Stachys / Betonica officinalis / Betonie
Natural Standard Monograph
In western Europe, betony's reputation as a general cure-all spans many centuries. In 63 BC, the physician to Emperor Augustus claimed that betony could cure 47 diseases. In the 17th Century, a physician reported that betony was an efficacious treatment for 30 conditions. Betony was also believed to ward off evil spirits. Some believed that wild animals knew betony's curative properties and would seek out and eat it if they were wounded.
In the 18th Century, dried betony leaves were an ingredient in Rowley's British Herb Snuff® which was commonly used for headaches; this product no longer seems available.
Betony has been regarded as a cure-all by many societies including Greece, Italy, Spain, and Britain, as far back as 2,000 years ago. Its constituents include tannins, alkaloids and glycosides, which are typically the active ingredients in herbal remedies. Its most commonly reported use is as a nervine (sedative or relaxing effect) according to expert opinion and traditional use; the validity of this application has not been confirmed with clinical research.
In vitro research has shown that betony may function as an anti-inflammatory, although this effect has not been confirmed in vivo. At this time, there are no clinical human trials supporting the use of betony for any indication.
Scientific Evidence for Common/Studied Uses:
No available studies qualify for inclusion in the grading table.
Historical or Theoretical Uses which Lack Sufficient Evidence:
Amenorrhea, anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory (1; 2), antimicrobial (3; 4; 5), antioxidant (6; 7; 8), antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anxiety (9), asthma, astringent, bronchitis, carminative, colds, diarrhea, diuretic, epilepsy, expectorant, gall bladder disorders, gout, headache, heartburn, Helicobacter pylori infection (10), hepatitis, hyperglycemia, hypertension, kidney stones, liver health, nephritis (11), nervousness, neuralgia, pain, respiratory disorders, rheumatism, sedative, stimulation of digestion, stress, tension, tonic, urolithiasis, vertigo, vulnerary.
Expert Opinion and Folkloric Precedent:
Betony has been used as a substitute for black tea, as it has a similar taste, but is caffeine free.
Constituents: Limited research exists pertaining to the active constituents of betony. Tannins and glycosides have been reported to be the active components of betony. Other reported constituents include betulinic acid, D-camphor, delphinidin, hyperoside, manganese, oleanolic acid, rosmarininc acid, rutin, ursolic acid, and stachydrine. Two phenethyl alcohol glycosides have been identified from the whole plant of Stachys parviflora: parviflorosides A and B; 2-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-ethyl-O-alpha-L-rhamnopyranosyl-(1 -->2)-4-O-E-caffeoyl-beta-D-glucopyranoside (1) and 2-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl)-ethyl-O-alpha-L-rhamnopyranosyl-(1 -->2)-6-O-E-caffeoyl-beta-D-glucopyranoside (2) (12).
Anxiolytic effect: An extract of Stachys lavandulifolia was shown to have anxiolytic effects in rats, based on performance on the elevated plus-maze model of anxiety (9).
Antibacterial effects: Extracts of eight Stachys species were found to have antibacterial properties, including Stachys alopecuros (L.) Bentham., Stachys scardica (Griseb.) Hayek, Stachys cretica (L) ssp. cretica, Stachys germanica (L.) ssp. heldreichii (Boiss.) Hayek, Stachys recta (L.), Stachys spinulosa (L.), Stachys euboica Rech., and Stachys menthifolia Vis. (5).
Antifungal effects: Extracts of eight Stachys species were found to have antifungal properties, including Stachys alopecuros (L.) Bentham., Stachys scardica (Griseb.) Hayek, Stachys cretica (L) ssp. cretica, Stachys germanica (L.) ssp. heldreichii (Boiss.) Hayek, Stachys recta (L.), Stachys spinulosa (L.), Stachys euboica Rech., and Stachys menthifolia Vis. (5).
Anti-inflammatory effects: In laboratory studies, extracts of Stachys chrysantha and Stachys candida have been shown to inhibit leukotriene C4, selectively inhibit TX-synthase enzyme, inhibit histamine release, and inhibit the secretion of tumor necrosis factor alpha and interleukin 6 (13; 14).
Khanavi, M., Sharifzadeh, M., Hadjiakhoondi, A., and Shafiee, A. Phytochemical investigation and anti-inflammatory activity of aerial parts of Stachys byzanthina C. Koch. J Ethnopharmacol. 3-21-2005;97(3):463-468
Maleki, N., Garjani, A., Nazemiyeh, H., Nilfouroushan, N., Eftekhar Sadat, A. T., Allameh, Z., and Hasannia, N. Potent anti-inflammatory activities of hydroalcoholic extract from aerial parts of Stachys inflata on rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001;75(2-3):213-218.
