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Wood betony is a European plant with a rich history of use

Betony

Betonica officinalis Lamiaceae

Wood betony is used in modern herbalism for much the same as it was in ancient times. This medicine has a specific affinity for the head and conditions of the nervous and digestive systems. Modern research has explored its potential as an antioxidant.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

At risk from overharvesting and habitat loss. Commonly sourced from the wild though may also be in cultivation. Only source cultivated supplies or from certified sustainable wild collection. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Nervous debility
  • Headaches
  • Neuralgia
  • Anxiety
  • Dyspepsia
  • Digestive conditions
  • Respiratory congestion
  • Antioxidant
  • How does it feel?

    Wood betony has a dynamic taste sense. It has sweet and aromatic tones with a subtle, building bitterness that develops on the tongue after drinking the infusion. The diffusive quality of wood betony can be experienced quite shortly after taking it, with a sense of ‘opening’ in the head.

  • What can I use it for?

    Small wood betony flower (Betonica officinalis)
    Small wood betony flower (Betonica officinalis)

    Wood betony is an exceptional herb for the times we are in. This herb supports our nervous system when modern life is overwhelming and stressful. It is a choice of medicine for frazzled nerves and for feelings of disconnection. Wood betony restores a sense of steadiness, bringing us more into our centre and more into our bodies.

    Wood betony is a common British wildflower with a plethora of medicinal uses that stem back to ancient times. It is primarily used for conditions in the nervous and digestive systems with a particular affinity to the head (1).

    This important nervine medicine can be employed for its ability to calm and nourish the nervous system. It improves blood circulation to the head and may be applied for headaches and migraines (1) that are caused by stress, nervous tension or poor peripheral blood movement (2). It combines well with other aromatic nervines such as lavender, lemon balm and chamomile to offer a valuable synergy as well as to enhance the taste,  as wood betony can be quite bitter for some.

    Wood betony’s most well-known application is for headaches. It can be particularly useful for headaches from sinusitis and the congestion associated with head colds. This action is thought to relate to its tannin content. Tannins have an astringent action which helps to improve the tissue health and clear congestion, particularly in the respiratory mucous membranes (3).

    Wood betony is a mild bitter digestive as well as an antispasmodic agent. This combination of actions lends the herb to acute conditions in the digestive system supporting digestive processes and relaxing tension in the digestive tract. Bitter herbs are often used to support digestive processes as they stimulate the production of digestive fluids as well as support liver function (2).

    Wood betony can be taken as a tincture or tea to help calm the nerves and address stress-related digestive conditions such as nausea, dyspepsia, abdominal cramps and colic (2). 

    A fresh herb poultice can also be useful in first aid as it is a mild dermatological healing agent. Wood betony grows in the wild and can usually be located easily out on a summer hike. The fresh poultice can be made by chewing up the herb. The mixture can then be applied to minor wounds, cuts and grazes (2). 

    A mild infusion can be used to wash the eyes for the treatment of conjunctivitis. When using a herbal infusion as an eye wash, always ensure to filter the tea with a coffee filter to remove all of the plant material prior to application (2).

  • Into the heart of betony

    Betony flowers (Betonica officinalis)
    Betony flowers (Betonica officinalis)

    In terms of energetic quality, wood betony is considered cooling by some (4) and warming by others. The latter is usually referenced  in older texts. It is, however, generally accepted by modern herbalists as a warming, relaxing aromatic medicine. The early writings of William Salmon in the 16th century referred to wood betony as hot and dry in the second degree (5). This nuance is sometimes seen across different energetic systems or even from herbalist to herbalist. It reflects the intersection between traditional and modern interpretations as well as the unique relationships that are held by the practitioner and their herbs.

    This herb is specific for those experiencing emotional stress with dissociation. Wood betony is specifically indicated where there is a need to connect the mind and the body, or to bring back a sense of embodiment and presence. Wood (6) writes in ‘The Earthwise Herbal’ that wood betony is “a remedy which helps establish rootedness, connectedness, earthiness, and groundedness. It is a plant for people who are cut off from the earth or their bodies”.

    The tissue states that are most indicated with this herb are those that are identified as tense or constricted. Tension may present with emotional and physical manifestations in different body systems. The tissues may be in a state of spasm. Wood betony works as both nervine relaxant and antispasmodic (5). 

