Betony reprise attests to its many blessings to gardens, pollinators

| August 9, 2020 1:00 AM

A few years ago, this column featured an article on the many attributes of Betony (Stachys) and invited interested readers to come over and dig out a few plants for their own gardens. Five or six couples availed themselves of the offer and though I wasn’t really worried about having compromised my own landscape, I was uncertain of the outcome.

I certainly wouldn’t have needed to worry, for this year my immediate house-front area is a sea of fuchsia-colored blossoms — as witness my photograph — and the bees, butterflies, pollinating flies and other valuable insects are having a ball. Ditto the hummingbirds: They flit and swoop over the blossoms, sucking up the nectar — often alongside a foraging bumblebee.

While Betony is one of the many ornamentals that earn the epithet “thug” they are not called that with malice. I received just two or three plants from dear pal Lois Wythe nearly 25 years ago and they have burgeoned into a welcome yard-full of beauty –each beginning with a rosette of round-toothed oval bright green leaves that support the tall stems that not only hold the top blooms, but provide little along-the-stem florets as well. The creeping roots form a dense carpet when multiple plants are grouped together, especially in full sun.

I am fond of all my “thugs” — and they are many and all much beloved for their tenacity in my poor soil and totally wild landscape. As I’ve written before, they include all members of the Campanula family — particularly C. glomerata; Valerian, tall and rangy with heavenly fragrant blossoms; Pulmonaria (Lungwwort) — so pretty and hardy; Brunnera, that leafy, tiny-flowered beauty that makes up for the loss of Hosta (which the deer ate like candy); Columbine (Aqueligia) which pops up everywhere on the property in a plethora of colors; and the precious groundcovers

ALL can be the answer to those like me who want something to thrive and multiply throughout the landscape — even in poor soil. If you haven’t time for a lot of planting and maintenance, but want a plethora of flowers, Betony’s your answer. It asks for nothing — no fertilizer, pruning or special watering — and gives lavish beauty and even health benefits in return.

I would be remiss not to include an excerpt of Lois’s praises of Betony in her herbalist newsletter years ago. She wrote: “Feeling depressed? Have a tummy ache, asthma, bronchitis? Sprained something or other? Sore throat, headache, anxiety attacks? The Romans reported 47 uses (for Betony) including getting rid of evil spirits. Seventeenth Century herbalists listed 30 uses. Contemporary English herbalists like John Lust list many uses, and Leslie Bremmes says these include a yellow dye and a hair rinse which can highlight golden tones in grey hair — plus it is great in smoking mixtures and snuff, good for poultices and diarrhea.”

She wrote that Betony was a favorite of hers “principally for its beauty as a flowering plant and its use in teas (similar to black tea), although I never forget that if I need to get rid of evil spirits in the house, Betony is the weapon.”

As for me, I’m in total agreement with her praises of Betony and can attest to its virtues. As a hardy perennial, it does very well in our zone 4-5, while taking on sun or partial shade. You can start seeds, but like most perennials, it’s slow and you’ll have better luck with a plant. It will happily allow you to divide it in the spring to expand your garden or share with friends.

My current ”embarrassment of Betony’s riches” now includes the gone-wild front yard which is in no way any longer “cultivated.” Its hodge-podge of wild roses, buck brush, wild clover, daisies, honeysuckle, Columbine and “others” is now joined by upstart plants of burgeoning betony. I’ve tried to tone down the “vacant lot” look by planting some large pots with pretty stuff — Veronica, Catmint, etc., and other pretties to augment the Smoke tree, mini Hawthorn and Perennial Pea trees, but it’s still pretty stark. At least I have happy pollinators at hand to appreciate it all.

God bless — stay healthy, and call (between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.) if you want to chat about gardens.

Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at or by phone at 208-265-4688 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.


Garden fairy inspects this summer’s crop of Betony.