Skaltsa, H. D., Lazari, D. M., Chinou, I. B., and Loukis, A. E. Composition and antibacterial activity of the essential oils of Stachys candida and S. chrysantha from southern Greece. Planta Med 1999;65(3):255-256.
Duarte, M. C., Figueira, G. M., Sartoratto, A., Rehder, V. L., and Delarmelina, C. Anti-Candida activity of Brazilian medicinal plants. J Ethnopharmacol. 2-28-2005;97(2):305-311. View Abstract
Skaltsa, H. D., Demetzos, C., Lazari, D., and Sokovic, M. Essential oil analysis and antimicrobial activity of eight Stachys species from Greece. Phytochemistry 2003;64(3):743-752.
Erdemoglu, N., Turan, N. N., Cakici, I., Sener, B., and Aydin, A. Antioxidant activities of some Lamiaceae plant extracts. Phytother.Res 2006;20(1):9-13.
Kukic, J., Petrovic, S., and Niketic, M. Antioxidant activity of four endemic Stachys taxa. Biol Pharm Bull 2006;29(4):725-729. View Abstract
Matkowski, A. and Piotrowska, M. Antioxidant and free radical scavenging activities of some medicinal plants from the Lamiaceae. Fitoterapia 2006;77(5):346-353.
Rabbani, M., Sajjadi, S. E., and Zarei, H. R. Anxiolytic effects of Stachys lavandulifolia Vahl on the elevated plus-maze model of anxiety in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003;89(2-3):271-276.
Stamatis, G., Kyriazopoulos, P., Golegou, S., Basayiannis, A., Skaltsas, S., and Skaltsa, H. In vitro anti-Helicobacter pylori activity of Greek herbal medicines. J Ethnopharmacol. 2003;88(2-3):175-179.
Hayashi, K., Nagamatsu, T., Ito, M., Hattori, T., and Suzuki, Y. Acteoside, a component of Stachys sieboldii MIQ, may be a promising antinephritic agent (2): Effect of acteoside on leukocyte accumulation in the glomeruli of nephritic rats. Jpn.J Pharmacol 1994;66(1):47-52.
Ahmad, V. U., Arshad, S., Bader, S., Ahmed, A., Iqbal, S., and Tareen, R. B. New phenethyl alcohol glycosides from Stachys parviflora. J Asian Nat Prod Res 2006;8(1-2):105-111.
Skaltsa, H., Bermejo, P., Lazari, D., Silvan, A. M., Skaltsounis, A. L., Sanz, A., and Abad, M. J. Inhibition of prostaglandin E2 and leukotriene C4 in mouse peritoneal macrophages and thromboxane B2 production in human platelets by flavonoids from Stachys chrysantha and Stachys candida. Biol Pharm Bull 2000;23(1):47-53.
Shin, T. Y. Stachys riederi inhibits mast cell-mediated acute and chronic allergic reactions. Immunopharmacol.Immunotoxicol. 2004;26(4):621-630.
The first reference to Betony occurs in a work by the Roman physician Antonius Musa, who claimed it as effective against sorcery. It was planted in churchyards to prevent activity by ghosts.
The Anglo Saxon Herbal recommends its use to prevent bad dreams. (‘frightful nocturnal goblins and terrible sights and dreams’). A Welsh charm prescribes:- to prevent dreaming, take the leaves of betony, and hang about your neck, or else drink the juice on going to bed.
The plant was commonly grown in physic gardens of apothecaries and monasteries for medicinal purposes.
An Italian proverb advises that you should “Sell your coat and buy Betony.” While a Spanish compliment states, “He has as many virtues as Betony.”
Betony was an ingredient of “Pistoja powder,” an old remedy for arthritis and gout. It was also claimed to be effective against snake and dog bites, and was believed to be a cure for drunkenness. Richard E. Banks stated that you should “Eat betony or the powder thereof and you cannot be drunken that day.”
John Gerard (1597) said that “It maketh a man to pisse well.” While Nicholas Culpeper stated that, “…it preserves the liver and bodies of men from the danger of epidemical diseases, and from witchcraft also” and “…this is a precious herb, well worth keeping in your house.” He also states that Betony is astrologically ruled by Jupiter and Aries.”
