NOTE: The following refers to Stachys officinalis, also known as Betonica officinalis or sometimes Stachys betonica, but Pedicularis canadensis is also known by this name. The latter is endangered in some areas, and has different effects, if any.
This information is intended for educational use only. It is not provided to diagnose, prescribe, or treat any disease, and I accept no responsibility in the event you choose to do so.
"You should have as many virtues as Betony."
The earliest record of the medicinal uses of Wood Betony is probably a book written by Antonius Musa, the personal physician of Augustus. The book included forty-seven uses for the herb, mostly relating to the stomach and digestive tract.1 Some of the more impressive myths this herb acquired (as mentioned in the same source preceding) include the ability to drive snakes to suicide if strewn in a circle around them, and the power to ward off evil spirits (which was likely standard). At times it was said to prevent nightmares. The quote above was a common phrase from the time of the Renaissance, with a few variations. People were quite enamored with Betony, believing it a cure for most anything. It fell out of favor with mainstream medicine along with most other herbs, and it is perhaps neglected in modern herbal recipes.
Most herbals agree that Betony is an nervine, and many also claim it as an astringent and a sedative. Scientific research has been scant, but one study has found it to have hypotensive effects.2 (The study is included at footnote three.) According to Mabey, "the tannins in wood betony make it effective as a poultice for cuts and bruises."4 It is compared in that respect to Yarrow. Matthew Wood, the author of the book at footnote one, has a comprehensive knowledge of varied schools of thought, including Chinese medicine, American Indian tradition, homeopathy, and some of the ideas of the Eclectics and of Paracelsus. He interprets the power of Betony to be the way it acts on the solar plexus, which was once seen as the center of the body by many of these schools. It was believed that the solar plexus could affect the brain, such that weakness in the solar plexus leads to weakened mental processes and "nervous tension", the exact malady most herbals claim Wood Betony to address. (Wood, p. 168) By increasing "nervous strength and circulation in the solar plexus", Betony is improving all digestive functions and their coordination, and Wood says that because it is such a richly innervated area, the condition of the solar plexus will affect the nervous system as a whole. This led to Betony being regarded as a general tonic, at least until the end of the Renaissance. (Wood, p. 170) Going slightly beyond most persons' zone of comfortable belief, here are some other uses Betony has had, again according to Wood5
- To prevent stroke or to heal an eye damaged by stroke, as prescribed in the eleventh century
- To eliminate jaundice along with strengthening the liver
- To promote a sense of "groundedness", helping a person to stave off fear and move on with life, as it has been used for victims of UFO abductions (Wood, p. 174)
- To treat head injuries, including a fractured skull or even the cranial bone being "pushed into the brain", as recommended in the sixteenth century; Wood mentions himself how incredible this sounds, but notes that people can survive head wounds, and you should remember the purpose of herbal remedies is usually to assist natural healing processes, rather than replace them
Wood also claims Betony has been used "to remove uterine prolapse, menstrual pain, weak labor, and excessive bleeding." This would make sense with the other information on this herb, but none of the other books I have mention it. In any case, it is my responsibility to inform you right here, Wood Betony is contraindicated if you are pregnant. He says that an experienced practitioner could probably still put the herb to good use, but that seems a bit risky. In any case, I am omitting any information on preparing remedies, to prevent doing so with limited information and experience. The books below are nice resources, and you can find many more at your local bookstore or library, or on Amazon. I would refrain from using most Internet non-print resources, with the exception of this one, as it is taken directly from A Modern Herbal, which is a fairly famous and reputable source. In addition, I would recommend reading as many books as possible if you are serious, as they always differ on some subjects, and possibly even contradict each other.
1. Wood, Matthew. (1997) The book of herbal wisdom: Using plants as medicines. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
2. Mowrey, Daniel. (1986) The scientific validation of herbal medicine. Lincolnwood, IL: Cormorant.
3. Zinchenko, T.V. & Fefer, I.M. (1962) Investigation of glycosides from betonica officinalis. Farmatsevt. Zhurnal, 17(3), 35-38.
4. Mabey, Richard. (1988) The new age herbalist. New York, NY: Collier.
5. Note here that none of my other herbals list or recommend these uses; however, none of them go into nearly as much detail on any single herb.
Betony apparently tastes like vanilla
. It's difficult for me to describe the appearance beyond it having pink or purple flowers, and looking pretty much like a weed, as nearly all herbs do. It has long stems rising up from serrated leaves, which branch off in pairs if the picture I have is truly representative. At the very top is a sort of cone, with flowers shaped sort of like really tiny stargazers
My interest in this plant is hard to describe. The name has a magic sort of euphony to it, and to top that off it has seen use and praise since literal antiquity. There are some words which look ugly to me, and lose meaning as I look at them. "Height" is an example. It looks so clumsy, with its diphthong leaning beside three straight consonants. "Straight" is another of those words. The dictionary says they go back to Middle or Old English. I blame the Germans. I don't know what Briton looked or sounded like, and I probably never will. I assume its somewhat similar to Welsh. I think the words I really like tend to be Latin roots, but it isn't really that simple. It's simpler. I like vowels. That's what makes Latin and Japanese look so good on paper.
Besides that, well, there's just that indefinable attachment. I haven't seen the herb in person as far as I know. It's recognized by many herbalists that if you have such a feeling, you should probably try the herb. Much the same as it's even recognized by orthodox medicine that we instinctively seek foods to treat our vitamin deficiencies or even diseases. In a mystical sense, you could say maybe every utterance of the name, every tidbit of information recalls a dream from another life, when maybe this plant was my favorite friend, my livelihood, my teacher. But then, there's no way of knowing that. Only the present and future truly matter.
I hope you have this feeling, if not for Betony, then for some plant. It can even be Cannabis if you want, but you better really fucking love it.