Betonica officinalis: Betony

Family: Lamiaceae
Common name: Betony, Purple betony, Wood betony, Bishopwort, Lousewort, Common hedgenettle, Woundwort, Bishop’s wort

Betony or Wood Betony is a perennial herbaceous plant that is loved world over for its ornamental, medicinal, and culinary uses. Its distinct characteristics, versatile nature, and numerous benefits make it a valuable addition to gardens and landscapes.

Betony plants typically reach a height of 30 to 60 cm and forms a compact clump of basal leaves. The erect stems are square-shaped, a common trait among the Lamiaceae family, and they are covered with fine hairs.

The leaves of the plant are very interesting, ovate to lanceolate in shape and can grow to be about 5 to 10 cm long. They are characterized by their toothed edges, and prominently sunken veins giving the leaf a crinkled texture. These leaves grow directly from the base of the plant, forming an attractive rosette.

Stem leaves are smaller and more narrow, gradually reducing in size as they ascend the stem. The overall leaf arrangement of Betony adds to the plant’s visual appeal, especially when the flowers emerge from the midst of the foliage.

The most beautiful feature of the Betony plants are their lovely flower spikes. The flowering period usually occurs from late spring to mid-summer, depending on the climate and growing conditions.

The dense spikes rise above the foliage and bear tubular flowers in shades of pink, purple, or magenta. The individual flowers are around 2 cm long and they cluster together to form a cylindrical inflorescence with a diameter of 5 to 10 cm.

Once pollinated, the flowers produce small nutlets that contain the plant’s seeds. These nutlets are typically enclosed within the calyx of the faded flowers. The seeds can be collected for propagation or saved for future planting.

While the ornamental value of the fruit is relatively modest compared to the vibrant flowers and lush foliage, it contributes to the plant’s life cycle and reproductive process.

Betony plants need bright sunlight and well-drained soil for abundant flowering and healthy growth. A slightly alkaline to neutral pH range is ideal for these plants. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. A layer of mulch around the plant can help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.

Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring to promote healthy growth. It is good to avoid excessive nitrogen, as it can lead to lush foliage with fewer flowers. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage prolonged blooming. Cut back the stems in late fall or early spring to promote fresh growth.

These versatile plants have a long history of use in traditional herbal medicine systems since they possess various medicinal properties. The aerial parts of the plant, including the leaves and flowers, are often used to prepare herbal infusions, tinctures, or extracts. Betony has been used to alleviate headaches, digestive discomfort, anxiety, and even to improve cognitive function.

Propagation is through seeds, root cuttings, or root division. Collect the nutlets from faded flowers and sow them in a seed tray during the late summer or fall. Keep the tray in a cool, bright location and transplant the seedlings once they are established. Root cuttings can be taken in the fall, about 7 to 10 cm in length. Plant them horizontally in pots or directly in the garden soil.

You can also ivide mature plants in the early spring or fall. Carefully separate the clumps into smaller sections, ensuring each section has roots attached, and replant them.