Antimicrobial (Excerpt from research:”analyses of the Stachys officinalis (L.) Trevis. The oil’s best antimicrobial activities were obtained against the mold Aspergillus niger (minimal inhibitory (MIC) and minimal fungicidal (MFC) concentrations of 2.5 and 5.0 mg/ml, resp.) and the yeast Candida albicans (MIC and MFC of 5.0 mg/ml)
Potent Anti-inflammatory (Excerpt from research:” At the same dose of 5.0 mg/kg, these extracts exhibited similar or greater potency than that of the positive control diclofenac-Na. )
In The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies the pharmacognocist Dr Varro Tyler writes: ‘Betony or wood betony is one of those medicinal plants once believed to be good for practically everything whose use in folk medicine decreased over the years until it is now thought to be of relatively little value’. He indicates the plant’s past reputation by citing Grieve on two old sayings: the Italian ‘sell your coat and buy betony’ and the Spanish ‘he has as many virtues as betony’ (Bauhin states that both of these are Italian sayings). He sees no need to list the 47 diseases it was thought to cure in Roman times because ‘any one you can think of was probably included’. This former panacea, he concludes, is effective in treating diarrhoea and irritations of mucous membranes on account of its tannin content, and the flavonoids have been reported from Russia to lower blood pressure.
Wood betony has been included in our monographs because it is in very common use amongst herbalists in the UK, the authors included, primarily as a nerve tonic with special reference to the head, and thus a reliever of headaches. Clearly this action cannot be directly linked to its tannin content, except in cases of headache from sinusitis and head colds, as mentioned by Bartram, Chevallier and Wood. Actually there is no evidence, in what exists for this under-researched plant, that it contains any tannins. The putative hypotensive action linked to its flavonoid content seems more relevant to its use as a nervine agent but this action is only mentioned by several of our authors published after Tyler’s Honest Herbal. There is no entry at all for wood betony in the Complete Commission E Monographs. In order to trace the origin of betony as a remedy for the head, we need to explore our earlier writers and to look as far back as Roman times in order to recount the history of this former panacea.
Antonius Musa, the physician to Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD), wrote an essay on betony and its power to cure 47 diseases. He is mentioned by name in our version of the Salernitan Herbal, where 39 separate conditions can be identified, and by Bauhin, Parkinson and Culpeper Bauhin’s list, directly cited from Musa, seems to consist of 44 uses. The large entry on Betony in the Herbal of Apuleius Platonicus, and in the Old English Herbarium, where there are 29 indications, are largely, although not wholly, based on Musa’s writings. Separately, Dioscorides writes a not insubstantial entry on betony, in notable distinction to Pliny, who has very little to say. Let us explore the uses of betony cited from Musa by Bauhin, one by one but in an order suiting the modern practitioner, and to follow their transmission through to present-day authors in order to map out what remains of the knowledge of this panacea among the herbal practitioners and writers of today.
Dioscorides’ (IV 1) name for betony is ‘kestron’, also ‘psychrotrophon’ because it is found in very cold places. Bauhin informs us that the name ‘kestron’ refers to betony’s sharp spike of flowers. Dioscorides further states that it is called ‘bettonica’ or ‘rosmarina’ by the Romans and in the Old English Herbarium the former name is given, alongside the Old English ‘biscopwyrt’. In later herbals the title ‘betonica’ is consistently used and there seems to be certainty about the identification of kestron.
Bauhin and the Old English Herbarium commence their list of the uses of betony with a protective influence, keeping safe men’s bodies and souls, especially after dark, when nightmares and terrifying visions may arise. The plant protects holy places and sepulchres from such fearful sights. Only Dalechamps cites Musa by name on this aspect of betony, concluding that ‘it is hofy. Our other authors, including Dioscorides and Pliny, do not mention the claim, except Grieve, who cites Apelius’. As a remedy for nightmares, it pops up later in Bartram and again in Menzies-Trull.
Betony For Digestion
Betony: Genito-Urinary Uses
Betony And The Nervous System
Betony: Other Applications
Headache, anxiety, depression, and symptoms of nervous origin; neuralgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, debility and convalescence.
Dyspepsia and weak digestion, nausea, heartburn, colic, irritable bowel syndrome.
Upper and lower respiratory catarrh, sinusitis.
Topically on wounds.
