For such a small, easily-overlooked plant, wood betony punches well above its weight. It’s all but forgotten today but in Roman times it was prescribed for everything from cuts to colds and the famous 17th century herbalist Culpepper reported that in Italy, it was so highly prized that people were urged to “sell your coat and buy betony”.
Betony – the name comes from the Anglo Saxon words ‘bew’ for good and ‘ton’ for head – was most prized for its supposed ability to protect and keep you from harm. People suffering from bad dreams would sleep with it beneath their pillows, farmers would throw it into fires and drive animals through its smoke in order to purify them and scattering it in food was said to reunite bickering couples.
During the Middle Ages, it was the go-to remedy for people suffering from ‘elf sickness’ – people believed that elves would shoot them with invisible arrows which caused shooting pains in the body, known as being ‘elf shot’.
It is a lovely spreading herb, with tooth-marked dark green leaves that form a mat of green, before it sends up a square stem spike, topped with pinky/purple-red whorl of flowers. If it likes the spot (sun or partial shade are its favourites) then its flower spikes can reach 2ft and it is easily propagated by division.
It’s often found on the edge of woodlands and also in churchyards, where it was traditionally planted to protect the souls of those buried there and guard against evil spirits. Grow betony in your garden for protection and to defeat negativity.