloids are found to try to make differentiations of where the harmful ones are found. And then discovered like hey, some of these aren’t harmful. That’s pretty great. And so there is this really nice study about Pulmonaria, where they were like yeah, we studied this this way, that way, the other way, and also this way too. And yeah, we can’t make it be harmful. So, yeah. That was very nice to find, because I really love lungwort. It’s really a plant… Like I can live without comfrey. Comfrey’s a lovely, beautiful plant, but it’s not super delicious and whatever. Like I can live without it. It’s fine to just grow, and I can just think it’s beautiful.
Comfrey’s one of these herbs that has the PAs that concern us, and so we don’t take it internally.
But lungwort is a plant that really has some unique supportive characteristics and is wicked delicious. I mean so delicious that anybody could just drink it as a cup of tea and feel really happy about it.
Again, it’s not an intense flavor.
No. It’s a tea flavor.
It’s not bitter. It’s not minty. It’s not like flowery. It’s not hot.
It tastes like tea, right? If you’re a person who likes tea, and I don’t mean like complex cool herbal formulas. I mean you just like tea.
You’re going to like Pulmonaria. It’s tasty.
Not as astringent as black tea, especially if you always forget and leave your black tea bags steeping in there forever, like I do.
Or if you do it on purpose, like I do.
Or if you do it on purpose like you do. Yeah. You often describe its flavor as being like broad or like a base note. Like a foundational thing to build the rest of your flavor structure upon.
It’s full-bodied, yes. Much like myself. And you know, the leaves look it too. The leaves are very plump. This is another low growing plant. The flowers look very similar to comfrey flowers. But the really cool thing about Pulmonaria is that the flowers come in groups of two, one pink and one purple. And one is a real pinky pink, and one is a real blue purple. And it’s really funny, because they’re just like in these little pairs. And they’re like pinky pink and bluey purple things. And then the leaves are this super greeny green with white blotches all over them. So, this is a very interesting looking plant. This plant kind of… Listen, herbs have fashion and trends just like clothing. And so Pulmonaria is an herb that used to be really important in traditional European medicine. And it kind of fell out of fashion in the sort of United Statesian herbal revival, whatever. But it isn’t so hard to find. You can usually find it in commerce. And it is really pretty, and it’s really delicious. And it’s not as common anymore, because it used to grow wild everywhere, but habitat loss, right? It needs a sort of wooded area that’s kind of a transition zone from meadow to wooded. And we lose those because, you know, subdivisions, malls, whatever. Can we just deconstruct all the malls and turn them back into wooded areas?
I mean, some of them have been turned into housing units and different things. Which, you know, that’s cool as long as you set up the public transit to get people there, and find jobs where they need to go, and everything.
That is cool, yeah. But anyway, Pulmonaria. And so if you have access to any kind of transition land like that, then if you are the steward of that land, grow some Pulmonaria. If you are not the steward of that land, then you can kind of gorilla grow some Pulmonaria, because especially throughout New England, it does belong there. So, yeah.
Yeah. Once you see the leaves – and if you need to go ahead and pause and look up a picture of Pulmonaria officinalis leaf – they’re very distinctive. You will know it when you see it.
You will never get it wrong.
When you see it again later, you’ll be like I think that’s lungwort. You don’t have to wait for the flowers to show up.
You’ll get it for sure. Yeah, the leaves are so distinctive. Yes.
Yes. That’s really nice.
Moving Moisture to the Lungs, Enjoying Tea, & What’s in a Name
And so one of the reasons that they’re so pleasant is a lot of times you have a lung infection. And it is wet, and gurgly, and gross. And so you want those hot kind of drying expectorants.
Yeah. You want to drink garlic and sage tea. You want to do a thyme steam, right? You want to heat that stuff up, and cut through the phlegm, and get it out of you. Yeah.
But sometimes you’re a cold, dry person, and you have a hacking cough. Or you’re a cold, dry person, and your lungs are also cold and dry, and you have a lung infection. Or you have a lung infection, and maybe you’re a smoker. And so you already…
You can be hot and dry too.
Yeah. You’re already in this kind of place of dryness and then oops, an infection on top of it. And in all of those cases okay, I still would recommend a thyme steam. Because that’s coming in on the steam, so it brings some moistening action with it. And it is so helpful in an antimicrobial kind of way. But I’m not going to want this person necessarily to be drinking tons of garlic and sage, because that’s not going to be really soothing for their lungs. It’s going to be sharp and drying in their lungs.
