A perennial herb hardy to Zone 4, Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. A member of the mint family, Betony has a square stem with short, fine hairs. Uniquely toothed leaves grow at the base of this plant, and in mid to late summer, spiked heads of tubular, red to violet blooms appear atop the stems. It’s a rather stunning plant and bees and other pollinators delight in its nectar.
Historically, Wood betony has a famous reputation as being a panacea like herb. Folk sayings, such as the Spanish “he has as many virtues as Betony” and the Italian saying “sell your coat and buy Betony” remind us that this medicinal plant was highly esteemed and valued and much revered. So much so that the herb’s reputation spread to America and was a valuable medicine of settlers. Colonial Herbalist John Sauer stated that “There is no illness brought by cold in which Betony cannot be administered effectively.”
Wood Betony shines as a nerve tonic and tastes quite delicious. An infusion can even be a substitute for black tea. The healing properties of Betony are many and include being an emmenagogue, an anodyne, an aphrodisiac, blood tonic, stomachic and nervous system tonic. Betony is also highly effective for headaches that are stubborn as well as a gentle calmative to children. A medicinal infusion of the herb has been used to help sore throats, tonsillitis, cough, bronchitis, cold and flu.