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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

BetonyWood BetonySt.Paul's Betony

aka Betaine (fr), Betonie (ger), Bishopwort, Lousewort, Purple Betony, Wild hop, Wood betony
(Stachys officinalis syn S. betonica syn Betonica officinale)
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see caution noteCAUTION!! Excess causes diarrhea and vomiting. Not to be taken by PREGNANT women!

Do not confuse with true Wood Betony which belongs to the Pedicularis genus.

Culpeper: " preserves the liver and bodies of men from the danger of epidemical deseases, and from witchcraft also"
and "...this is a precious herb, well worth keeping in your house."
Italian proverb: "Sell your coat and buy Betony."
Spanish proverb: "He has as many virtues as Betony."
Richarde Banks 'Herball': "Eat Beony or the powder thereof and you cannot be drunken that day."
Gerard (1597): "It maketh a man to pisse well."
Herbarium Apuleii (c. 9th century): " is good whether for a man's soul or his body; it shields him against visions and dreams."

CONTAINS: Tannins (up to 15%), the alkaloids bettonicine, stachydrine, and trigonelline (lowers blood sugar and is also found in Fenugreek), saponins, and glucosides.

Native to the British Isles, temperate Europe and Algeria.

Root thick and woody; stems slender, square, and furrowed grow to a height of 1 to 2 feet; pairs of oblong, stalkless leaves appear at wide intervals along the stems, being 2 to 3 inches long and 3/4 to 1 inch wide with roughly indented margins (although the bulk of the leaves arise on long stalks in an elongated, heart shape); all leaves are rough and fringed with short hairs, the surface being dotted with glands containing a bitter, aromatic oil. Purplish-red (some varieties bloom in rose or white), 2-lipped flowers appear at the stop of the stem in dense whorls which form short spikes; above that, a break in the stem occurs with 2 or 4 stalkless leaves and then more flowers; this interrupted spike distinguishes it from other members of the Lamiaceae/Labitae (mint) family; the calyx of each flower is crowned by 5 sharp points; the corolla is a long tube ending in the 2 lips with the upper lip slight arched, the lower flat; 4 stamens lie in 2 pairs within the arch of the upper lip with one pair longer than the other. Fruit is 4 brown, smooth 3-cornered nutlets. Bitter and salty flavor. Plant is liked by bees.

There are two possible explanations for the derivation of the common name: 1. Vettonica from the Spanish 'Vettones' (a people of Spain), or, 2. from the ancient Celtic 'bew' (head) and 'ton' (good) since it is useful for complaints of the head. Stachys is from the Greek, meaning 'spike'.

As far back as Ancient Egypt, betony was believed to possess magical powers. In Anglo-Saxon times both magical and medicinal uses were made of it. Betony was held in high esteem by the Greeks as well as the Italians and Spanish. Antonio Musu, Chief Physician to Emperor Augustus, wrote a treatise on it listing no less than 47 diseases curable by the use of Betony. Was commonly grown in physic gardens of apothecaries and monasteries for medicinal purposes as well as churchyards to foil evil spirits who might be hanging around. It was also worn about the neck as an amulet or charm to drive away devils and despair (probably quite common in the bleak Middle Ages). One ancient superstition states that serpents would fight and kill each other if placed within a ring of Betony and that wild beasts, when wounded, would seek it out to cure their injuries. Neither belief has ever been verified. Was mentioned in the Medicina Britannica of 1666 and the Anglo-Saxon Lacnunga (11th century).

Astrologically ruled by Aries, governed by Mars and Jupiter.

PROPAGATION: By seed in autumn or spring, or by division when dormant. Perennial to zone 4 and not usually found in the deep south. Plant seedlings out 14 to 18 inches apart in well-drained soil (70) with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 in sun to part shade.
NEEDS: Full to part sun. Average fertility of soil with damp or wet preferred, but will tolerate dry conditions. Grown as an ornamental. Can be pot grown.
HARVEST: Flowering herb. Whole above-ground portion of the plant is used and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, and tinctures.
FLOWERS: July - August
CLOWN'S WOUNDWORT, MARSH WOUNDWORT (S. palustris) = Contains the addition of allantoin.
FIELD STACHYS (S. arvensis) = Low, creeping variety.
HEDGE WOUNDWORT (S. sylvatica) = Once used as a wound dressing.
LAMB'S EARS (S. byzantina syn S. lanata syn S. olympica): Also called Woundwort; the leaves were once used as a natural bandage to dress wounds and staunch bleeding; native to Europe but naturalized in many parts of the world. image
S. heraclea = From Greece.
S. germanica = Leaves once used in primitive surgery as a wound dressing.
S.o. "Alba" = A white-blooming variety.
S.o.'Rosea Superba' = Red blooming cultivated variety.
S. rugosa = South African species.


