For gardeners with a sense of history

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312




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Betony. Many thanks to the British
Library for providing this image from
Egerton 747f. 11, c.1300 CE



In Early Sources...






Stachy betonica, S. officinalis, Betonica officinalis





Growing betony in your garden


Medieval Names for Betony


Betonica, betonice, betonie, lęsse bisceopwyrt, vetonica

Herbarium Apuleii

Betonica, biscopwyrt, betonicam, betonican


Betonica, betonican, biscopwyrt


Betonica, betonican, betonice, betoce; bisceopwyrt, biscopwyrt, brunewyrt

Since ancient times, when it was known to Dioscorides as kestron, betony has been viewed as having remarkable powers for healing. Antonius Musa and Apuleius both credit betony as the key ingredient in no less than 47 different medications. The

Menemacus recommends that this herb be put in all medicines for the stomach, ...as the most useful and profitable herb to the stomach of all herbs. ...Pliny says that whoever wears this herb, no evil drink can harm him. ....And he also says that this herb, taken regularly with wine, will improve the complexion and remedy a peaked, leaden color.                                                                                       Macer, XXXIV

Macer also provides this prayer, to be offered up before harvesting betony:

Betony, you who were first discovered by Ęsculapius or Chiron the Centaur, hear my prayer, I implore you in the name of him who ordered your creation and required you to be useful for a multitude of remedies. Oh powerful herb, help me to make these healing medicines.

The Physicians of Myddvai report that betony will prevent or heal:

... kidney stones, colic and gas pains ...specks on the eyes, dull vision ... deafness, coughs, lung diseases, and the ague... ... Furthermore, a snake will be broken to pieces rather than pass through betony, which ... marvelously strengthens all the five senses.

Physicians of Myddvai, 788

Stachys in the Nine Herbs Charm

Šeos wyrt že man betonicam nemneš heo byž cennež on mędum 7 on clęnum
dunlandum . 7 on gefrižedum stowum . seo deah gehwaewer
žaes mannes sawle ge his lichoman hio hyne scyldeš with unhyrum nihtgengum ... žu hi scealt niman on agustes month butan irerne. 7 žonne žy hi genumene hębbe . ahwyre ža moldan of . žęt hyse nanwiht ...žonne drig hi on sceade ...

Anglo-Saxon Herbal CLXXV

This wort that people name betony is grown in meadows and on clean downlands and in shady places. It is good whether for one’s soul or one’s body. It protects against fearful night visitors ...you should harvest it in the month of August, without iron. And when you have gathered it, shake off the soil and then dry the plant in the shade very thoroughly ...

Anglo-Saxon Herbal, II.i

Iron, perhaps because its acquisition is possible only through the use of esoteric knowledge in combination with intensely hot flame, has long been believed to have magic powers. Many cultures have venerated smiths as wizards, and given them a special place in their mythologies. The fairy folk were repelled by iron; likewise the use of iron tools to gather herbs is frequently forbidden.

Wiš lenden ece genim betonican
swilce twegen penegas

Gewegen do šęrto

swetes wines twegen bollan full

meng wiš hat węter

sele niht festig drincan.

Leechbook I, xxii


For sciatica, take betony,
as much as two pennies’

weight, add thereto

two bowls full of sweet wine,


with hot water, give it to drink

after his night’s fasting.

Leechbook, I. xxii

In short, betony was believed to be a most remarkable herb, one that was particularly valued for treating diseases of the eyes, the head, and the stomach. Today, the leaves and flowers of betony (but not the root) continue to be used in both herbal and homeopathic medicine for headaches and neuralgia, as well as for diarrhea and other digestive upsets. It is said to have both sedative and antispasmodic properties. But whether you use this pretty medieval flower for healing the body, or simply grow it to soothe your soul, it is a plant worthy of a place in your garden.

Betony, from Harley 1585)border=

Harley 1585

Please note: Many plants have been used in past and present times for medicinal purposes, and as one of the focuses of Wyrtig is the history of gardening, these uses are discussed here. However, common sense requires that you consult your family physician or other health care provider before using any plant materials for medicinal purposes. The old saying that "A doctor who treats him- (or her-) self has a fool for a patient" is no less true in herbal medicine than in any other branch of the healing sciences. Herbal remedies should not be used by the uninformed; medical advice should be sought before using any herbal remedy.

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