Few, if any, herbal plants have been more praised for their

supposed curative virtues than the Wood Betony (Stachys

Betonica), belonging to the order of Labiates. By the common

people it is often called Bitny. The name Betonica is from the

Celtic ben, head, and tonic, good, in allusion to the usefulness

of the herb against infirmities of the head. It is of frequent growth

in shady woods and meadows, having aromatic lea
es, and spikes

(stakoi) of light purple flowers. Formerly it was held in the very

highest esteem as a leading herbal simple. The Greeks loudly

extolled its good qualities. Pliny, in downright raptures, styled it

ante cunctas laudatissima! An old Italian proverb ran thus:

Vende la tunica en compra la Betonia, Sell your coat, and buy

Betony; whilst modern Italians, when speaking of a most

excellent man, say, [49] He has as many virtues as Betony--He

piu virtu che Bettonica.

In the Medicina Britannica, 1666, we read: 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


Antonius Musa, chief physician to the Emperor Augustus, wrote a

book entirely on the virtues of this herb. Meyrick says, inveterate

headaches after resisting every other remedy, have been cured by

taking daily at breakfast a decoction made from the leaves and

tops of the Wood Betony. Culpeper wrote: This is a precious herb

well worth keeping in your house. Gerard tells that Betony

maketh a man have a good appetite to his meat, and is commended

against ache of the knuckle bones (sciatica).

A pinch of the powdered herb will provoke violent sneezing. The

dried leaves formed an ingredient in Rowley's British Herb Snuff,

which was at one time quite famous against headaches.

And yet, notwithstanding all this concensus of praise from writers

of different epochs, it does not appear that the Betony, under

chemical analysis and research, shows itself as containing any

special medicinal or curative constituents. It only affords the

fragrant aromatic principles common to most of the labiate plants.

Parkinson, who enlarged the Herbal of Gerard, pronounced the

leaves and flowers of Wood Betony, by their sweet and spicy

taste, comfortable both in meate and medicine. Anyhow, Betony

tea, made with boiling water poured on the plant, is a safe drink,

and likely to prove of benefit against languid nervous headaches;

and the dried herb may be smoked as tobacco for relieving the

same ailment. To make Betony tea, put two ounces of [50] the

herb to a quart of water over the fire, and let this gradually simmer

to three half-pints. Give a wine-glassful of the decoction three

times a day. A conserve may be made from the flowers for similar

purposes. The Poet Laureate, A. Austin, mentions lye of Betony

to soothe the brow. Both this plant, and the Water Betony--so

called from its similarity of leaf--bear the name of Kernel-wort,

from having tubers or kernels attached to the roots, and from being

therefore supposed, on the doctrine of signatures, to cure diseased

kernels or scrofulous glands in the neck; also to banish piles from

the fundament.

But the Water Betony (Figwort) belongs not to the labiates, but to

the Scrophulariaceoe, or scrofula-curing order of plants. It

is called in some counties brown-wort, and in Yorkshire

bishopsleaves, or, l'herbe du siege, which term has a double

meaning--in allusion both to the seat in the temple of Cloacina

(W.C.) and to the ailments of the lower body in connection

therewith, as well as to the more exalted See of a Right

Reverend Prelate. In old times the Water figwort was famous as

a vulnerary, both when used externally, and when taken in

decoction. The name brown-wort has been got either from the

brown colour of the stems and flowers, or, more probably, from its

growing abundantly about the brunnen, or public German

fountains. Wasps and bees are fond of the flowers. In former days

this herb was relied on for the cure of toothache, and for expelling

the particular disembodied spirit, or mare, which visited our

Saxon ancestors during their sleep after supper, being familiarly

known to them as the nightmare. The Echo was in like manner

thought by the Saxons to be due to a spectre, or mare, which

they called the wood mare. The Water [51] Betony is said to

make one of the ingredients in Count Mattaei's noted remedy,

anti-scrofuloso. The Figwort is named in Somersetshire crowdy-kit

(the word kit meaning a fiddle), or fiddlewood, because if two of

the stalks are rubbed together, they make a noise like the scraping

of the bow on violin strings. In Devonshire, also, the plant is

known as fiddler.

An allied Figwort--which is botanically called nodosa, or

knotted--is considered, when an ointment is made with it, using

the whole plant bruised and treated with unsalted lard, a sovereign

remedy against burnt holes or gangrenous chicken-pox, such as

often attacks the Irish peasantry, who subsist on a meagre and

exclusively vegetable diet, being half starved, and pent up in

wretched foul hovels. This herb is said to be certainly curative of

hydrophobia, by taking every morning whilst fasting a slice of

bread and butter on which the powdered knots of the roots have

been spread, following it up with two tumblers of fresh spring

water. Then let the patient be well clad in woollen garments and

made to take a long fast walk until in a profuse perspiration. The

treatment should be continued for nine days. Again, the botanical

name of a fig, ficus, has been commonly applied to a sore or

scab appearing on a part of the body where hair is, or to a red sore

in the fundament, i.e., to a pile. And the Figwort is so named in

allusion to its curative virtues against piles, when the plant is made

into an ointment for outward use, and when the tincture is taken

internally. It is specially visited by wasps.