Micro-Season: “The Common Self-Heal Dries”

We have entered the micro-season of “The Common Self-Heal Dries”.  This is the first micro-season of the mini-season of Summer Solstice.  The other micro-seasons within Summer Solstice are:

  • The Common Self-Heal Dries (Jun 21 – Jun 25)
  • The Iris Flowers (Jun 26  -Jun 30)
  • The Crow-dipper Sprouts (Jul 1- Jul 6)

These seasons were established in 1685 by Japanese astronomer Shibuka Shunkai and are specific to Japan. However, just because the calendar focuses on Japan doesn’t mean it isn’t applicable to others.  No matter where you live you can use these seasons as a starting point for your personal exploration of the world around you. 

As a way to celebrate this season, we are going to learn how to identify the common self-heal, discuss its potential medicinal properties, and then read some haiku from Issa, Basho, and others.  


The Summer Solstice 

In the 72-season calendar, the mini-season of Summer Solstice runs from June 21 to July 6. 

The term solstice refers to the time when the sun’s path is the farthest north or south from the equator. Depending on what hemisphere you are in, either in the northern or southern hemisphere, influences whether you experience a summer or winter solstice at the time of the solstice.

For those in the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice is on June 21 of this year. The summer solstice marks the official start of the astronomical summer.  The winter solstice, which is the official start of the astronomical winter, will occur on December 21 this year.  

If you are interested in learning more about the timing of past or future solstices, the US Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department put together a searchable database that will allow you to look up the solstices, the equinoxes, and the apsides for any timezone between the years 1700-2100. 

Just in case you are like me and don’t know what an “apside” is, they are defined as “points on the orbit of a planet or satellite that are nearest to or furthest from the body around which it moves”(1)  When accessing the Astronomical Applications database, the “planet” they are referring to is the earth and the “body around which it moves” is the sun. 


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The Common Self-Heal

The common self-heal is a plant with many names.  Its scientific name is Prunella vulgaris, and it is a herbaceous, edible plant, that is a member of the mint family.  Some of the other names given to Prunella vulgaris are heal-all, woundwort, heart-of-the-earth, carpenter’s herb, brownwort, or blue curls.(3)

Like other plants in the mint family, the self-heal has toothed leaves that grow opposite of each other on a square stem.  The leaves will be either egg-shaped or lanced-shaped.  

The flowers of the self-heal can be violet or purple, and they grow around spikes, or heads, that are associated with overlapping bracts.  A bract is a “modified, usually small, leaflike structure often positioned beneath a flower.(4)  Bracts can sometimes be confused with flower petals because of their proximity to the main flower.

The common self-heal grows in fields, gardens, pastures, and along roadsides.  This plant has adapted so well to humans that there is a variation of the self-heal that grows in lawns and will flower when it is about two inches tall. This is very different from the one to two-foot growth height of some more wild versions.(5)

Common-Self Heal - short version from my yard
Common-Self Heal – short version from my yard

In the United States, the self-heal typically blooms between May and September.  This is very different than what is stated in this micro-season.  The authors of the 72 Season app state that in Japan the self-heal starts to bloom in December and starts to die off around the summer solstice.(6) 

If I was going to rewrite this micro-season for my location in northern Vermont, I might call it “The Common Self-Heal Blooms”


Medicinal Uses

The Prunella vulgaris’ common names like “self-heal” and “heal-all” are a result of the plant’s medicinal uses.  Prunella vulgaris is probably most known for its ability to treat conditions related to the throat.  However, there have been some recent studies indicating that Prunella vulgaris is effective in treating general inflammation, protecting against cancer, preventing diabetes complications, and treating herpes.(7)  These scientific studies are somewhat limited and more research needs to be done before the western medical community will fully support the healing properties of Prunella vulgaris.

With that said, the traditional healers of China consider Prunella Tea a very effective treatment. The Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation says the following about Prunella vulgaris:

“Prunella (Chinese pinyin name: xia ku cao) is used classically in traditional Chinese medicine to help the Liver function more smoothly and to break up masses and lumps. Having a bitter, acrid flavor, it also is used to address eyeball pain and tearing of the eyes as well as an aversion to light. Prunella helps relieve sinew and bone pain, pulmonary tuberculosis, acute icteric (jaundice) infectious hepatitis, and uterine bleeding.”(8)

To make Prunella Tea you add dried Prunella vulgaris to water and simmer. It is recommended that you drink this tea a few times a day as part of your treatment regimen. 

