Wood Betony has been revered throughout ancient Europe for its plethora of healing properties. It was used by Anglo-Saxons and said to cure forty-seven different ailments in Ancient Roman civilisation. A doctor to the emperor Augustus wrote a book about wood betony, describing its 47 uses. Most of these applications revolve around the stomach and digestive tract.
In the Middle Ages it was used as a medicine to protect from vivid dreams and to rid bad spirits. It was still considered a general panacea in the Renaissance period, whereby it was said to have many virtues and recommended to be kept in every medicine cupboard. The popularity of this herb curtailed in the eighteenth century due to a fall in the popularity of common folk medicines [i].
Wood Betony is different to Betony, Pedicularis,
which is native to North America. However, both plants do look very similar to each other. Wood Betony is native to Europe. As a tonic it has long been associated with the solar plexus region of the body and is an excellent digestive tonic. The solar plexus is a complex system of radiating nerves and ganglia. It is found in the pit of the stomach in front of the main artery coming from the heart; it is part of the sympathetic nervous system that is responsible for stress response in the body. A such, this herb can be great for easing anxiety and sleep problems and the symptoms of inflammatory digestive conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and acid reflux, for example. This action, is known as a nervine tonic, because it relaxes the nervous system and promotes the relaxation state governed by the parasympathetic nervous system. Other aliments which may be improved by this herb include relaxation from tension, relief from headaches and the improvement of memory and concentration. It is said it is a very grounding herb and relieves restlessness. In terms of its mechanism of action, it is thought that the chemicals in betony may decrease blood pressure, thus its suggested use for headache and anxiety [ii] [iii]. As such, it should not be used in people with low blood pressure. There is also a chance that it might interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery. Cease using betony at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
Wood Betony is also touted for its protective qualities against environmental pollution and electromagnetic sensitivity [iv].
The herb also has effects on the uterus, which may ameliorate symptoms of painful menstruation.
It might cause stomach upset in some people, especially when used in larger amounts.
Pregnancy and Breast Feeding: There is not sufficient evidence to suggest wood betony is safe to use during pregnancy and breast feeding it may also increase risk of miscarriage. Be cautious and avoid use in this time [v].
Low Blood Pressure: (hypotension) Betony might lower blood pressure. Therefore, it might cause blood pressure to drop too low in people prone to low blood pressure.
Surgery: Betony might affect blood pressure. There is some concern that it might interfere with blood pressure control during and after surgery. Stop using betony at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.
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