Purple spikes of Betony put on a lovely display along coastal paths in the summer.

Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Stachys officinalis

Other common names: Purple Betony, Wood Betony, Bishop’s-wort

Cornish name: Lesdushak

What to look for:

  • Family: Lamiaceae (Dead-nettle family).
  • Flowers: The spikes of flowers are reddish purple to blue.
  • Leaves and stem: Basal rosette of stalked leaves up to 7 cm long. A few pairs of smaller leaves on stem. All leaves are toothed and oval.
  • Height: 10 to 60 cm tall.
  • Where: Heaths and grassland, open woodlands and woodland edges.
  • When: Flowers from June to September.
  • Habit: Upright.

The beautiful flower spikes of Betony start to appear in June, but reach their full glory through July and into August. A plant of dry grasslands, heaths and woodland edges, you can also sometimes find it growing alongside Wild Carrot on the coastal paths round The Lizard.

As well as being a lovely plant of high summer, Betony has also always held an important place in herbal medicine. The famous seventeenth century herbalist Nicholas Culpepper recommended it for diseases of the liver. He also said it protected people from witchcraft. Other traditional uses were as a treatment for arthritis or illnesses of the nervous system.

In modern times, it is used by herbalists to treat various ailments, including gallstones and high blood pressure, as well as in an ointment for grazes and cuts.

Although still relatively common in England and Wales, Betony has suffered some population declines due to habitat changes.

Did you know…? 

…It was once believed that planting Betony in churchyards provided protection against ghosts.

…Betony used to be thought a cure for drunkenness.

More information and references:

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: July 2015
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Amanda Scott