By: Liz Baessler
Betony is an attractive, hardy perennial that’s perfect for filling in shady spots. It has a long blooming period and self-seeds without an aggressive spread. Keep reading to learn more wood betony information.
Wood Betony Information
Wood betony (Stachys officinalis) is native to Europe and is hardy to USDA zone 4. It can tolerate anything from full sun to partial shade, making it a popular choice for shady areas where few flowering things will thrive.
Depending upon variety, it can reach heights of anywhere between 9 inches (23 cm) and 3 feet (91 cm). The plants produce a rosette of slightly scalloped leaves that then reach upward in a long stalk that blooms in clumps along the stalk, making for a distinctive look. The flowers come in shades of purple to white.
Start from seed in autumn or spring, or propagate from cuttings or divided clumps in spring. Once planted, growing betony plants will self-seed and spread slowly in the same area. Allow the plants to fill in an area until they become overcrowded, then divide them. It may take them three years to reach critical mass in sunny spots and as long as five years in the shade.
Betony Herb Uses
Wood betony herbs have a magical/medicinal history dating back to Ancient Egypt and have been used to treat everything from shattered skulls to silliness. Today, there is no scientific evidence that wood betony herbs have medicinal properties, but plenty of herbalists still recommend it to treat headaches and anxiety.
Even if you’re not looking for treatment, betony can be brewed into a good substitute for black tea and makes for a nice base in herbal tea mixes. It can be dried by hanging the entire plant upside down in a cool, dark, dry place.
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Wood Betony Monograph
This darling plant has kept me intrigued since I was first introduced to it growing in my teacher’s herb garden a decade ago. It was sometime afterwards that I was able to experience the tea, and I remember feeling a distinct expressive calm radiating from my center. Drinking it again as I write I sense why it was commonly employed as a reliable and comforting ‘proper’ tea substitute “it has somewhat the taste of tea and all the good qualities of it, without the bad ones” – Maude Grieves. It is very smooth, pungent, nutritive, slightly moistening, and astringing at the same time. It has a decidedly calming effect in general and on the stomach in particular. In stronger infusions I can sense a slight acridity in the back of my throat that I have come to associate with some of it’s more magical or mysterious actions. Wood Betony also appears to have the curious effect of increasing my dream recall the dreams are more lucid and often include the appearance of a benevolent being or ally. William Salmon, writing in early 16 th century England, describes one of Wood Betony’s actions as “incarnative “. I believe that this accurately and evocatively sums up the central movement of the plant. It is a superlative remedy for bringing one back into their body and becoming reacquainted with the older instinctual knowing residing in the solar plexus, or ‘gut’. I lived for a time with a boy, then 6 or 7 years old, who experienced frequent stomach cramping and general nausea. This often concurred with a debilitating headache that left him lying on the couch for long periods of time in a detached state. His energy felt hot (like many children), ungrounded, and stuck in his head. Tincture of Wood Betony quickly brought these fluctuations to a minimum and eventually they were undetectable. Best of all he seemed to love the tincture and touted it as his personal remedy, or maybe even a constitutional ally. Wood Betony has served likewise for me when I have had need of it.
Genus & Species: Originally Betonica officinalis (Linnaeus), currently Stachys officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae – Mint family
Common names: Wood Betony, Bishop’s wort, Chastra (Arab), Betony – some authors have proposed that this word comes from the Celtic bew – head, and ton – good (Grieves, 1971)
Description: Wood Betony is a small to medium sized herb native to the temperate forests of central and southern Europe. William Salmon states that in England “the common sort is usually found in Woods and Coppices, and other shady places throughout the Kingdom, and is many times nursed up in gardens” (Salmon, 1710). Indeed in North America it is mostly “nursed up,” though it sometimes becomes naturalized. It has small softly lobed heart shaped leaves that for the first part of its life cycle grow in a rosette close to the ground. In June or July the plant sends up a slender stalk that hangs well above the leaves and contains a short purple red spike flower. It is a perennial in most temperate climates and has a thick, woody root. The leaves are alternate on a square stem and have fine hairs that make them rough to the touch.
