Isle of Coll Machair Collection ‘Self Heal’

posted in: One Man's Island | 2


Healing Powers of Self Heal.

During the Summer months most of Coll is covered in a carpet of wild flowers known as the ‘Machair’. The ‘Feall’ area is fantastic for it, so this week I headed out to see what I could capture. There was loads to see but in this blog I’ll be concentrating on a little flowering plant known as ‘Self Heal’.

Self Heal (Prunella Vulgaris) is a tenacious plant that tends to stay low to the ground to avoid the forces of the weather. Especially out here in the windswept Hebrides. It attracts bees and butterflies when flowering and is edible. Self-heal, as the name suggests was once a sought-after medicinal herb by herbalists and country dwellers. In times gone by, it was widely used to cure a variety of health ailments.


Each tubular flower is about 1 cm long and divided into two lips. The upper lip is light purple and functions as a hood, while the lower lip is whitish and fringed. The lower lip also has two lateral lobes that are smaller and light purple. The calyx is light green or reddish and quite hairy along the edges. There is no noticeable floral scent. The self-heal flower generally blooms from mid to late summer and lasts up to two months. Each flower produces four tiny seeds, which are located in the calyx. 

Calyx definition : The sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud.

The complex flower head takes a bit of getting accustomed to and is well worth a close inspection (see photo).Each of the tubular flowers can have different stages in development, giving it a ragged appearance. The photo I have shown here is a good example of a very uniformed flower head. When all the purple flowers eventually fall, the remaining brownish ‘bracts’ can look like a completely different plant. Each individual flower is pollinated separately by bees. While I was here I spotted a rare ‘Great Yellow Bumblebee’.


Self-heal leaves are opposite and can grow up to 5 cm long and 2 cm across depending on conditions. They are broadly lanceolate (shaped like a lance head) or ovate, with short ‘petioles’ ( the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) and have scattered white hairs along the central vein on the undersides. Self-heal leave’s margins can be smooth or have scattered blunt teeth.


Self-Heal grows in many countries around the world and seems to like disturbed areas. Habitats include moist to mesic black soil prairies, alongside rivers and lakes, meadows, thickets, forest openings, woodland borders, pastures, and abandoned fields….and of course the Machair of the Hebrides.

Edible parts:

Self-heal is edible and medicinal. The leaves and flowers contain high levels of antioxidants (which prevent cancer and heart disease). It has been used for centuries as medicine. Raw self-heal leaves are edible, suitable as a pot herb and have a subtle bitter taste. Although they taste better cooked, a lot of the nutrients are lost (as they are in vegetables as well) in this process. Toss leaves onto a salad, in a soup or stew or once you have mashed potatoes, add them to this. A cold water infusion of freshly chopped (or dried) leaves makes a nourishing drink. (Boil water to make tea as well.) This is a plant that can help many health ailments.

There are many published remedies, both ancient and modern. When made into an ointment, this salve is good for cleaning and clearing up wounds and infected cuts. The juice combined with oil of roses to anoint the temples has good effect at removing headaches. (must try this with my next hangover 😉

When mixed with the honey of roses, it is said clean up mouth and throat ulcers. It is also known for it’s medical properties with problems relating to liver, spleen and kidneys.

As well as all this it also looks amazing.

The attached photograph was taken from above and shows all it’s little intricacies.

What a marvelous little plant! 


In this shot I used my trusty 100mm macro lens.

machair Self Heal



2 Responses

  1. Martin Mclaughlin

    Love it Al … magic blog ?

  2. What’s next I wonder. Thanks Martin.

Leave a Reply to Martin Mclaughlin Cancel reply