Betony, Stachys officinalis, is in the same genus as the well-known garden perennial lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina. It is easy to grow, winter hardy zones 4-9, and will rebloom throughout the season if the flower stalks are cut back after each wave of blooms. Stachys officinalis is attractive to all kinds of fauna, including butterflies and bees.
Betony is a reliable and hardy herbaceous perennial that should be found more often in gardens.
Growing Betony in the garden
Water well until established and then allow rain to do the rest. Do not overwater Stachys officinalis. The primary danger to this plant is root rot at the crown. It is native to grasslands and meadows of Europe, Africa, and Asia, and as such does best with no supplementary watering.
The purple or lavender flowers are small but profuse on the stalks that rise above the evergreen crown. There are white and pink forms as well. Grow in full sun or partial shade.
Leaves are bright-medium green and tend to look very healthy on the plant, making betony a strong contributor to the appearance of a well-tended garden. It reseeds easily but is not aggressive in the garden. Divide every so often (2-4 years) to rejuvenate the plant.
It has a somewhat unusual flower form called an interrupted spike (Miller, Philip. 1759. The Gardeners Dictionary). An interrupted spike has flowers, then growth, then more flowers. See the photograph below for an example.
Betony has many fascinating references in human history. Antonius Musa, the personal physician for Roman emperor Augustus, believed it was the go-to garden plant to ward off sorcery (and 47 other maladies).
One of the primary uses is the treatment of headaches. Modern herbalists today are rediscovering betony as an answer for those who suffer from migraines. Possibly my favorite reference to Stachys officinalis was the Anglo Saxon texts that prescribed betony to ward off ‘nocturnal goblins’ – nightmares.
Other common names: wood betony, bishopwort
Plant type: herbaceous perennial
Native status: non-native
Bloom period: Mid-spring into summer. Extend bloom all the way to frost by deadheading or cutting back.
Winter hardiness: USDA zone 4-9
Of note: Easy to grow, historic plant with beautiful purple flowers. A long season of bloom if cut back regularly after flowering.