Energetics: Though some consider Wood Betony cooling (Easley, 2016) I would have to agree with William Salmon “they [the qualities] are hot and dry in the second degree” (Salmon, 1710). I find Wood Betony to be an uplifting and slightly warming relaxing aromatic.
Taste: Sweet, Pungent, Aromatic, somewhat Diffusive, Demulcent and Astringent (aftertaste) – containing a hint of Acridity in the back of the throat in strong infusions.
Tissue States: Constriction (Tension), Atrophy, Depression
Actions: Carminative, Relaxing Nervine, Sedative, Nervous System Trophorestorative, Expectorant, Cholagogue, Emmenagogue, Bitter, Vulnerary, Alterative, Diaphoretic, Cerebral Circulant, Analgesic (Anodyne), Styptic, Decongestant (mucolytic), Antiscorbutic, Vermifuge(Anthelmintic), Appetite Stimulant, Hypotensive, Antiseptic, Skeletal Muscle Relaxant, “General Tonic”
Old Fuddy English via Salmon: Abstersive , Discussive, Cephalick, Neurotick, Stomatick, Cardiack, Hysterick, Arthritick, Analeptick, Incarnative
Parts Used: Aerial Parts: leaves, flowers, and stem. “…the whole herb, collected from wild plants in July, when at their best, and dried. Collect only on a fine day, in the morning, but after the dew has been dried by the sun, cut off the stems shortly above the root (which is no longer used, as in olden days)” (Grieves, 1971)
Degree of Action: 2 to 3
Key Uses: Mathew Wood succinctly sums up what may be described as Wood Betony’s modus operandi, or underlying signature: “Wood Betony is a remedy which helps establish rootedness, connectedness, earthiness, and groundedness. It is a plant for people who are cut off from the earth or their bodies. It strengthens the solar plexus – the place that helps us feel connected – and through the solar plexus it strengthens the stomach and the rest of the nervous system, including the brain. Through this general strengthening property, Wood Betony enhances the actions of diverse organs – lungs, liver, gallbladder, intestines, kidneys and uterus. By strengthening the solar plexus and helping people to feel grounded, it has an impact on psychological health which helps explain its magical uses,” (Wood, 1997).
Clinical Uses: Antonius Musa was the physician to Emperor Augustus and the first to publish an account of Wood Betony in 23 B.C, wherein he detailed 47 uses. Maude Grieves’s account of Wood Betony opens by clueing us in to a common thread: “Betony was once the sovereign remedy for all maladies of the head, and its properties as a nervine and tonic are still acknowledged,” (Grieves, 1971). Wood betony has a dizzying number of historical uses and in Renaissance times was considered a general panacea “you should have as many virtues as Betony” was a saying of the time. Its underlying action appears to be through toning and strengthening the nervous system while simultaneously soothing nervous tension (Hoffman, 2003). It is well known as an excellent all-around remedy for headache, especially of a nervous or digestive origin. As an aromatic it is stimulating (carminative) to the digestive organs, relieving tension and gas, and acts as a good supporting or directing herb in any herbal formula directed towards the stomach. In early 20 th century herbalism Wood Betony was used as an alterative in a number of inflictions involving ‘bad blood’ (scrofula, rheumatism, etc.).This makes sense in light of the understanding of alterative as ‘metabolic tonic’. Not surprisingly it has been noted that Wood Betony drunk before or during meals aids in the digestion of meats. Additionally Gerard tells us that “the herb cures the jaundice, falling sickness, palsy, convulsions, gout, dropsy and head troubles, and that the powder mixed with honey is no less available for all sorts of colds or cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath and consumption” (Gerard, 1597). Concerning Wood Betony’s use as an emmenagogue, the Trotula from the 12 th century states: “If women have scant menses and emit them with pain, take some betony or some of its powder, some pennyroyal, sea wormwood, mugwort, of each one handful”. It is interesting to note here that Wood Betony is more often used in formula than on its own. Current clinical applications include its use in formula for various conditions with underlying hypertension. Some use has been reported of the isolated alkaloid Stachydrene for cases of obstructive liver conditions (see studies below). Also a few sources conclude that Wood Betony has a particular affinity to the muscles of the face, neck, shoulders, and middle back, where it acts as a skeletal muscle relaxant (Easley, 2016). In all these conditions it is further recommended if there is accompanying anxiety and nervousness. Perhaps this brings us all the way back to one of its original uses: “Wood Betony was the principal remedy used in the Middle Ages to exercise demons,” (Banckes, 1525).
