Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Folk use of Betony – The Healing Herb with Purple Flowers

 In early medieval England, plants and flowers were used as ingredients in folk remedies and magic spells. The main sources for spells from the Anglo-Saxon era are Lacnunga and Bald’s leechbook. These two “leechbooks” are books of spells and medicinal recipes which were used by medieval doctors. They were compiled in the ninth and tenth centuries. The most famous Anglo-Saxon charm is called “The 9 herbs charm”; it includes a spell invoking the pagan god called Woden. The charm makes mention of 9 different plants, all of which can easily be found in the English countryside. One of these plants, betony, has remained popular in folk medicine and magic for centuries.

Betony (stachys betonica) is also known as heal-all, self-heal and woundwort (due to widespread belief in its healing qualities). Betony grows in sunny meadows and shady woodlands where it brings forth beautiful purple flowers in July and August. It is easily grown and adds a splash of colour to a wild bouquet or herb garden. Not only was it regarded as a healer, it was also thought to have magical properties.

Macer’s herbal is a Medieval Latin poem which was translated into English in the early 12th century, it describes betony as powerful against “wykked sperytis” which means wicked spirits.

There are many extraordinary superstitions regarding betony; a very old one says that if you put two snakes in a circle of betony, they will kill each other. Another says that beasts of the wild knew how well it healed and would therefore seek it out and eat it when wounded. Even as recently as 1666, the Medicina Britannica says:
 'I have known the most obstinate headaches cured by daily breakfasting for a month or six weeks on a decoction of Betony made with new milk and strained.'
Over the years, betony related folklore has endured to the point where it is still recognised as a nervine and a tonic. It is also alleged to be an astringent, and is used in alternative medicines to treat rheumatism, scrofula and impurities of the blood. Even if you’re not interested in the magical stuff, the flowers are beautiful and the herb itself makes a lovely cup of tea.
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