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| What is it?
In herbal medicine we use the leaves of Wood Betony, a long lived herb that grows widely in temperate woods and thickets. Betony medicine has an intriguing taste, not especially strong or bitter but rather warm, lingering and multi-faceted. The name Betony comes from the primitive Celtic where Bew meant head and ton meant good; (it being good for complaints in the head).
How has it been used?
Wood Betony was once truly revered as a tonic in European herbal medicine. There is a saying in Old Italian that ‘you should sell your coat and buy betony’. Of course it was only a figure of speech but given that most people would only have the one coat and that central heating and electricity weren’t in existence you get some idea of how valuable a tonic they considered it to be!
Not just singular in its effects either, there is another Spanish saying that goes ‘he has as many virtues as Betony’; this was understood to be a herb with widespread benefits. Betony was highly rated and frequently used for such diverse complaints as low spirits, poor liver function, urinary tract problems, headaches, circulation weakness, joint pains, and the list goes on… Antonius Musa, chief physician to the Emperor Augustus of Ancient Rome wrote a long treatise on Wood Betony showing it was a cure for no less than forty-seven diseases! (and as Culpeper says about this in his own writing on Betony 'it was not the practice of Caesar to keep fools about him.')
Maude Grieve writes 'throughout many centuries, faith in Betony's virtues as a panacea for all ills was thoroughly ingrained in the popular estimation' - and - 'Betony was once the sovereign remedy for all maladies of the head'
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Safety of Wood Betony
Wood Betony is an entirely safe herb to use, even in substantial doses, for the young or old, and during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It may be noticeable that there is a temporary increase in head symptoms after using Betony for a few days. Do not take this as a bad sign as it means there will shortly be a significant improvement in mental health and well-being.
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If you had studied herbal medicine in modern times you would have to look at the above section on how this herb has been used and ask 'so what happened?' These days Wood Betony hardly gets a mention so was it over-rated? Were all those people from earlier times just deluding themselves?
It has taken me a long time to understand what Wood Betony is about and I now think that Wood Betony simply fell out of favour because it does nothing in a hurry and its actions are mild and accumulative. We aren't too much into 'mild and accumulative' in our culture. We like things fast and strong.
However people were more in tune with nature pre the industrial age and they lived at a slower pace than we do today -- but that does not mean that they were any less intelligent. Wood Betony was so highly rated because it provided deep benefits to the people who used it. They would not have revered it for doing nothing.
Wood Betony is not a herb that fixes things, it is not a 'remedy' like many of our other herbs. Wood Betony is a tonic, which means it helps the body to fix itself, slowly. In the West we tend to apply an opposite order of priority; that which works the slowest is seen as the weakest.
The Ancient Chinese and Indian systems of medicine never stopped placing their tonics at the forefront of all those plants that they considered healing. Small doses of Betony seem very effective if used patiently. Perhaps just 2 mls or so of a tincture in a day, or just one or two tsps of the dried herb in a tea.
I notice that people's eyes get brighter when they use Wood Betony for a time. I see it having an uplifting effect on the mind and the spirits; it is certainly a true brain tonic and it is of unquestionable value in the ageing brain as a protector against decline of the mental powers.
I use Wood Betony as part of tonic prescriptions for people who are committed to improving their health over time. It combines perfectly with Panax Ginseng, Withania, Hawthorn and Licorice root for such purposes, invariably providing a deep and lasting benefit long after the treatment comes to an end.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Wood Betony is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with herb B.
There is value in this approach in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another but where it falls short is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Betony might work brilliantly for one person but less well for another with the same needs -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Wood Betony can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Historical notes on Wood Betony
| Wood Betony was much used by both Native Americans and Europeans and was highly prized for it’s medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities. Some of the active constituents in the plant are thought to be betaine, betulinic-acid, caffeic-acid, chlorogenic-acid, harpagide, and rosmarinic-acid.
Properties of Betony have been summarised as emmenagogue, anodyne, anti-tumor, aphrodisiac, blood tonic, cardiac, stomachic. It has been used as a blood tonic, as a cardiac for anemia and heart troubles and to treat stomach aches, ulcers, and bloody diarrhea.
Other historical applications of Betony include as a medicinal poultice for swellings, sore muscles, varicose veins, and tumours. A medicinal infusion of the herb has been used to treat sore throats, tonsillitis, cough and bronchitis, also used to treat headaches, dizziness, urinary, bladder and kidney pain.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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