Studies: “In 49 patients with obstructive jaundice who underwent surgery because they were unresponsive to conventional detoxification therapy, a Stachydrene preparation was given. Stachyrene was administered before and after the operation. Under the influence of the preparation, a more rapid normalization of the indices of homeostasis occurred. The most pronounced effect was noted in patients with benign obstructive jaundice.” (Bastyr, 2003)
“Russians report finding principals in wood betony with anti-inflammatory and cholagogue properties, and significantly hypotensive, but with no reference to human studies” (Duke, 2002).
Constituents: Alkaloids: Stachydrine, Betonicine, Betaine, Choline, Tannins, Flavonoids (including palustrine), Iridoide Monoterpenes, Volatile Oils
Dosage and Method of Delivery:
-William Salmon lists 14 different preparations all with unique indications. It is certainly well worth a look but a bit too long to relate here. Wood Betony is most commonly employed as a simple infusion of the dried plant.
-David Hoffman gives a great modern preparation summary:
“Tincture dosage is 2 to 6 ml three times a day (1:5 in 40%). For an infusion, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herb and infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.”
-This varies only slightly with Michael Moore’s recommendations:
“Tincture of the fresh flowering herb 1:2, Dry Plant 1:5 in 50% alcohol. Dosage is 1/2 to 1 teaspoon up to 4X a day. Standard Infusion as needed, and topically as a poultice.”
Cautions & Contraindications: No know contraindications (American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook – 2 nd edition, 2013). Overdose may irritate the stomach (Duke, 2002). No side effects or drug interactions have been reported (Hoffman, 2003). Fresh leaves are intoxicating (Bastyr, 2003)
– Materia Medica, Michael Moore, 1995
– Handbook of Medicinal Herbs 2 nd edition, Jim Duke, 2002
– American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook – 2 nd edition, 2013
– The Trotula, 12 th Century
– Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman, 2003
– Bastyr University Materia Medica, 2003
– A Modern Herbal, Maude Grieves, 1971
– The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, Thomas Easley, Steven Horne, 2016
– The Earth Wise Herbal A complete guide to old world medicinal plants, Mathew Wood, 2008
– The Book of Herbal Wisdom, Mathew Wood, 1997
Wood Betony Seeds
Chemical-free farm-grown Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) seeds for organic growing.
All seed varieties are grown at our farm or locally and sustainably wildcrafted by us. We gather, process, and package every seed variety we carry ourselves with love and care in small batches. We never purchase seeds from outside sources to resell to you. All of our varieties are open-pollinated, grown without the use of chemicals, hybrid-free and GMO-free.
Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
England and Wales
A pretty garden plant inspiring whimsy, this is another plant of the fairies. Spires of pink flowers rise from a mound of slightly crinkled glossy leaves. Long-lived purple flowers are a favourite of bees & butterflies. Grows 1-2 ft tall. Flowers July to September.
The plants stay fairly small and in a tidy mound, rising to 2ft tall and 1ft wide in bloom.
A sunny position with moderately fertile soil is preferable. Naturally at home in dry grasslands and meadows the plants don't seem to require much water throughout the season.
Seeds do best started in flats indoors in early spring. Germination is spotty, a 50% germination rate is common.
Easy to care for. Does not self-seed or spread. Flower stalks can be cut back after blooming to keep plants tidy.
The aerial parts can be harvested in bloom. The leaves become much more medicinally potent when the plants are grown in full sun, with dry conditions, and harvested once the plants are in flowers.
