Wood betony

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Wood betony, often referred to simply as betony, was a significant remedy from ancient times. A Roman physician wrote a whole book extolling its virtues, and it was the herb of choice for exorcising demons and protection against all kinds of evil in the Middle Ages.

Wood betony is a nerve tonic, and through its action on the solar plexus has a wide range of benefits, especially on the digestion. It also improves circulation, and is excellent for the elderly.

Lamiaceae (Labiatae) Deadnettle family

Description: A perennial up to 18" tall, with bluntly toothed leaves in a rosette, and bright magenta flowers.

Habitat: Heaths, woodland clearings, grassy places, and gardens.

Distribution: Naturalized in Massachusetts and New York state, native to Europe.

Related species: Other Stachys species include woundworts and hedgenettles.

Identification: Wood betony is easily distinguished from its relatives by its bluntly toothed leaves.

Parts used: Leaves and flowers.

Wood betony is another herb that does so much that it is hard to know where to start in writing about it. It is a pretty, orchid-like but easily overlooked plant, and, appropriately, works quietly to improve health over a broad front.

As an herbal all-rounder it was well known to the ancients. Culpeper (1653) relates that Antonius Musa, physician to Emperor Augustus, wrote a monograph on it, listing 47 different disorders betony would cure, among them protection from snakes and evil.

Anne Pratt, writing in the midnineteenth century, notes that betony was still highly valued in Italy. She quotes two current proverbs: "May you have more virtues than betony," as a farewell to a friend, and "Sell your coat, and buy betony," for those in pain.

Parkinson (1640) sums up the reputation of betony in his own day, neatly indicating the link he valued of "daily experience" and the authority of the ancients:

It is found by daily experience, as Dioscorides formerly wrote thereof, to be good for innumerable diseases.

Betony was venerated by the Celts, and its common name is thought to be a corruption of two Celtic words: "bew" for head, and "ton" for improve, making clear its power to cure head problems.

Throughout the Middle Ages this was an herb cultivated in monastic gardens and graveyards, for protection against witchcraft. Amulets of betony would be worn around the neck or placed under the pillow for personal protection.

It could be that beton^s old reputation as a protector stems from its ability to help us face the fears and evils in our own minds. The Grete Herball (1526) made sure by combining a betony remedy with wine "for them that ben to ferfull:"

gyue two dragmes of powdre hereof wt warme water and as moche wyne at the tyme that the fere cometh.

Use wood betony for... Perhaps this echo of magic and folklore has swayed many classically trained herbalists against betony, and some modern writers are dismissive of its efficacy. We see it as an herb, like St John's wort or vervain, that meets ever-changing physical and spiritual needs.

Today it is best known as a nerve tonic, which strengthens the entire nervous system. Betony calms and relaxes, helping release stress and tension from both mind and body.

It is an excellent herb for insomnia stemming from nervous tension, where endless thoughts keep churning and you just can't let go and relax. Have a cup of the tea or a few drops of the tincture in the evening for deep relaxation, followed by a restorative sleep.

Betony was once used to treat madness, and can still have a useful role in some psychiatric disorders. Herbalists favor it for people coming off addictive drugs or recovering from head injuries.

Betony is beneficial for several kinds of headache, including tension, migraine, and liverish types. It helps when there is a feeling of spaciness and unconnectedness as well as in cases of frantic mental activity and scattered thoughts.

Because betony affects the solar plexus, it assists in a wide range of digestive problems, harmonizing the action of the entire digestive tract. It is helpful both when anxiety, irritability, or depression are affecting the digestion, or digestive upsets are upsetting the mind.

Betony stimulates a weak digestive tract but also soothes and calms it. It is helpful when there is irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, colitis, and other conditions

We have often seen in cottages in Kent... large bundles of the 'medicinal Betony, as Clare calls it, hung up for winter use.

Thy wld-woad on each road we see;

And medicinal betony,

By thy woodside-

railing, reeves

With antique mullein's flannel-leaves.

... it is a very precious herb, that is certain, and most fitting to be kept in a man's house, both in syrup, conserve, oil, ointment, andplaister.

- Culpeper (1653)

... the Leaves... are Aromatick, and of a pleasant taste, and agreeable to Nature in Food and Physick.

with inflammation and tension in the gut. It is the perfect remedy for "butterflies in the stomach" and for reconnecting us to "gut instincts." When we are "too much in our heads," it can bring us down to earth, to a more grounded level of reaction and feeling.

Betony also improves concentration and memory, which, combined with its calming qualities, makes it a good choice during examinations or other stressful times in our lives when we need to be able to focus and concentrate.

With effects on memory, circulation and digestion, betony is an ideal herb for older people or anyone recovering from long-term illness. It will gently warm and invigorate the whole system, increasing mental and physical strength. It improves the appetite and supports those who are too thin in regaining healthy weight.

Betony increases tone throughout the body, so can assist with prolapses of the uterus and other organs. It is used for weak labor, excessive menstrual bleeding, poor respiration, debility, and liver and gallbladder problems.

Like self-heal, wood betony is a good choice for when you don't quite feel well but don't really know what the problem is.

Wood betony growing in a meadowin Lincolnshire, June

Wood betony growing in a meadowin Lincolnshire, June

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