Unprecedented cheerfulness erupted on our lawn, such as it is, in May this year. Despite emotional headaches of our own through the summer, it gathered momentum right into the middle of September.

We were beset, I mean, with an abundance of heal-all and then a tremendous grove of eyebright.

The lawn gets the qualifier “such as it is” because, not to put too fine a point on it, “lawn” is a euphemism for the area around our house that is not overrun by birch and fir saplings and has a variety of grass species growing with more and less success over certain swaths. The soil is made of crumbling rusty ledge and a typical northern New England crust of leaf-loam. Much of the year the surrounding pines, oaks, hemlocks, cedars and beeches confine the yard largely to shadows, and hair-cap moss has colonized the margins where in a lighter climate you might hope grass would grow.

Anyway, droves of heal-alls invaded the shadiest parts of the lawn during the summer, more than I’ve ever seen before. Their square stems are mostly 2 to maybe 4 inches tall, throwing little purple flowers shaped like smiling lips directly out of the sides here and there so hardly any individual plant looks like it’s in full flower. They brightened up even the north lawn this summer, which gets only morning sun.

It was kind of disconcerting. What got into the heal-all?

I don’t know. But I spent my grass-mowing sessions steering around the thickest outpourings just to preserve the charm of their color. When I got out the books to learn what, exactly, was the silent attraction, it turned out that heal-all — also called self-heal, woundwort and Prunella vulgaris — is a long-known remedy for many ailments, especially mouth and throat inflammations.


In China it’s called xia ku cao (not that I knew that when I lived there years ago) and is thought to help with dizziness and headaches and to improve vision. In Europe it’s been a base for poultices to stop bleeding from open wounds. A herb expert in Waldo, Tom Seymour, recounts that when he had dysentery as boy, a decoction of it made by his grandfather (who called it bumblebee weed) saved his life.

After the onset of the heal-all, the ledgy, dry area beside the shed spawned its annual crop of eyebright. But this year, what’s usually a scattered band turned into a large grove in one carpet-sized area. The little 3- or 4-inch plants chased the normal stray hawkweeds and daisies, and even its snapdragon cousins the butter-and-eggs, out of the way up against the shed and the foot of the wood pile.

The tiny eyebright corolla resembles common speedwell, but the petals are pale, rich lavender with fine dark strokes: two little lobes pointing upward like a water droplet splash over a lower lip of three notched lobes. When you get down on their level you seem to be looking through strange miniature trees part-way along the back road to Oz.

The grove by the shed might be a forest on another world.

It seems to be called eyebright because in olden times infusions of it were used to remedy eye inflammations and sties and to relieve eye strain. There are also indications it might alleviate a cold, sore throat or allergy. The genus name, euphrasia, appears to share roots with Euphrosyne, one of the ancient Greek Graces, who was an apparition of the joyful aspect of Aphrodite. Whatever that means.

For us, as it happened, this was a summer of finding a way through some mottled emotional shadows of our own. The eyes can’t be cured without attention to the head, some ancient saying goes, and those tiny cool-colored lavender and purple blossoms were little lawn charms for the mind. A biotic incantation of composure, like sophrosyne talking daylight, if you could just see them from the right angle.

Not really, you know. The woods don’t care, as the wilderness guides warn their nature-loving clients. On the other hand, a clear view of sunlight streaming in through a grove of trees can be a moment-by-moment deliverance even when you’re under the weather. The heal-all and the eyebright, I mean.

Dana Wilde lives in Thorndike. His writings on fall, winter, spring and summer in Maine are collected in “The Other End of the Driveway,” available from Booklocker.com.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.