Eczema can be a painful, irritating, and often embarrassing experience for people of all ages. There is no known cure for the chronic skin condition in the world of Western medicine. But Chinese medicine may have the answer you’re looking for.
Little 3-year-old Alice had severe infantile eczema a week after she was born. She suffered from pain, itching, and swelling, which often made her cry after waking up. Alice’s mother Alexandra took her from clinic to clinic, tried all the drugs available, but nothing worked. Her condition flared up from time to time, and Alexandra became desperate.
One day when Alexandra told a co-worker about Alice’s plight, a Chinese co-worker overheard and recommended that Alexandra try a Chinese herb, which is very common and popular in China. After using the herb for two weeks, Alice eczema disappeared. Alexandra was so grateful. Alexandra was so amazed that a roadside herb could turn into such an effective medicine.
What was the herb that helped Alice’s eczema? It was the ordinary Prunella vulgaris, commonly know as the self-heal plant. Alexandra had only used boiled Prunella water to bathe Alice in.
In China, Prunella is used to enhance eyesight, cleanse the liver, and reduce swelling.
Pharmacological studies have shown that Prunella has strong inhibitory effects over Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Diplococcus pneumoniae.
Prunella is usually harvested in the summer, and the main medicinal part is the half-dry ear or the whole plant. Because it withers once June solstice comes, it is called Xia Ku Cao, which literally means “summer withered grass.” “Prunella is a treasure,” Chinese Herbs Healing wrote: “That’s to say, its medicinal parts include stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and ears. Actually, this herb has long been documented in Chinese medicine classics, and widely used in traditional Chinese medicine.”
Common self-heal—wild medicine herb Prunella vulgaris:
According to Positive Health: “Self-heal is a pretty member of the Lamiaceae family, which grows all over Britain and Europe in pastures, woods, and clearings, and is loved by bees. Although largely neglected by Western herbalists, self-heal is an important herb in Chinese medicine, where it is known as xiakucao (meaning ‘weed that withers in summer’); its spikes of purple flowers turn reddish brown as they dry out during the summer. It is classified as a remedy for clearing heat and purging fire, and is used to cool ‘liver fire.'”
“This is a famous heat-clearing herb. Thanks to its cold medicinal properties, it is commonly used for the treatment of internal heat itself and a range of diseases caused by internal heat, for example, high blood pressure, herpes, goiter, lymphadenectasis, breast hyperplasia, and more. Traditionally, it is taken in the form of decoction. But clinically, it is rare to be used alone since it is less reliable in this case. So, very often, Prunella needs to work with other herbs to bring out its best healing power,” wrote Chinese Herbs Healing.
“According to Chinese medicine, self-heal is bitter, cold, and pungent, and enters the liver meridian, gently reducing liver fire and nourishing the blood. As ‘liver fire’ can be linked to inflammatory eye problems, self-heal is indicated in painful and dry eyes, hypertension, and glaucoma,” Positive Health said. “Its pungency disperses stagnant qi and constrained heat, and it helps resolve lumps and nodules caused by stagnation of liver qi and accumulation of phlegm and heat.”
Positive Health gives us some modern medicinal uses:
Immune system: Just as the name suggests, Self-heal is used to enhance your own healing powers and improve immunity. It is an effective antibiotic against a range of bacteria, and has a potent antiviral action, including activity against HIV and viral hepatitis. This is combined with an immunomodulatory effect of the polysaccharides helpful in lowered immunity, HIV, chronic fatigue syndrome, and allergies.
Self-heal has an affinity for the lymphatic system, is useful for swollen glands, mumps, glandular fever, and mastitis. In Chinese medicine, it is used for resolving accumulations and masses, particularly in the upper body (chest, throat, and head). According to the Shennong Bencao Jing, Self-heal is used for “breaking concretions and dispersing bound qi of the neck.” It is still used in formulae for treating thyroid swellings and breast lumps, as well as mumps. When taken in hot infusion, the diaphoretic action increases sweating and helps reduce fevers.
Rosmarinic acid contributes to the antioxidant effects of Self-heal, while research suggests it has antimutagenic effects, indicating its possible use as an anticancer herb. Urosolic acid is a diuretic that has also been shown to have anticancer properties and helps to clear toxins and excess uric acid via kidneys. It is recommended in the treatment of gout.
Skin: Self-heal has a reputation as a detoxifying herb and is used for boils and other inflammatory skin problems. In Chinese medicine, it is classified as a fire-purging herb, as it is used for inflammation and infections of the eyes and skin.
Nervous system: Self-heal’s relaxant properties can be helpful in headaches, particularly when related to tension, vertigo, over-sensitivity to light, and high blood pressure. It is used in China for hyperactivity in children.
Digestive system: As an astringent, Self-heal can be taken for diarrhea and inflammatory bowel problems, such as colitis. The bitters can be helpful in liver and gall bladder problems, including viral hepatitis.
External uses: Tinctures or infusions can be used as astringent gargles for sore throats and mouthwashes for mouth ulcers and bleeding gums. The tea can be used, or the fresh plant rubbed on to the skin to stop bleeding from cuts and reduce swelling from bites and stings. Self-heal can also be used for inflammatory skin problems, piles, varicose veins, and ulcers, as well as in drops for inflammatory eye problems.
Cautions/contraindications: Self-heal is considered safe if used appropriately.
Herb/drug interactions: Self-heal should be used concurrently with insulin and other hypoglcyaemic medications (eg., Chlorpropamide).
It’s important to note that by self-treating a chronic condition with Prunella vulgaris and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you are considering using Prunella vulgaris in the treatment of a chronic condition, make sure to consult your physician.
Research by Monica Song and Alan Cheung