Wood Betony is a herb of ancient times (note the species name 'officinalis') and was once considered a 'cure all'.
Wood Betony is my go-to for acute anxiety, and more than any other herb I've found it helps one to step out of the spin cycle of debilitating panic episodes. Though not really a sedating herb, Wood Betony is incredibly grounding. She meets you where you are at, and holds your hand there until you get steady.
Even simply chewing on a leaf one can feel their energy sinking back into their body and their feet on the earth once again. She breaks the cycle of anxious thoughts like a wave gently breaking on a soft sandy beach. Also incredible for migraines and tension headaches.
Wood Betony is also useful as a mild digestive tonic and liver herb. Though not strongly aromatic like other Mint Family plants, it's essential oils, bitter and astringent constituents help to gently stimulate appetite, support the digestive process, and tonify the GI tract.
Attracts Pollinators, Woodland Garden, Deer Resistant, Apothecary Garden, Low Maintenance, Drought Tolerant, Container Garden.
Herbs You Can Grow That Help Alleviate Stress
Have you ever brushed against a rosemary plant or rubbed some leaves between your fingers to release the pungent and relaxing aroma? Rosemary is just one of the herbs you can easily grow in your garden or in containers to add to recipes or add sprigs to bouquets of flowers for an aromatic mood-lifter.
Herbs have been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes – especially for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Kava Kava, an herb grown mainly in the Pacific islands can be effective at relieving depression and menopausal symptoms.
The lavender herb is often called “the workhorse of herbs” and is highly effective in lifting moods, reducing anxiety and irritability and helping bouts of insomnia. Lavender keeps on working to act as an anti-bacterial to balance hormones and balance your immune system.
You can brew lavender in tea or place in a diffuser to relax you at bedtime. Licorice Root actually has a natural hormone that can relieve stress. It’s a great substitute for cortisone and can also help your adrenal glands and your power to balance blood sugar levels.
Drink it in tea form. Another great way to relieve stress with a tea is to grow the herb, Passion Flower. It’s a very mild sedative which may help you get a good night’s sleep and is also used for anxiety and depression.
Verbena Hastata (Blue Vervain) has been used since ancient times to cleanse the liver, balance hormones in women and reduce cravings for sugar. It can calm your nervous system and relieve stress for those who especially feel it in the neck and head areas.
If you haven’t heard of the medicinal herb, Ginseng, you may have been living under a rock. It’s a go-to-herb for anxiety, to promote energy, fight depression and help your memory.
Are you plagued by headaches? Try the herb, Wood Betony, an herb used since ancient times for anxiety and tension. Wood Betony helps you focus on what’s important and get on with your life.
Some herbs don’t mix well with prescription medications, so before you brew up herbs for medicinal purposes, do the proper research to find out how they may interact with anything you’re taking.
An herb garden was a necessity during times when over-the-counter medications weren’t available. Now, you can enjoy cultivating herbs in containers if you don’t have a garden space.
Herbs make a great addition to any garden or container space and can usually be grown easily. Online and book help is available that offer hundreds of ways to use these valuable plant additions.
Purple Betony, Bishp's Wort, Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis)
Betony has been prized for its herbal uses for thousands of years. In fact the common name "betony" is said to derive from Celtic words meaning "good" and "head". This is because one of the plant's primary uses historically was for soothing head aches. For non-herbalists betony still makes a beautiful addition to the garden. The foliage forms a low growing rosette of scallop-edged, richly textured leaves with lovely spikes of purple flowers. Blooms are produced over a long season starting in early summer.
Makes a dependable mixed border plant. Looks great in rock gardens. Combines beautifully with small ornamental grasses. Terrific plant for butterfly gardens.
Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings.
Ordinary, well-drained soil.
Basic Care Summary
Tolerates hot, dry conditions. Plant in ordinary, well-drained soil. Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings. Protect from excessive winter moisture.
Perennial herbs can be planted anytime from spring through fall. Plant annual herbs in the spring.
