A mat-forming, hairy, hardy perennial, it has a basal rosette of wrinkled, ovate leaves with dentate margins. Flower stems rise to 60 cm (2 ft.) with smaller opposite leaves and dense, terminal spikes of magenta-pink two-lipped flowers borne in summer.
History and traditions
Betony was highly prized as a medicinal herb in Roman times, when Antonius Musa, physician to the Emperor Augustus, wrote a treatise on its virtues, assigning 47 remedies to it. It was of great importance to the Anglo-Saxons for its magical as well as its medicinal properties and is mentioned in the 10th-century manuscript herbal, the Lacuna. It was made into amulets to be worn against evil spirits, planted in churchyards and held to be capable of driving away despair. The Herbal of Apuleius (c. AD 400) describes betony as “good for a man’s soul or his body”. Betony was much valued throughout Europe, and inspired the Italian proverb “sell your coat and buy betony”. It was always associated with treatments for maladies of the head and said to be a certain cure for headaches a use that it retains today in modern herbal practice. The name betony derives from vettonica, as the Romans knew it, which became betonica (as it was until recently classified). Stachys is from the Greek for a spike or ear of corn and refers to the shape of the flower cluster.
Stachys byzantina syn. Stachys lanata is popularly known as “lambs’ ears”, “lambs’ “won lugs”, “lambs’ tails” or “lambs’ tongues” for its white, woolly foliage. It forms a mat of whitish green, soft, downy, wrinkled leaves with short mauve flower spikes to 45 cm (18 in) tall. Although it has no medicinal or culinary properties it is grown as a herb garden ornamental.
Native to Europe, grows on sandy loam in open woods and grassland.
Grow in ordinary, dry soil in sun or partial shade. Propagated by seed sown in spring or by division during dormancy.
Leaves, flowering stems fresh or dried for infusions, ointments and lotions.
Infusions are taken for headaches, especially if associated with anxiety and nervous tension, often combined with Hypericum perforatum and Lavandula. Made into lotions or ointments (often in combination with other herbs) for applying to cuts, abrasions and bruises.