It’s a pretty drying combination that, you know. So, yeah. And not every cough is the same problem, right? That’s why we don’t have the herbs for cough, right? It’s better if you’re like well, here are some herbs that are for the wet cough, and herbs for the dry cough, and so on. But it’s even better than that if you say well, herbs can accomplish things. And what they can do can be helpful in this particular situation. That doesn’t make the herb for that thing, right? The herb is well, for itself. The herb is for the herb. The plant is for the plant. They’re out there trying to make some seeds.
Yeah. They are living their lives doing their thing. And they don’t need us. But it’s nice when we spread the seeds, and bring them water, and all those other good things. And protect their land.
So, yeah. So, these kinds of plants that can move moisture to the lungs, that can loosen up some stuck phlegm or some caked on soot. Hey, you’re not always a smoker, but sometimes you breathe a lot of smoke. All of my friends in California, right?
All the wildfire people.
Not that it’s the only state, but yeah. A lot of folks have been sharing over the last several years here’s my favorite plants for when it’s wildfire season, because that’s the thing now. And you see the usual suspects, right? You see mullein. You see marshmallow. Lungwort belongs in that company on that team.
Yes. So, tasty, so soothing.
Tea only. I don’t know. Did we make a Pulmonaria tincture once? I feel like I wouldn’t be so inclined to even bother.
Okay. I would never be inclined to bother. But I actually think that you probably didn’t ever do it either.
I mean, it’s fun to tincture a lot of random things just to see what you get. You know how we are about marshmallow tincture. I don’t really see the point but do it once anyway just to just have done it. And make your own decisions, because you don’t have to take my word for anything. But yeah, lungwort, it’s a tea ingredient. It goes in there with herbs in the water, you know?
Yeah. Really anytime that we’re talking about herbs that moisten the body, you need water. You can make a tincture out of linden. It’s not going to be so moistening. You can make a tincture out of marshmallow leaf. You can do that. It’s not really going to be very moistening. If you want your moistening plant to be moistening, there needs to be moisture involved, and that’s water. So, make it as tea.
Yeah. And lungwort, like we said, the flavor is compatible with so many other things. And so it’s not to say that you never work with a moist herb like lungwort for somebody who has a little dampness going on. You put a formulation together.
Yeah. No, I drink lungwort all the time. This is a plant that we often put in tea that we’re both going to drink. Because I like my tea to be on the dry side. But Ryn’s already dry, so we can’t just leave it that way. And honestly, I also don’t want to completely dry myself out. And I do drink drying teas a lot. So, lungwort is often a kind of pivot point that will put in that smooths out a dry tea blend. That that blend will feel fine in my body, but it would feel like exacerbating of dryness in your body,
Right. Yeah. So, really handy to have plants like that. And I would probably consider this one to be a little less soothing to GI upset in comparison to marshmallow. But most plants are less soothing to GI upset in comparison to marshmallow. That’s not a knock against lungwort is what I’m getting at. It really is a respiratory-focused plant in that regard. One note here before we wrap up this one, we keep using this common name lungwort. And this is one of several cases where there are multiple plants that share the same common name, whether in English or other language. And so you want to be clear about your species. And so we’ve tried to say Pulmonaria a lot of times, so you know what we’re talking about. But if you just go searching for lungwort herb information, you might run into a lichen called Lobaria. And this is going to be a little tricky, right? So, this one is genus name Lobaria, species name pulmonaria.
Yeah, that’s unfortunate.
Because we’ve been talking about the plant that’s genus name Pulmonaria and species name officinalis.
Yeah. That one. Listen, the botanists are always out there recategorizing things and whatever else. Maybe we could just rename that, the lichen, a little. Give it a different species.
A differentiating species something, yeah. But it’s there for the same reason, right? They’re saying like oh, here’s this lobed lichen, which has effects on your pulmons, right, that’s affecting your lungs. And like so many Latin names, and why we indulge ourselves in linguistic play a lot, is because the names teach you something. They tell you about the plant. And in this case they say, let’s all breathe easier.
Right? Pulmonaria. It is the official herb of the pulmons.
There we go. All right. Okay. Well that’s it for this week. Before we go, don’t forget Herbal Study Tips. Free for you. An online course to help you enjoy studying and find other ways to do it.
And to let it be fun and to find study methods that fit with your learning style.
Yeah. So, you can find that and all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. We’ll be back next time with some more Holistic Herbalism Podcast for you. Until then take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
Keep the fluids freely flowing and breathe easy.
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