Wood betony

Common name: Wood betony
Other names: Betony, purple betony, Bishop’s wort
Latin name: Betonica officinalis
Affinity: Nervous system, digestive system
Actions: Sedative, nervine tonic, digestive bitter, vulnerary, nervine trophorestorative, carminative
Diseases: Anxiety(3), headaches(3), neuralgia (nerve pain)(3), fatigue(3), arthritis(3), back pain(3), ME(3), sciatica(3), poor sleep with nightmares(3)
Parts used: Aerial parts


Characteristics: Wood betony is a perennial herb that grows in grasslands in temperate and warm regions including Europe, the Mediterranean, North and South America, Southwestern Asia, and Southern Africa (Šliumpaitė et al., 2003). Wood betony is common in Lithuania commonly growing in outer woods and dry grassland.

History: Wood betony was one of the most popular medicinal herbs in ancient Greek and Roman times (Wood, 1997). Antonius Musa, physician to the Emperor Augustus, wrote a book claiming 47 uses for wood betony. Wood betony has a deep history of use in herbalism in European herbalism (Watts, 2007). It was sown around the house in ancient times to protect it from witchcraft. The Anglo-Saxon Herbal mentions it as a shield against ‘frightful goblins that go by night and terrible sights and dreams’. Although this description seems a little far fetched, it’s traditional use includes poor sleep and nightmares (Bartram, 2013). A Cumbrian recommendation is to drink wood betony tea for indigestion and in Somerset the tea was used to treat headaches. Next to vervain, wood betony was the most precious remedy for early herbalists in Europe. Both vervain and wood betony have been highly under studied by scientists considering their integral importance in Western herbalism.

Current applications: Wood betony may be useful for headaches, nervous debility, fatigue, memory loss, weak digestion, sciatica, arthritis, sinus congestion, lower back pain, ME, and nightmares (Bartram, 2013). It combines well with vervain to enhance its relaxing properties or valerian for anxiety. It is a slow acting tonic which takes time to work, but can help the body heal itself.

Science: There is very little science on wood betony, one study found extracts had anti-oxidant activity in ex vivo assays (Šliumpaitė et al., 2013).

Safety: Wood betony is safe to us, even for the young, old, pregnant, or breast feeding.

Dosage: 1-5ml of tincture two or three times daily

Brands: In the U.S.A., I recommend Herb Pharm. In the U.K., Neil’s yard.

Scientific Summary

Research on models

Anti-oxidant effects: One study examined a wood betony extract to find it had anti-oxidant activity (Šliumpaitė et al., 2013).


Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.

Šliumpaitė, I., et al. “Antioxidant properties and phenolic composition of wood betony (Betonica officinalis L., syn. Stachys officinalis L.).” Industrial Crops and Products 50 (2013): 715-722.

Watts, Donald C. Dictionary of plant lore. Academic Press, 2007

Wood, Matthew. The book of herbal wisdom: Using plants as medicine. North Atlantic Books, 1997.