Herbs are ideal for containers. Pots can be brought indoors for the winter and placed near a sunny window for a continuous harvest year-round.
Prepare the garden by breaking up the existing soil (use a hoe, spade, or power tiller) to a depth of 12-16” (30-40cm). Add organic matter such as manure, peat moss or garden compost until the soil is loose and easy to work. Organic ingredients improve drainage, add nutrients, and encourage earthworms and other organisms that help keep soil healthy.
Check the plant label for suggested spacing and the mature height of the plant. Position plants so that taller plants are in the center or background of the landscape design and shorter plants in the foreground. To remove the plant from the container, gently brace the base of the plant, tip it sideways and tap the outside of the pot to loosen. Rotate the container and continue to tap, loosening the soil until the plant pulls smoothly from the pot.
Dig the hole up to two times larger than the root ball and deep enough that the plant will be at the same level in the ground as the soil level in the container. Grasping the plant at the top of the root ball, use your finger to lightly rake apart the lower roots apart. This is especially important if the roots are dense and have filled up the container. Set the plant in the hole.
Push the soil gently around the roots filling in empty space around the root ball. Firm the soil down around the plant by hand, tamping with the flat side of a small trowel, or even by pressing down on the soil by foot. The soil covering the planting hole should be even with the surrounding soil, or up to one inch higher than the top of the root ball. New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks to get them well established.
Finish up with a 2” (5cm) layer of mulch such as shredded bark or compost to make the garden look tidy, reduce weeds, and retain soil moisture.
New plantings should be watered daily for a couple of weeks. After that, depending on the weather and soil type, watering may be adjusted to every two or three days. Clay soils hold moisture longer than sandy soils, so expect to water more frequently in sandy settings.
Different plants have different water needs. Some plants prefer staying on the dry side, others, like to be consistently moist. Refer to the plant label to check a plant’s specific requirements.
Thoroughly soaking the ground up to 8” (20 cm) every few days is better than watering a little bit daily. Deep watering encourages roots to grow further into the ground resulting in a sturdier plant with more drought tolerance.
To check for soil moisture, use your finger or a small trowel to dig in and examine the soil. If the first 2-4” (5-10cm) of soil is dry, it is time to water.
Plants in containers can dry out quickly, depending on the weather, and may need water more frequently than plants in the garden bed. Apply water at the soil level if possible to avoid wetting the foliage. Water the entire soil area until water runs out the base of the pot. This indicates that the soil is thoroughly wet.
Herbs planted in the garden don’t require additional fertilizer. Apply a 1-2” (3-5cm) layer of mulch or compost annually. As mulch breaks down it supplies nutrients to the plants and improves the overall soil condition at the same time.
Herbs in containers can be fed lightly with a general purpose fertilizer at half the rate suggested on the package directions.
Invest in a good, sharp hand pruner or knife for harvesting. Pinching the stems off can cause damage to the main plant.
Herbs can be harvested throughout the growing season to be used fresh, dried, or frozen. It’s best not to prune more than 50% of the foliage at one time. This keeps the plant healthy and producing new growth for continuous harvesting.
Unless you are growing an herb specifically for its flowers (such as lavender), or seed production (such as fennel), it is best to remove flower buds as they appear. This keeps the plant’s energy focused on foliage production instead of blooms and seeds.
Harvest herbs in the morning, when the plant oils are at their peak. Prepare herb cuttings for use by gently washing and drying the foliage. If planning to preserve the herbs, check foliage for insects or eggs as well. Herbs can be dried or frozen for future use. The general rule for use in cooking is: use twice as much fresh or frozen herb as compared to dried herb.
Harvest seeds when the flowers start to fade and turn brown, but before the seeds fall from the plant.
Do not prune plants after September 1st. Pruning stimulates tender new growth that will damage easily when the first frosts arrive. Once plants have died to the ground they are easy to clean up by simply cutting back to about 4” (10cm) above the ground.
Perennial herbs should be dug up and divided every 2-3 years. This stimulates healthy new growth and provides new plants to expand the garden or share with gardening friends.