Dosage: the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recommends 2-4 g three times a day of dried herb. This dosage range for the dried herb seems to match that of Dioscorides, who advises the powdered herb be taken in wine or another vehicle. Betony in tablet form could be used today. Other authors propose a dose of as much as 8 g with honey to remedy genito-urinary problems, without indication of length of treatment, and to 12 g or even 16 g in acute conditions. This last dose is said to induce a laxative effect. These larger doses are likely to have been used for short periods only.
Dodonaeus over Betonie
Betonie heeft langachtighe ende breedachtighe bladeren/ van vervwen doncker gruen die rontsomme ghelijck een saghe ghekerft sijn ende van ruecke liefelijck. Tusschen den welcken voortcoemt eenen rouwen viercantighen steel onderhalven voet lanck/ gelijcke maer wat mindere bladerkens dragende/ ende op dopperste voortbringhende een corte are/ vol van welrieckende bloemkens van verwen meest root/ som oock (maer seer selden) sneewit/ naer die welcke in die are swert lanck ende ghehoeckt saet wast. Die wortel heeft vele aenhanghende veeselinghen. 
2 Van noch een ander Betonie scrijft Paulus Egineta/ die nu ter tijt Veronica gheheeten wordt/ daer af wy in dat xvi.Capittel ghescreven hebben van den iersten boeck.
Betonie wast in die beempden/ ende oock in donckere bosschen ende berchachtighe ghelijcke plaetsen/ zy wordt oock al om in die hoven gheplant.
Betonie bloeyet meest in Hoymaent.
Betonie wordt gheheeten in Griecx Cestron ende Psychotrophon. In Latijn ende in die Apoteken Betonica ende Vetonica. In Hoochduytsch Braun betonick. In Franchois Betoine ou Betoesne.
Betonie es werm ende drooch tot in den tweeden graedt.
Cracht ende werckinghe
A Betonie in water ghesoden ende ghedroncken/ lost die urine/ ende breeckt den steen in die nieren/ zy suyvert ende reynicht die borst ende die longhene van den fluymen en van die ettere/ ende es mits dyen goet den ghenen die uutdrooghen ende die hoesten.
B Die bladeren van Betonie ghedroocht een vierendeel loots swaer met huenich water inghenomen/ sijn goet den ghenen die huer zenuwen ghetrocken worden oft ontcrimpen. Item den vrouwen die met die moeder ghequelt sijn.
C Die selve bladeren in der selver manieren ghebruyckt doen den vrouwen huer natuerlijcke cranckheyt comen.
D Item die ghedroochde bladeren van Betonie met wijn sijn goet den ghenen die van slanghen ende nateren ghebeten sijn gedroncken/ ende op die beten ende steken gheleyt. Dijsghelijcx oock den ghenen die fenijn inghenomen hebben. Ende alsmen dese bladeren te voren in neempt zoo bescermen zy den mensche van alle fenijn.
E Betonie opent ende gheneest die verstoptheyt van der lever/ milte/ ende van den nieren/ ende es goet tseghen die watersucht.
F Betonie met wijn ende water ghedroncken es goet tseghen bloetspouwen/ ende gheneest alle inwendighe ende uutwendighe quetsuren.
G Betonie met huenich water maeckt saechten camerganck/ ende es goet ghebruyckt tseghen die vallende sieckte/ rasernie ende weedom in thooft.
H Betonie met ghesuyverde huenich vermenght ende tsavonts naer den eten inghenomen sterckt die maghe/ ende doet die spijse verteeren ende beneempt dat ripsen ende opworpen. Tselve doet oock die conserve van Betonie met suycker ghemaeckt een boon groot inghenomen.
I Die wortel van Betonie ghedroocht/ ende met huenich water inghenomen doet spouwen ende taeye slijmachtighe fluymen ende andere quade vochticheden overgeven.
A Modern Herbal Mrs. Grieve
Throughout the centuries, faith in its virtues as a panacea for all ills was thoroughly ingrained in the popular estimation. It was largely cultivated in the physic gardens, both of the apothecaries and the monasteries, and may still be found growing about the sites of these ancient buildings. Robert Turner, a physician writing in the latter half of the seventeenth century, recounts nearly thirty complaints for which Betony was considered efficacious, and adds, 'I shall conclude with the words I have found in an old manuscript under the virtues of it: "More than all this have been proved of Betony." '
In addition to its medicinal virtues, Betony was endowed with power against evil spirits. On this account, it was carefully planted in churchyards and hung about the neck as an amulet or charm, sanctifying, as Erasmus tells us, 'those that carried it about them,' and being also 'good against fearful visions' and an efficacious means of 'driving away devils and despair.' An old writer, Apelius, says:
'It is good whether for the man's soul or for his body; it shields him against visions and dreams, and the wort is very wholesome, and thus thou shalt gather it, in the month of August without the use of iron; and when thou hast gathered it, shake the mold till nought of it cleave thereon, and then dry it in the shade very thoroughly, and with its root altogether reduce it to dust: then use it and take of it when thou needst.'
