Betony (Stachys Officinalis)
What does Betony look like?
Betony (scientific name: Stachys officinalis) is a perennial herb with light purple flowers. A native species in Europe, North Africa and Asia, the appearance of this purple wildflower is sporadic in these zones; for example it grows in abundance in England and Wales, in heathlands, grassy fields and hedgerows, but not in northern Britain. Betony reaches from one to two feet tall and blossoms in the summer months. Its light purple flowers are spike-shaped, hence its Latin name of Stachys. Turfonline recommends it as a wildflower for your garden or wildflower patch; RHS have deemed it perfect for pollinators, attracting bees and butterflies, and with its purple blossom betony looks wonderful in any garden or wild meadow.
Growing and harvesting
Betony is a hardy herb and grows in average soil, and though it prefers partial shade it will often thrive in strong sunshine. To introduce betony, plant a generous amount of seeds and, when they flower – usually from late July to September – divide them and replant.
To harvest, cut the entire plant at the base of the stem, and hang to dry in a cool, dark place. Once dried, crumble the herb and use it for tea – it’s a popular herbal infusion which is said to aid several ailments and health conditions. To preserve the herb keep it dry. The best way of doing this is to store it in jars or wooden boxes.
Betony has a long history as a popular and restorative plant, both for medicinal and spiritual purposes. It was a traditional feature of monasteries’ physic gardens and apothecaries, grown and used for medicinal purposes, and can be seen today in churchyards – betony was planted here because it was believed to be effective in warding off evil spirits. So although little known today, betony was once a highly valued plant; indeed it features in an Italian proverb: Venda la onica e compra beonica (sell your coat and buy betony), and a traditional Spanish saying: Él tiene tantas virtudes como betony (he has as many virtues as betony), attesting to its many qualities, known internationally.
These days betony is most commonly used as a tea or herbal infusion. Part of the mint family, Betony has both stimulating and relaxant properties and is also an astringent. It is used to treat headaches, neuralgia, heartburn and anxiety. It is also mixed with honey to treat colds and coughs.