WOOD BETONY- HEALTH BENEFITS OF WOOD BETONY, USES AND HISTORY: HOW TO MAKE WOOD BETONY TONIC WINE
Wood Betony is native to the British Isles and Europe and is known as Betonica officinalis (LINN), Stachya betonica (BENTH) or Stachys officinalis. It is a woodland plant like the bluebell and is one of the betony plants that grow in Britain. The others are Marsh Stachys or Clown’s Wort (Stachya palustris), the true Woundwort (Stachya germanica) which is perhaps not native to Britain, although it has become naturalized, Field Stachys (Stachya avensis) and Hedge Stachys or Hedge Wort (Stachya sylvatica).Here we deal only with wood betony.
This plant has been used in medicine for centuries, and was written about by Dioscorides in the first century AD and was mentioned by Pliny the Elder who called it Vettonica. The ancient Greeks praised its healing powers and used it for protection against evil too. In the Middle Ages it was commonly worn around the neck as an amulet, and the Renaissance Humanist, Erasmus, wrote that it protected “those that carried it about them.” He also said that it was good as protection against having “fearful visions.” He may have been quoting Apuleius Platonicus (c.550-625) who wrote the following lines about wood betony;
“It is good whether for man’s soul or for his body, it shields him against visions and dreams, and the wort (plant) is very wholesome, and thus thou shalt gather it in the month of August without the use of iron; and when thou hast gathered it shake the mold till nought of it cleaves thereon, and then dry it in the shade very thoroughly and with its root altogether reduce it to dust; then use it and take of it when thou needest.”
However now it is recommended that the flowering plant is gathered in July in the early flowering season after the dew has evaporated from it on a bright day. Having done that you should tie it in bundles of 6 stems with leaves and flowers and tie it in a fan-shape so that the air can penetrate and hang them in an airy hot room or outside until they are dry. If you dry them outside you should bring them in at night so that they don’t get wet because of the dew. After they are dried, pack them loosely in wooden boxes or tins carefully so that they don’t crumble.
It was seen as a herbal panacea in ancient times and used to cure many illnesses. Apothecaries and herbalists planted it in their herb gardens so they could mix it with herbs such as yarrow (to stop a nosebleed) and coltsfoot for different remedies. It was so popular in Europe that the Italians had an old saying, “Sell your coat and buy betony” while in Spain it was said of a good man, “He has as many virtues as betony.” The chief physician of the Roman Emperor Augustus, Antonius Musa, claimed in a medical treatise that betony could cure 47 diseases which he listed.
The following is a quotation from the book of the Physicians of Myddfai who were equally familiar with wood betony.
If the juice “is boiled in white wine and drunk, it will cure the colic and the swelling of the stomach. Pounding it small, expressing the juice and apply it with a feather to the eye of a man will clear and strengthen his sight, and remove specks from his eye. The juice is a good thing to drop into the ears of those who are deaf.”
They also wrote that the powder of the dried plant when mixed with honey could help get rid of coughs and “benefit many diseases of the lungs.”
The word betony comes from the Celtic words bew meaning head and ton meaning good. This was one of the main uses for wood betony-curing all head problems be they physical or mental.
One superstitious belief is that if snakes were put into a circle of betony they would fight to the death (of both). This was said to be because betony had the power to get rid off all evil and of course the snake was the symbol of evil in mediaeval Europe and it was the snake or serpent which gave Eve the apple to eat which led to Adam and Eve being ejected from Paradise and the Garden of Eden.
Wood betony grows to between 1 and 2 feet tall and has purple-red flowers which bloom in the months of July and August. Previously all the plant was used by herbalists, but now the roots are not used. It was used in snuff because it makes you sneeze violently and so clears the nasal passages. It is claimed that the fresh leaves have an intoxicating effect, which is why the tisane is always prepared with the dried leaves and flowers.
Gerard believed that it protected people from “the danger of epidemical diseases” such as the plague, and “It helpeth those that loathe and cannot digest their food.” He also says that it cures jaundice, epilepsy, gout, palsy, dropsy, as well as coughs, colds and flu and respiratory problems including consumption. He suggested that using it with mead and pennyroyal was “good for putrid agues” and made a good vermifuge for getting rid of internal parasites such as worms. Apart from these remedies he also believed that it was good for “obstructions of the spleen and liver.” The juice from the leaves was good for the bites “of mad dogs” he says and for the relief of toothache. As a wound healer the juice can be applied directly to the skin, or the tisane can be used for this purpose.
Wood betony has tannins and so astringent qualities making it a good treatment for diarrhoea and also the tisane can be used as a mouthwash and gargle for sore throats. The whole plant contains flavonoids and glycosides which have a hypotensive action (they lower blood pressure) and so can be effective in reducing stress and anxiety, which was clearly recognized by our ancestors.
The Chinese use one of the betonies, Stachys sieboldii to relieve colds and flu, and in European folk medicine the use of betony as a herbal tonic for the nerves has a long history. Very little modern medical research has been done on wood betony, although one Russian study showed that it increased women’s ability to produce milk when breast-feeding.
Medical research suggests that wood betony can be helpful for neuralgia especially that caused by medical treatment or therapy, as well as shingles (a variant form of chicken pox). It has been traditionally used to treat urinary tract inflammation and is good for cystitis. The leaves contain a volatile oil and exude this when bruised and it is this which might give the plant its wound healing properties. The whole plant can also be used as a yellow hair dye, and this is especially good for giving grey hair a blonde tint.
A tisane can be made with 1 or 2 tsps of the dried leaves and flowers and a cup of boiling water. Pour the water over them and leave to steep for 15 mins, then strain and drink. This is good for respiratory ailments, coughs, colds and flu (add a little honey), digestion, and to improve appetite, and if you mix 1 tsp dried wood betony with a tsp of dried chamomile flowers (or 2 tsps fresh) this will stop menstrual cramps. You can take two cups per day of the betony tisane for any of the above-mentioned cures, as well as using it as a gargle and mouthwash. It can also be used to clean wounds and staunch bleeding.
A few of the fresh leaves can be added to salads, but they have a mildly bitter taste, so should be finely shredded. They help to stimulate the digestive system and boost the functioning of the liver. If you pound the leaves to a pulp they are good to apply to wounds and bruises as a poultice, and can be used as a temporary dressing instead of lint.
The following recipe is a “nerve tonic” and relieves anxiety, nervous headaches and stress. Older herbalists prescribed it for “hysterics” and other nervous disorders.
WOOD BETONY TONIC WINE
1 bottle white wine
50 gr wood betony
25 gr vervain
25 gr hyssop
Combine all the ingredients into a glass bottle and leave to stand in a sunny place such as on a windowsill for two weeks.
Take ¼ cup to relieve nervous headaches, stress etc.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).