Many extravagant superstitions grew up round Betony, one, of very ancient date, was that serpents would fight and kill each other if placed within a ring composed of it; and others declared that even wild beasts recognized its efficacy and used it if wounded, and that stags, if wounded with a dart, would search out Betony, and, eating it, be cured.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Betony was once the sovereign remedy for all maladies of the head, and its properties as a nervine and tonic are still acknowledged, though it is more frequently employed in combination with other nervines than alone. It is useful in hysteria, palpitations pain in the head and face, neuralgia and all nervous affections. In the Medicina Britannica (1666) we read: 'I have known the most obstinate headaches cured by daily breakfasting for a month or six weeks on a decoction of Betony made with new milk and strained.'
As an aromatic, it has also astringent and alterative action, and combined with other remedies is used as a tonic in dyspepsia and as an alterative in rheumatism, scrofula and impurities of the blood.
The weak infusion forms a very acceptable substitute for tea, and in this way is extensively used in many localities. It has somewhat the taste of tea and all the good qualities of it, without the bad ones. To make Betony tea, pour a pint of boiling water on an ounce of the dried herb. A wineglassful of this decoction three times a dayproves a benefit against languid nervous headaches.
The dried herb may also be smoked as tobacco, combined with Eyebright and Coltsfoot, for relieving headache.
A pinch of the powdered herb will provoke violent sneezing. The dried leaves formed an ingredient in Rowley's British Herb Snuff, which was at one time quite famous for headaches.
The fresh leaves are said to have an intoxicating effect. They have been used to dye wool a fine yellow.
Gerard tells us, among other uses, that Betony,
'preserveth the lives and bodies of men from the danger of epidemical diseases. It helpeth those that loathe and cannot digest their food. It is used either dry or green either the root or herb - or the flowers, drunk in broth or meat or made into conserve syrup, water, electuary or powder - as everyone may best frame themselves, or as time or season requires.'
He proceeds to say that the herb cures the jaundice, falling sickness, palsy, convulsions, gout, dropsy and head troubles, and that 'the powder mixed with honey is no less available for all sorts of colds or cough, wheezing, of shortness of breath and consumption,' also that 'the decoction made with mead and Pennyroyal is good for putrid agues,' and made in wine is good as a vermifuge, 'and also removes obstructions of the spleen and liver.' Again,
'the decoction with wine gargled in the mouth easeth the toothache.... It is a cure for the bites of mad dogs.... A dram of the powder taken with a little honey in some vinegar is good for refreshing those that are wearied by travel. It stayeth bleeding at the nose and mouth, and helpeth those that spit blood, and is good for those that have a rupture and are bruised. The green herb bruised, or the juice, applied to any inward hurt, or outward wound in body or head will quickly heal and close it up. It will draw forth any broken bone or splinter, thorn or other thing gotten into the flesh, also healeth old sores or ulcers and boils. The root is displeasing both to taste and stomach, whereas the leaves and flowers by their sweet and spicy taste, comfort both in meat and medicine.'
Nat Prod Commun. 2011 Sep;6(9):1343-6. Variability of essential oils of Betonica officinalis (Lamiaceae) from different wild populations in Kosovo. Hajdari A1, Mustafa B, Franz C, Novak J.
The aerial parts and roots of Betonica officinalis were collected from three localities characterized by different ecological conditions to study the natural variability of the chemical composition of the essential oils in this plant. The leaves and inflorescences were collected during the flowering time, whereas the roots were collected at the end of the vegetative period. The plant material was dried at room temperature. The essential oils were obtained by micro-steam hydrodistillation and analyzed using gas chromatography (GC) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Overall, 69 constituents were identified in all localities and plant parts. The main compositions of the leaves in all localities were alpha-pinene, 1-octen-3-ol, beta-bourbonene, (E)-caryophyllene and germacrene D. The essential oil of the inflorescences was characterized by these main constituents: alpha-pinene, (E)-caryophyllene and trans-beta-farnesene. In all localities, the percentages of alpha-pinene and (E)-caryophyllene were higher in the inflorescences than in the leaves, whereas nonane was the main constituent in the roots.