Betony (Stachys officinalis) is a perennial herb that is hardy to USDA plant hardiness zone 4. It requires only average soil and tolerates full sun to partial shade. This makes it a welcome choice for those less-than-optimal garden areas, like a shade garden.
Description of the Betony Herb
Betony is a wonderful herb for the herb garden. It is a lovely flowering specimen offering blooms that range from white to deep-purple and grows well in partial shade. The flowers are attractive and long-lasting. Their unusual shape makes them an eye-catching addition to a rock garden. Betony grows from 9 inches to 3 feet tall, depending on the variety of plant (be sure to read the tags!).
Betony is also characterized by an unusual flowering pattern: The flowers bloom in a short spike at the top, then there is stem growth, then another burst of flowers further down from there. Known as an interrupted spike, the flowers will add interest and brightness to an area that may otherwise be lacking due to limited sunlight.
Start betony any way that you like: seeds and cuttings work equally well. Grow the plants in the same location until they become overcrowded, then divide them and replant. This is usually necessary after about three years in a sunny location. If betony is grown in partial shade, the plant may not need to be divided for five years or more.
Harvesting and Storage
Betony is commonly used for teas and infusions. Cut the entire plant at the base of the stem, and hang it to dry in an out-of-the-way location. To keep the leaves bright, it's best to gather the plants in bundles and place them into a brown paper bag, hanging the entire bag.
Betony fades quickly. Once the plants are dry, break off the toughest part of the stem and store the rest in as whole a form as possible, using colored glass jars, or clear jars out of direct sunlight. Keep them in a cool, dry, dark place (emphasis on dark). Don't dry them in a food dehydrator, as this seems to fade the plant immediately.
You can use all of the aerial parts—the parts that grow above the soil—equally. You can also make a tincture of Betony using fresh leaves and blossoms. For ornamental purposes, Betony flowers in late July through August in most planting zones.
Uses for Betony
Betony, like many herbs, has a storied history. As far back as Egyptian times, it was considered a magical herb and was believed to provide protection against harm. During the Middle Ages, people wore amulets made from betony to ward off evil spirits.
For the culinary herb garden, betony makes a wonderful replacement for black tea. It is popular as a base herb for herb tea mixes, to which it adds a light, clean flavor.
Medicinally, betony has a long history. The Romans listed at least 47 illnesses that betony was believed to cure. It was also believed that wild animals ate betony when they were injured. Today, betony is used by herbalists for treating tension headaches, migraines, and chronic headaches of hormonal nature.