Betony Stachys officinalis

‘At betonye I wyll be-gynne,That many vertewys hath hym with-inne…Who so betonye on him bereFro wykked sperytes it will him were.-    Medical poem written about 1400

Description

A member of the deadnettle family, betony’s bright magenta pink flowers make striking splashes of colour from early summer to well into autumn.

How to spot it

An erect plant, with, somewhat oblong flower heads, magenta pink, about 3cm across on almost leafless square stems. The leaves are narrow, toothed and mostly at the base of the plant.

Where it grows

Betony prefers dryish, light soils often on sunny banks and hedgerows, on heathland and other grassy places including, occasionally, the undisturbed margins of arable fields.

Best time to see

In flower from June to October.

How's it doing?

Although still fairly common in England and Wales, betony has suffered local losses as a result of the loss and improvement of permanent pastures, the ploughing of fields to the edge of woods with consequent loss of the marginal flora and the shading of woodland grassland following a decline in coppicing. It is rare in Scotland, mostly being found in the south.

3 things you might not know

  • Betony is first referred to in a work by the Roman physician Antonius Musa. He claimed it was effective against sorcery.
  • It was one of the great ‘all-heals’ of medieval herbalists.
  • Betony is commonly found in old country churchyards, where it was planted in the past for its medicinal value and in the belief that it had powers that would ward off ghosts, goblins and other unwelcome spirits.