Betony-A Pollinator Plant

Betony-A Pollinator Plant
Betony (Stachys officinalis) is well worth growing. It is a lovely perennial that is perfect for pollinator gardens. Bees and other pollinators are attracted to the flowers.

Reaching three feet tall, the hairy, unbranched plant blooms for a long period from June through October. The two lipped, ½ inch long blooms are borne on interrupted largely leafless flower spikes. The blossoms emerge at the top and bottom of the spike.

The flowers can vary slightly in color. They can be violet-red, deep red, purplish, or purplish-red. Occasionally, they are white. The flower spikes are borne in dense whorls not only from the leaf axils but also along the length of the stems.

Growing Betony

Hardy to zone four, betony is recommended for perennial beds and borders, and woodland gardens. The plants do best in full sun to partial shade.

Betony can be grown from seeds, divisions, or cuttings. Seeds take about four weeks to sprout. Seeds are available from Richters and J.L. Hudson. Richters also sells plants.

The plants do best in a reasonably moist, well drained soil. They will generally need divided about every three to four years or so when these show signs of being overcrowded.

Betony is a care free plant that needs minimal attention. Two varieties are usually available, including Alba, which bears white blossoms, and Rosea, which features pinkish blooms. Well Sweep Herb Farm sells the latter.

Historical Uses for Betony

In the past, betony was widely used as an herbal remedy. Pliny the Elder wrote about the plant. The herb was widely popular among the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and others. An old Italian proverb stated to “sell your coat and buy betony.”

Julius Caesar’s physician wrote a medical treatise about its many uses for the plant was recommended for 47 different medical conditions at that time. The author also included a prayer to betony that stated, “kindly help in making these seven and forty remedies.”

Another Roman author mentioned other uses for betony, namely for protection against evil. Earlier, the ancient Egyptians believed the plant had magical powers. For that purpose, the plant was worn as amulets. The belief that betony possessed magical attributes continued under the Anglo-Saxons, according to the Leachbook written in the 10th century A.D.

The plant appeared in various herbals during the Middle Ages, including the Grete Herbal, published around 1516 or so. The herbal recommended the plant to promote fertility.

In the medieval era, betony was commonly planted in churchyards and was often grown in monastery and apothecary gardens. Women used it to hide gray hair. The plant was one of the simples to be included in herb gardens planted in physic gardens.

There were sixteen plants recommended as simples with betony being one of those. Prior to harvesting betony and other herbs for herbal remedies, there were special rituals that herbalists conducted.

One of those involved praising the herbs in special prayers and chants as they harvested the plants. One of these chants was known as the Nine Herbs Charm.

In Tudor times, betony was used to treat headaches. In the present day, there are only a few recognized reputable herbal uses for betony. The main use now is as a tea made from the dried leaves.

Geoffrey Grigson, author of “The Englishman’s Flora,” summed up betony’s value in his book by writing, “betony is a fraud, with no outstanding virtues of any kind.”

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