Medicinal Herbs: Wood Betony
Also, Known As:
- Purple Betony
- Wood Betony
The herb known as the wood betony is commonly considered to be the most important among the Anglo-Saxon herbs. There are at least twenty-nine uses of the wood betony in the treatment of physical diseases. At one time, the wood betony was probably also the most popular amulet herb – such amulets were used widely until the Middle Ages as a charm to ward off so-called evil or ill humors that supposedly brought disease to the human body. The many uses of the wood betony were written down by the medical herbalist Gerard in 1597, he gave a long list of herbal applications for this plant, adding that –“it maketh a man to pisse well”– an inference to the herb’s effectiveness against urinary disorders. Most contemporary herbalist neglect the wood betony as a potential remedy, however, the beneficial properties of this herb are worth rediscovering.
While remedies made from betony or wood betony has a long historical use in the folk medicine of many cultures, the herb is one of those medicinal plants that once had a great reputation, being considered good for practically every malady, but the use of which gradually decreased over the years until it was seen to be of little value. Contemporary folk medicine disregards the many benefits said to be possessed by the herb. The great reputation the wood betony had in earlier eras can be seen in two old proverbs or sayings: an Italian proverb that states, “Sell your coat and buy betony,” and a Spanish proverb states, “He has as many virtues as betony,” illustrate the reputation of the herb in previous ages and allude to its versatility as a common folk medicine.
The medication is made from the dried out parts of a plant commonly called betony – botanical name Stachys Officinalis; the entire aerial parts of this herb is what is called wood betony. This herb is a square-stemmed perennial belonging to the plant family Lamiaceae. The herb bears a rosette of hairy leaves and has a spike of pink or purplish flowers and can grow to three feet in height. The plant is a native species of Europe, found mainly in cleared areas and meadows throughout much of Europe – it is also widely cultivated in herb gardens in temperate regions around the world.
The wood betony was highly regarded as a cure-all plant during the Middle Ages. The herb was believed to possess many magical properties, including the power to ward off evil spirits – it was widely used in amulets for this reason. In contemporary folk medicine, the medication is principally valued for its astringent properties, useful in the treatment of problems such as diarrhea and in treating irritations affecting the throat, the mouth, and the gums. The leaves of the wood betony are often prepared as an infusion or used in the preparation of a herbal tea, these liquids are either drunk or employed as a gargle or mouthwash to treat oral and throat disorders. The use of the leaves to make an infusion or a tea depends on the type of disorder affecting the person.
When the composition of the sap of the wood betony is chemically analyzed, the herb is found to have about fifteen percent tannin; this high tannin content explains its great effectiveness as an astringent. Wood betony was also analyzed in one Russian study, which found a mixture of glycosides in the composition of the herb, at least one of these glycosides was found to be a plant pigment called a flavonoid. The glycosides found in the wood betony are reported to possess a hypotensive effect – an ability to lower the blood pressure. While this report needs to be verified by further studies, this property of the herb can partially explain the reputed effectiveness of wood betony in alleviating headaches and mild anxiety states.
At this time, the only principal use for this remedy in folk medicine is as a herbal astringent, this beneficial effect is due to the high level of tannins present in the herb. This property of the wood betony makes it very effective in alleviating problems such as diarrhea and in treating various irritations affecting the mucous membranes of the body. When used as an ordinary herbal remedy, the wood betony should not induce any significant side effects in a person, however, an overdose of the remedy could induce excessive irritation on the tissues lining the stomach and cause other symptoms.
Plant Parts Used:
Aerial parts, root.
Herbal Remedy Use:
The wood betony is not seen as a panacea anymore and its use in contemporary folk medicine is limited. However, the wood betony is of real value as treating headaches and pain in the facial region. The mildly sedative action of the wood betony is also effective in relieving nervous stress and emotional tension. The wood betony is included in British herbal medicine as a remedy that helps improve the functioning of the nervous system and as a herb that can help counter overactivity in the body. The remedies made from the wood betony are often used in the treatment of “frayed nerves,” in treating premenstrual complaints, in treating poor memory, and in alleviating nervous tension and other emotional problems. The astringent properties of the wood betony are well known, and it is used in a combination with other herbs, including the comfrey – botanical name Symphytum officinale – and with linden flowers -Tilia species. When used combined with these herbs, it is effective in the treatment of sinusitis headaches and in treating nasal congestion. The remedy made from wood betony used with yarrow or used alone will also staunch nosebleeds in a patient. The taste of the wood betony is mildly bitter and it is used to stimulate the digestive system and to boost the functioning of the liver. The herb also has general tonic like effect on the human body and is used in various treatments.
The Habitat of Wood Betony:
The herb called the wood betony is found throughout most regions of continental Europe and can also be found in parts of Asia as far east as the Caucasus Mountains. The plants are found growing mainly in meadows, in heathland, and in thinly wooded hilly regions. When the plant blooms in early summer, all the aerial parts are collected and used to prepare various remedies.
Wood betony contains alkaloids (including stachydrine and trigonelline), tannins, saponins.
Dosage for the herbal infusion can be a cup of the infusion taken thrice daily, prepare the infusion by pouring a cup of boiling water on 1 – 2 teaspoonfuls of the dried herb. Let the herb steep into the water for ten to fifteen minutes before straining and drinking. Dosage for the tincture can be 2 – 6 ml of the tincture three times daily as long as needed.
- Aerial parts:
- INFUSION – For general use as a relaxant and as a tonic – low doses of one tsp per cup can be taken daily. The infusion can also be used in therapeutic doses for alleviating menstrual pain, in the treatment of migraines and other headaches, to alleviate nervous tension, or to stimulate digestion and cleanse the system. Hot wood betony infusion can be drunk during a difficult or painful labor to alleviate the pain.
TINCTURE – The wood betony tincture can also be used in the same doses as the infusion and to achieve similar results. Drinking the tincture is particularly beneficial in case of nervous headaches; the tincture combines well with the remedy made from lavender. The tincture can also be used as a cleansing liquid in toxic and arthritic disorders.
POULTICE – The poultice made from the herb can be applied to heal wounds and bruises on the skin. This can be prepared by grinding fresh wood betony leaves to a pulp.
WASH – The infusion can be used as a herbal wash to bathe and clean leg ulcers and other wounds on the skin especially if they are infected.
MOUTHWASH/GARGLE – The herbal infusion is useful in treating mouth ulcers, various gum inflammations, and as a gargle in the case of sore throats.
TONIC WINE – The wood betony can be made into a herbal tonic wine by macerating about fifty grams of wood betony and adding twenty-five gram each of vervain and hyssop in seventy-five ml of white wine – this mixture must be left standing in a bottle two weeks. Doses of a quarter cup per dose will bring relief from nervous headaches and mental tension or other emotional disorders.
Harvesting Wood Betony:
The wood betony blooms in summer and the aerial parts are best collected just before the floral bloom. The collected plants must be dried carefully by laying them out in sunlight throughout the summer.
A herbal combination remedy made from a mixture of wood betony with skullcap is good for treating nervous headaches.