Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Forgotten Herbs: Wood Betony, Stachys betonica

It's an herbal blog party, and this month we're blogging on Forgotten Herbs. There are untold quantities of plants and medicines that have been discovered and lost through the ages, some still in use by a few old timey herbalists, and some being rediscovered by new herbalists with lots of research, experimentation and heart.

For me, Wood Betony, is truly a forgotten herb. One that I've had sitting in my herb pantry for years, and I remember tasting once long ago when I was doing some Materia Medica study for Rosemary Gladstar's correspondence course. I tasted it, and then forgot about it entirely. Until recently. What inspired me to pull that package of rather old Wood Betony herb out of the closet? What inspired me to go so far as to tincture that old, dry herb? I can't say for sure, perhaps Paul Bergner mentioned the herb in class in passing, or I came across information about it in one of the old texts by William Cook or Lyle. Or perhaps just reading Jim McDonalds excellent article about the uses of Wood Betony that he has experienced.

Either way, I pulled this forgotten herb out of my closet and proceeded to study it as an herb of the week, taking it in tea, tincture, alone and paired with other herbs. Wood Betony, once was touted as one of the most useful herbs in the European Materia Medica, by Culpepper, who quoted it's myriad uses from, Antonius Musa, physician to Emperor Augustus Caesar. But these days it's a rare herbalist who knows the plant and uses it, and I have NEVER seen it sold on the market as a tincture or in herbal formulas.
Alas, a forgotten treasure, because Wood Betony is a beautiful plant ally to have with you.

Stachys is a strong relaxant, bitter, astringent nervine and tonic for the digestive and nervous systems. Its relaxant properties are so pronounced that when I take it a deep release happens, for me, centered in the core of my body, around the belly or solar plexus. It feels a like a warm wave of relaxation washing over me, soothing and smoothing away tension all over, and letting me relax into myself. It is diffusive, and would be superb in a gentle formula for a hot, tense and dry fever, especially in children, and possibly combined with elder flowers, boneset or catnip.

This is a wonderful insomnia remedy, especially when it stems from nervous tension, stress and endless mind racing thoughts that just won't let you relax and sleep. I sleep like a baby every time I take a few drops of the tincture at bed time, even occasionally sleeping for 11 or 12 hours. I suspect Wood Betony's deep relaxing properties calm the sympathetic nervous response which prevents someone from coming down from their day to day adrenaline stimulated state, and moves you gently into a more parasympathetic state, where you can't fight anymore, you just give in to your need for rest, and for peace. I did notice it was somewhat difficult to awaken in the morning after taking wood betony, and perhaps should be noted, especially in people who suffer from chronic sleep debt. This relaxation is so deep, you will not be inclined to force yourself out of it. Because it feels like curled up in your favorite warm blanket.

For me, the place I felt wood betony the strongest was in my digestive system. A nice cooling, bitter, astringent, wonderful for excess, hot and inflammed tummies, and intestines. I'm thinking it would be excellent for ulcers, IBS, leaky gut, colitis, diarrhea or any digestive condition needing some gentle astringing and toning action. Really nice for weak digestive systems as a tonic bitter. Stimulating secretions of digestive fluids, and bringing strength and tone to boggy, congested tissues. I also found wood betony to be a nice liver relaxant and I suspect useful in formulas for moving stagnant or stuck liver energy(chi), or any time the liver or gallbladder is obstructed. Possibly useful in stones as a relaxant to tense and painful cramping.

Jim likes wood betony espeically for head stuff; headaches, migraines, head injuries and those people who just can't relax their brains, and my experiences echo this. I've not tried it specifically for a headache, but definately for the tense can't stop thinking and can't relax and sleep sort of head stuff. I also suspect that due to it's affinity for both digestive and cerebral areas, it will relieve headaches that stem from digestive or liver congestion, or liver fire rising. You know the type, the hot, angry kind of explosive someone who's liver is just stuck, and all that chi goes rushing into their head, and either exploding in anger, or compounding itself into a hot liver headache.

