Betonica officinalis

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Betonica officinalis
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Betonica
B. officinalis
Binomial name
Betonica officinalis
  • Stachys betonica Benth.
  • Stachys officinalis (L.) Trevis.
  • Stachys monieri (Gouan) P.W.Ball

Betonica officinalis (syn. Stachys officinalis), commonly known as common hedgenettle,[2] betony,[3] purple betony, wood betony, bishopwort, or bishop's wort, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family Lamiaceae, native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa.[1]

It is commonly known as Stachys officinalis, the word stachys coming from the Greek, meaning "an ear of grain," and refers to the fact that the inflorescence is often a spike.

The Latin specific epithet officinalis refers to plants which had a culinary or medicinal use.[4]


Betonica officinalis is a rhizotomous,[5] patch-forming, grassland herbaceous perennial growing to 30–60 cm (12–24 in) tall. Its leaves are stalked on upright stems, narrowly oval, with a heart-shaped base, with a somewhat wrinkled texture and toothed margins. The calyx is 5–7 mm long, with 5 teeth, edged with bristles. The corolla 1–1.5 cm long. Its upper lip flat, almost straight when seen from the side. The anthers stick straight out. It flowers in mid summer from July to September, and is found in dry grassland, meadows and open woods in most of Europe, western Asia and North Africa. In the British Isles it is common in England and Wales, but rare in Ireland and northern Scotland.

The aerial parts contain phenylethanoid glycosides betonyosides A-F, acetoside, acetoside isomer, campneosides II, forsythoside B, and leucosceptoside B.[6] The roots contain the diterpene glycosides betonicosides A-D and the diterpene betonicolide.[7]

History and Use[edit]

Betony in a 13th-century Arabic edition of De Materia Medica

In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder claims betony was "a plant more highly esteemed than any other", and documents a popular belief that merely possessing betony would protect a house from harm. Pliny also states it was discovered by the Vettones of Spain, hence the Gaulish name for the plant, Vettonica.[8]

De herba Vettonica liber, a book originally attributed to Antonius Musa but now thought to have been written in the 4th century,[9] lists nearly 50 uses for the plant. These include easing of pain and fever after childbirth, prevention of drunkenness, against snake and mad dog bites, curing of various pains, and against horrors. Pseudo-Musa also claims the herb was discovered by either the Greek god of medicine Aesculapius or the centaur Chiron.[10]

Information about and uses for betony are compiled in Chapter 232 of John Gerard's 1597 Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes. Properties ascribed to it include help for those with "the falling sickness", cramps, ague, jaundice, and sciatica, clearing of the lungs, chest, liver, and gallbladder, killing of worms, and breakage of kidney stones, among many others.[11]

In his 1652 work The English physitian, Nicholas Culpeper called it Wood-Betony to contrast it from Water-Betony, but noted it was also called Common Betony. He observed that "Bettony that grows in the shadow is far better than that which grows in the Sun, because it delights in the shadow".[12] He mentions Antonius Musa as a source. His summary of uses for betony is vast, and reflects influence from Pseudo-Musa and the same tradition as Gerard: "Epidemical Diseases, Witchcraft, Apetite, Indigestion, Stomach, Belching, Jaundice, Falling-sickness, Palsey, Convulsion, Shrinking of the Sinews, Gout, Dropsie, Frensie, Cough, Cold, Shortness of Breath, Agues of all sorts, Sore Eyes, Worms, Obstructions of the Liver and Spleen, Stitches, Pains in the Back and Belly, Terms provokes, Mother, Childbirth Stone, Toothache, Venemous Beasts, Mad-dogs, Weariness, Bleeding at Mouth and Nose, Pissing & spitting of Blood, Ruptures, Bruises, Wounds, Veins and Sinews Cut, Ulcers, Fistulaes, Boyls, Ears." Culpeper classifies betony under the planet Jupiter and the sign Aries.[13]

A Welsh prescription attributed to the Physicians of Myddfai ascribes dream-controlling properties to betony, advising hanging its leaves around the neck or drinking the juice before sleep.[14]

The plant was commonly grown by monks and apothecaries for medicinal purposes, hence the specific epithet officinalis which indicates use for medicinal or culinary purposes.[4]

Betony was an ingredient of Pistoia powder, an old remedy for arthritis and gout.[15]

Betony is among the herbs possibly used by the Druids to make wine and holy water.[16]

12 Prairial in the French Republican calendar is dedicated to betony.

Betony has also been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally as tea, or externally as compresses or baths for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, skin and gynecological problems.[citation needed]

Modern herbalists prescribe betony to treat anxiety, gallstones, heartburn, high blood pressure, migraine and neuralgia, and to prevent sweating. It can also be used as an ointment for cuts and sores.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Betonica officinalis L." Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanical Gardens Kew. Retrieved 31 March 2021.
  2. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Stachys officinalis". The PLANTS Database ( Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  3. ^ David Chapman (2008). Exploring the Cornish Coast. Penzance: Alison Hodge. p. 113. ISBN 9780906720561.
  4. ^ a b Harrison, Lorraine (2012). RHS Latin for Gardeners. United Kingdom: Mitchell Beazley. ISBN 978-1845337315.
  5. ^ "Ecological Flora of Britain & Ireland". Retrieved 19 September 2021.
  6. ^ Miyase T., Yamamoto R., Ueno A.,"Phenylethanoid glycosides from Stachys officinalis" Phytochemistry 1996 43:2 (475–479)
  7. ^ Miyase T., Yamamoto R., Ueno A. ,"Betonicosides A-D and betonicolide, diterpenoids from the roots of Stachys officinalis" Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 1996 44:8 (1610–1613)
  9. ^ Langslow, D. R. (2000). Medical Latin in the Roman Empire. Oxford University Press. pp. 67–68.
  10. ^ "Pseudo-Musa: De herba vettonica liber". Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen (in German). Retrieved 2023-12-27.
  11. ^ Gerard, John (1597). The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes, gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirurgerie. Imprinted at London by John Norton. pp. 577–578.
  12. ^ Culpeper, Nicholas (1652). The English Physitian: OR An Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of this Nation. Being a Compleat Method of Physick... (1st ed.). London: Printed by P. Cole. p. 244.
  13. ^ Culpeper, Nicholas (1652). The English Physitian: OR An Astrologo-Physical Discourse of the Vulgar Herbs of this Nation. Being a Compleat Method of Physick... (1st ed.). London: Printed by P. Cole. pp. 14–15.
  14. ^ Bonser, Wilfrid, "Magical Practices against Elves". Folklore, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Dec. 31, 1926), pp. 350-363.
  15. ^ "PISTOIA GOUT POWDERS". British Medical Journal. 1 (2518): 852. 1909-04-03. ISSN 0007-1447. PMC 2318516. PMID 20764391.
  16. ^ "Literary Notes". British Medical Journal. 2 (2504): 1876. 1908-12-26. ISSN 0007-1447. PMC 2438171.