Bitter, astringent, tonic, anthelmintic, antiseptic, aperient, cordial, diuretic, expectorant, sedative, digestive aid, improves cerebral circulation, vulnerary. The root has been considered more specific for the liver. Possesses an unpleasant odor.
Has been used to relax spasms, control bleeding, promote healing; has been used internally for gout, cramps, vertigo and hemorrhage.
Infusion has been used for headache, nervous tension headache, anxiety, neuralgia, gastritis, heartburn, poor digestion, heartburn, hypertension, menopausal problems, amenorrhea, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, excess mucous in upper respiratory tract, spitting blood, bladder and kidney problems, excessive sweating, varicose veins, children who fail to thrive with no known cause (1/2 to 1 cup of infusion was given daily).
For tension headaches, has often been combined with skullcap, verbena, lavender, or St.Johnswort. Another means to cure headache was to place warm, damp leaves on the temples.
Has been taken as an infusion or tincture to ease nervous anxiety associated with menopause; combined with lavender or vervain, plus 10 to 20 drops Chaste-tree tincture in the morning dose.
A strong decoction was said to be useful against worms.
Boiled leaves were used as a poultice for sprains.
Once used for hysteria, all nervous afflictions, giddiness, dizziness, hearing problems, and palpitations as well as an alterative for rheumatism, scrofula, and blood impurities.
Was combined with eyebright and coltsfoot and smoked for heaadaches. The dried leaves were used as snuff to unblock a stuffy nose due to a cold.
Juice of plant has been used to heal cuts, external ulcers and old sores. Similarly, infusion/decoction has been used externally for minor injuries, wounds and infected wounds, bruises, ulcers, sore throat (gargle), and inflammation of the gums (mouthwash).
The French used it for lung, liver, gallbladder, and spleen problems.
Although to be avoided during pregnancy, it is said to be useful during labor.
Once believed to cure cataracts in eyes.

!All others buy commercial preparations and follow directions carefully!
LEAVES = 30 to 60 grains; 1 to 4 grams dried herb equivalent 3 times daily.
TEA = 2 oz. flowers and leaves into 2 quarts water; simmer to 3 cups. OR, 1 pint boiling water over 1 oz. dried herb; a wine glass full taken 3 times daily, or, 1 to 2 cups to be taken a mouthful at a time during the course of the day.
DECOCTION = 2 tsp of dried herb simmered in 1/2 cup water, sweetened to taste, and taken 1/2 cup per day, a mouthful at a time.
OINTMENT = A handful each of lemon balm, sage, southernwood, rosemary, wood betony, chamomile, lavender, feverfew, red rosebuds, wormwood. Strip all from stalks and cut fine; boil in 1-1/4 lbs of fresh lard in the oven for 2 to 3 hours and squeeze through a cloth. For bruises it is rubbed in gently; for inward bruises the size of a nut taken in hot beer at bed-time.
TONIC WINE = Macerate 2 oz betony with 1 oz each of vervain and hyssop in 1 quart of wine; taken in 1/4 cup doses for nervous headaches and tension.

Used for headache with inability to concentrate; abdominal pain, liver and colon pain, gallbladder pain, and shooting pains in the extremities.

Used internally to treat debility, gastritis, acidity, glandular deficiency, rheumatism, arthritis, and sciatica.
Used externally for rheumatism, sciatica, rickets, tumors, swellings, boils, abscess, corns, warts, and blisters.
DOSE (animal) = 2 handfuls of herbs simmered in 1½ pints of water with a quarter pound of brown sugar added to make a syrup.
OINTMENT = In top of double boiler, combine equal parts olive oil, and beeswax (never use animal fat when treating an animal); melt together over simmering water until fully liquified; then add as much chopped betony (foliage and flowering spikes) as the liquid will absorb; stir well for 10 minutes; pour into jars and allow to set; cover.

The fresh leaves produce a dark yellow color.

Once used as a beverage tea (1 oz dried herb to 1 pint boiling water, steeped 5 minutes).
The dried leaves are used in herbal tobaccos and snuffs. One such snuff was Rowley's British Herb Snuff which was used for headaches.
A religious herb of the Celts.
Makes a nice cut flower.

aka Beefsteak plant, Canadian lousewort, High heal-all, Snaffles
(Pedicularis canadensis)
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Favored by bees, Wood betony is found growing in dry, open woods and thickets from Manitoba, southern Quebec, through Maine and southward. A low, hairy plant with a broad whorl of tubular, hooded flowers atop a much segmented stalk,and with long, soft, hairy leaves (many basal, growing tufted from roots), some to 5 to 15 inches long, deeply incised and toothed, often reddish. Flowers go from greenish-yellow to purplish-red on short, dense spikes. Fruit is a long, brown seed capsule.

Has an interesting history, but is not currently used medicinally.

FLOWERS: April - June
SWAMP LOUSEWORT (P. lanceolata): Leaves are more often opposite than with P. canadensis; flowers are yellow with shorter upper lip and not toothed as in P. canadensis; also, a toothed, leaf-like calyx embraces the flower; found in wet meadows and along shores from Manitoba, southern Ontario, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts and southward.


Some Native Americans used it to cure rattlesnake bite.
The Meskawaki boiled the whole plant to make a tea which was used to reduce internal swelling; for external use, the root was fashioned into a poultice.
The Forest Potawatomi used it as a physic, while the Prarie Potawatomi used it to reduce internal and external swellings.

Was eaten in soup by early Canadian settlers.
Was harvested in the early part of the growing season and cooked like spinach by the Iroquois.
The Menomini chopped the root fine and added it to oats to feed their horses to fatten them; they also believed it would make the animal vicious to all but it's owner. They called the root the 'Enticer root' and carried it as a charm when bent on seduction; the root was also used to heal ruptured marriages by placing it in food the couple would both eat with the hope it would make them love each other again. The Ojibwe had similar uses.

aka Common Speedwell, Gypsyweed, Heath Speedwell
(Veronica officinalis)
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A plant of Europe, Asia, and North America which grows from 3 to 10 inches in height and with small, pale blue flowers on long spikes which remain from May to August. Can be found in dry fields, uplands and open woods.

The legend attached to this plant claims that a young woman saw Jesus on his way to Calvary, noticed his suffering and wiped his face with a bit of cloth scented with betony. It was later said that the cloth bore the imprint of his face.

The plant is named for the Apostle Paul.

©2000 & 2006 by Ernestina Parziale, CH