Tea Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com
Tea Photo by Mareefe

Some Prunella Tea recipes suggest adding carrots or melon to your tea.(9) This is probably to balance out the bitter and acrid taste of straight Prunella vulgaris


Haiku About Tea

Since this micro-season is referring to the drying of self-heal, and dried self-heal is used to make tea, I thought that this week’s haiku could focus on tea!

The first haiku comes from Kobayashi Issa.

morning after morning
my tea tastes better…
falling mist
-Issa

I really like this haiku by Issa. Specifically, I enjoy the imagery of sipping tea on a misty morning with pen and paper to write haiku.

Our next tea haiku comes from Matsuo Basho.

drinking morning tea
the monk is quiet
as is the mum flower
-Basho

The above translation is from Jane Reichhold.  An alternative translation of this haiku is given to us by Sam Hamill.

Taking morning tea, 
the monk remains in silence - 
chrysanthemums bloom
-Basho

Out of these two translations, I prefer Jane Reichhold’s translation. What do you think?

Here is one more tea-related haiku by Basho.

sensing autumn's approach
four hearts draw together
in a small tea room
-Basho

This haiku is shifting the act of drinking tea from a solitary action to a communal event. Perhaps Basho was noticing that sometimes it is more enjoyable to share tea with others.

Similarly, haiku is often written independently. However, sometimes it is nice to share haiku with others. And how about sharing haiku written about tea? I bet that is even better.

I was able to find two online spaces where haiku about tea have been collected. I encourage you to visit these sites, read these wonderful haiku, and share them with a friend.

A teacup: photo by Min An on Pexels.com
A teacup: photo credit by Min An

Resources:

  1. “Apsis” Oxford Language for Google
  2. “Earth’s Seasons – Equinoxes, Solstices, Perihelion, and Aphelion”;  US Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department 
  3. “Prunella vulgaris”: Wikipedia
  4. Bract”; Britannica 
  5. “Prunella vulgaris”: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
  6. 72 Season App
  7. Prunella vulgaris”: Healthline
  8. “Prunella Tea”: TCMworld.org
  9. “Chinese Herbal Tea”: Wok and Kin
  10. Basho’s haiku and various translations were found in “Matsuo Bashō’s haiku poems in romanized Japanese with English translations” edited by Gábor Terebess

Want to support our work? Visit the Naturalist Weekly bookstore and browse our curated lists of books of poetry and haiku. Or pick up a gift card that can be used throughout the store.   

Naturalist Weekly accepts donations for coffee (and tea!) and journals
Naturalist Weekly accepts donations for coffee (and tea!) and journals

11 thoughts on “Micro-Season: “The Common Self-Heal Dries”

Add yours

  1. I love these haiku, especially the last one. I am not a summer person, and I love the turning of the seasons toward home and hearth in autumn and winter. Hunker down with those you love, for simple pleasures like a warm tea.

    These microseasons are a bit out of sync with me, since my irises are gone, and my orange lilies are blooming.

    1. Yes, we are a bit out of sync with these seasons too. Every now and then we line up, but then these ones are not really close to what is happening around here. It is a plan to make a northern Vermont calendar with seasons like “The Pin Cherry Blooms” and “The Tamarack Grows New Needles”. T
      I am glad that you like the haiku. There is something special about sharing tea around a fire with others! Thanks for the comment. Talk soon,

    1. Hi Cindy, thank you! It was a little bit of a leap between self -heal and tea haiku. But I think it worked. I hope you are having a good week.

  2. Lovely take on dried leaves 🙂 , how about this Haiku from the Japanese poet Issa:
    茶の煙柳と共にそよぐ也
    cha no kemuri yanagi to tomo ni soyogu nari

    the tea smoke
    and the willow
    together trembling

    1. This one is great! I have read a few haiku lately that had a willow in them. I think I need to research the willow connection to Issa and Basho.Thanks so much for sharing and adding to this post.

    1. Hi Melanie, I appreciate your tea enthusiasm! I haven’t been able to drop my coffee habit and make a full transition to tea. It would probably be better for me. But the draw of coffee in the early morning is so tough to resist.
      Are you a no-coffee person?

      1. I like both! I do coffee in the Am and then either a cup of tea or coffee in the afternoon. At night I might have a decaf tea like mint or stash has this really good Decaf Vanilla Chai that it smooth and really good. We are addicted to it and I only tried it because it was on sale. Most sachet chai teas are terrible, but this one is an impressive exception.

      2. I have never thought about evening decaf tea, and decaf vanilla chai sounds like it is worth trying out. Thanks for the suggestion! My goal this year was not drink coffee past 3:00 pm. I think I am successful 75% of the time.

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