I'm experiementing currently it's use in congested, boggy, stagnant blood/chi menstrual pain and emotional swings. Figuring it is helpful in stuck liver chi, I wondered if it would be helpful for stuck chi and congested uterine tissue. Astringent enough to aid heavy bleeding, and tonic enough to help long term, especially combined with rubus, rosa, and vervain for emotional wackiness and long standing menstrual tension. But all that said, it is mostly supposition, and i'm still playing with that use in myself. Culpepper does mention its use in bringing down the women's courses, and for those with falling down of the mother. I am guessing he means uterine prolapse, from a lack of tone. He also states that it makes for an easy delivery in child birth.

Culpepper states that is a wonderful wound herb, for staunching bleeding, bruises and especially venomous snake or dog bites. I'm growing in my garden this summer, and though I hope I dont have occasion to use it on a snake bite, I'll be sure to chew up a fresh leaf for any scrapes, scratches or bug bites I might aquire or come across. Though there is an awful lot of plantain nearby as well... and yet another nice pair!

Some of my favorite herbs to combine Wood Betony with:

Fennel - for the digestive system
Rubus/Rose- women's menstrual issues
Vervain- PMS, stuck liver chi, and tension and anxiety
Rosemary- for some kinds of headaches, not migraines
Passionflower- for anxiety and panic with heart involvement, racing heart, palpitations etc.
Plantain- wound healing, gut/internally, or externally
Elderflower, Boneset- for tense, hot and dry fever/flu


jim mcdonald said...


Betonica is truly one of our best restorative tonics; it reestablilshes but structure and function of the nervous system and gi tract. Maybe it'd be correct to say that it takes the load (both physical and mental) off of one's head-brain by strengthening their enteric brain.

Please do share what you discoover about its uses for menstual issues; I know that with this herb I'm just barely scratching the surface of what it has to offer.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Darcey! My teacher taught me to use Wood Betony combined with St. Johnswort for pain. The effect on my post-operative dog was fantastic, though I haven't brewed any up for myself. Haven't had the need to, thank goodness!

Hope all is well with you,
Kestrel Crossings

Shamana Flora said...

long time no talkie!! where are you, what's your email. let's chat!!
thanks for the tip on stachys and hypericum. sounds like a good pair!

Ellen said...

Hello, I just moved to Colorado and stumbled across your website - very nice :o)

Anywho, long story short...a hurricane Katrina transplant -> depressed doesn't begin to describe.

A friend gave me "Happy Camper" a mood enhancing supplement that is terrific! (I noticed the manufacturer is also in CO). One of the ingredients is Wood Betony is one of the ingredients.

Just a FYI, have a nice day.

earthkitten said...

Hi there,

I realize this entry's a bit old...but....

I've also heard that Wood Betony was a traditional 'protection plant' used by witches, and that it was grown outside front doors to dispel bad characters from entering one's home. It's ironic, because I was doing a bit of research on this plant myself, having read somewhere about it's relaxant properties, and couldn't find much info on it. However, in my travels I discovered that Lamb's Ear is actually Wood Betony. (that lovely fuzzy, wooly sage-green/grey plant with the tiny purple flowers...) I was surprised to discover it growing wild just outside my front door!

I was wondering if you knew whether Lamb's Ear really is Wood Betony, and whether it was usable as this herb, in regards to making tea, tincturing it, etc..... If so, I've got lots, and would like to take advantage...
Love your blog.

Shamana Flora said...

wow, i didn't know wood betony was in the Happy camper formula! i've seen it around, but never tried it. I'm assuming it works well for you?

i believe that lambs ear is a stachys, but weather or not it has the same properties as stachys betonica(wood betony) i really do not know.
i still havent figured out if other wild stachys species can be used medicinally or not. Anyone else tried any?

Thanks for the tip on the protection part. This is a big medicine plant. i can't believe it isn't more commonly used!

teresa said...

I've only used California hedge nettle what kind of Staychs I'm not positive. Michael Moore uses it similarly to staychs betonica and so do I.

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~