Name: Betony (Stachys officinalis)
Otherwise known as: Bishop’s Wort, Hedge Nettle
Habitat: An herbaceous perennial member of the Labiatae family growing up to one metre in open woodland in Europe and Asia, with pungent, oval, hairy leaves arranged in a basal rosette surrounding an erect stem terminating in a spike of pale magenta flowers. The root is toxic.
What does it do: Antonius Musas, the Greek physician to the Emperor Augustus, claimed that Betony was a certain cure for 47 different diseases and that ‘…it helps those who loath and cannot digest their meat, those that have weak stomachs and sour belchings’. Gerard tells us that ‘…the Betony preserveth the lives and bodies of men from the danger of epidemical diseases.’ It was a major constituent of Rowley’s Herbal Snuff which was famous in its day as a cure for headaches.
The plant had a sinister reputation in Anglo-Saxon communities as a charm against evil spells, and a cure for persistent nightmares. Early herbalists credited it as being a cure for nervous debility, anxiety, stress, headaches, neuralgia, wounds, bruises, complaints of the liver, gall bladder and cystitis; also said to be efficacious as a stimulant to the circulation.
Modern practitioners and homeopaths use it to treat gastritis, urinary tract diseases, varicose veins, migraine, shingles (Herpes zosta), cystitis, intestinal worms in children and as a cerebral tonic. Recent research suggests that the herb may be useful in the treatment of hypoglycaemia. Tea made from the roots will cause vomiting and diarrhea.