Betony (Stachys officinalis) is one of those herbs that was once in common use but has fallen out of favor with the advent of modern medicine. The Romans listed 47 illnesses that could be treated with betony. It was universally found in medicinal gardens of apothecaries and monasteries. Betony was also believed to have magical properties. It was grown in churchyards to discourage ghosts and worn in amulets to ward off evil. Nowadays, betony is used as a base in herbal teas and by herbalists to treat headaches.
Betony, also called wood betony, bishop’s wort and hedgenettle, is native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. It is an herbaceous perennial hardy through zone 4. A member of the mint family, its serrated leaves grow at the base of the plants. The plants should be divided every 3 years or every 5 years if growing in shady conditions. The flowers grow on long stalks that can reach 3’. The flowers themselves range in color from white to purple. They are known as “interrupted” spikes because there is a tuft of blooms at the top of the stalks and then another small group of flowers further down the stalks. Bloomtime is late July through August. They make beautiful additions to cottage gardens and will grow in full sun to partial shade.
It’s easy to grow betony from seed. You can direct sow them in your garden in late summer or early fall. If you want to start them indoors, they require moist cold stratification. Gently press the seeds into a soilless mix, moisten slightly and then refrigerate for 3 weeks. Don’t let them dry out while refrigerated. Check your seeds frequently and moisten as necessary. The soil should be moist, not wet. Do not over water or your seeds will rot. Germination should occur in 1 to 2 weeks after the period of stratification is over and you have moved your seeds to a warmer spot. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden in mid-spring. Light frosts will not harm them.
Once full grown, you can harvest the entire plant, leaving at least 4 inches to regrow, or just the leaves and dry them for later use. They should be dried in a cool, dark place or you can dry them in paper bags to keep out the light. Food dehydrators are not recommended to dry betony. Once dried, store the stalks and leaves or just the leaves in glass containers in a cool, dark place.