Nowadays betony is a little known herb but in classical times it was an important plant used in the treatment of many diseases. It was also believed to ward off evil spirits, and in the Middle Ages betony was planted in churchyards.
Betony, betonica officinalis, is a very pretty perennial herb growing wild throughout the country wherever there are woods and copses or damp meadows and dense hedgerows. The whole plant is sweetly aromatic and is of medium height with large, saw-toothed leaves which rise directly from the roots. The flowering stem is hairy and the little red flowers are clustered together in the axils of the leaves. After a bare space on the stem there is another cluster of tiny flowers, all forming an interrupted spike. This helps towards easy identification of the herb in the wild. The flowers bloom in July and August and the whole plant dies in the autumn.
Wood betony is a medicinal and cosmetic herb and the whole flowering herb is picked and dried for winter use. The best time for this is in July, just before the flowers are fully open. They are then dried and stored in the usual way.
Betony is a tonic herb and good for nervous disorders and stubborn headaches. For these conditions a weak tea should be taken each day at breakfast. The tea can also be given to children as a tonic.
* To make the tea: Pour 2 cups of boiling water on to a handful of dried betony and drink a small glassful once or twice a day.
* For sprains make a strong decoction of betony. Dip pieces of lint into the cooled solution and apply to the affected part. You can also use the leaves strained from the decoction as a poultice, securing it lightly over the injured part.
* Bruised betony leaves or the fresh juice of the leaves can be directly applied to boils or thorns and splinters left under skin to draw out the poison and prevent infection.
Betony can be used as a skin ointment which has been found to be very effective in clearing persistent spots and pimples and for acne.
* To make the ointment: Slowly melt 4 heaped tablespoons of white petroleum jelly in a double saucepan. Add a handful of fresh or dried crushed betony plant and stir the mixture well with a wooden spoon. Leave to infuse over a very low heat for about I hour. Strain carefully into small pots and leave to get cold before covering.
An infusion of betony leaves made fresh each day can be used both night and morning in place of soap and water for cleansing, clearing and softening the skin. It also protects the skin from infection.