    In cases where headaches are caused by tension or constriction in the cerebral microcirculation, wood betony would be a prime remedy. Emotional manifestations of tension include stress, anxiety,      perhaps hyperactivity and a feeling of being ‘highly strung’ (6).

    This constrictive tissue state is often indicated in those who have experienced an acutely traumatic situation or where prolonged overexposure to stress hormones has led to a heightened state. The nervous system is left in a state of hypervigilance, tension and over-reactivity. There will often be stress-related digestive symptoms such as colic, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal spasm (6). There may also be a heightened state of alertness and anxiety along with tense breathing, palpitations and an accelerated heart rate. Wood betony can work well where symptoms of both physical and emotional tension present together.

    Wood betony may help with insomnia as a mild sedative action (5). It is also specifically indicated for nightmares both in modern and traditional references (2, 3).

  • Traditional uses

    Betony plant (Betonica officinalis)
    Betony plant (Betonica officinalis)

    In The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies the pharmacognosist Dr Varro Tyler (7) writes “wood betony is one of those medicinal plants once believed to be good for practically everything whose use in folk medicine decreased over the years until it is now thought to be of relatively little value”. However, wood betony has risen in popularity in modern Western herbal medicine due to its multifarious reputation.

    Greive (8) refers to the use of wood betony by the ancient Greeks. Antonius Musa, the chief physician to Emperor Augustus wrote that it was “ a certain cure for no less than forty-seven diseases” . An old Italian saying “sell your coat and buy betony” was a testimony to its value in bygone times (8). 

    It was highly popular in monasteries and apothecary gardens where it may have been traditionally applied for all maladies of the head as a nerve tonic and nervine medicine (8). Many references exist for its use in hysteria, headaches, neuralgia and toothache (8).

    There are also abundant references for wood betony among traditional writings for digestive conditions. Many indications for stomach pains, constipation, vomiting, nausea, vomiting and as an aid to digestion. These indications are repeated throughout historical texts such as those set out by ancient herbal scholars Dioscorides, Pliny and Gerard (3). It was also historically considered an alterative to help purify the blood which deemed this herb useful in the approach to treating rheumatic conditions (8).

    Wood betony is also understood to have an emmenagogue action that can stimulate or bring on menstruation. Older texts also commonly reference wood betony for the treatment of parasites due to its anthelmintic properties (5). Finally, wood betony was traditionally used for skin and gynaecological and urinary disorders. This was often taken as tea or used externally as compresses or baths (9).

    Other historical uses of wood betony include those of a more esoteric nature. It was believed to have a spiritually protective influence. A sprig of betony was carried in pockets as a talisman to protect body, mind and spirit. There are also references for its use in the protection of holy places and places of burial (3).

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Small betony flower (Betonica officinalis)
    Small betony flower (Betonica officinalis)

    Nervous system

    Wood betony is a gentle cerebral tonic that works by improving blood circulation to the head (2, 10). This action brings with it a number of benefits to the nervous system that includes for the brain and mind, as well as the sensory systems.

    It is an excellent ally for nervous debility and for headaches that are relating to stress tension. It has a centring effect whilst also strengthening and calming a debilitated nervous system. These actions make wood betony a choice herb to incorporate into a treatment approach for anxiety (1). 

    Wood betony combines well with motherwort and skullcap for anxiety conditions. Herbalists often  incorporate nerve tonics and regenerative nervines into a medicine for treating nervous debility or anxiety. This would include the use of herbs like oat straw or ashwagandha. The best medicine is fine-tuned and personalised to suit the specific circumstances and constitution of the patient.

    The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia also recommends wood betony for vertigo, headaches, hysteria and neuralgia (1). Improving cerebral circulation is an important action in the treatment of ophthalmic (relating to eyes) conditions as well as conditions of the inner ear. Wood betony would be indicated for any such condition where the eyes and ears may be supported by increased tone and blood movement in the microcirculation (2).

    Some aromatic nervines to consider would be those such as lavender, lemon balm and chamomile with nervous trophorestoratives such as oat straw or ashwagandha. Wood betony pairs well with skullcap for nervous headaches.

    Digestive system

    Wood betony should not be overlooked for conditions relating to the digestive system. It has a unique combination of antispasmodic, bitter and aromatic qualities that add to its digestive effects. Its antispasmodic actions allow it to reduce tension and contractability in the digestive tract. It is indicated in dyspepsia, nausea, heartburn, colic and for irritable bowel syndrome (2, 3, 5).

    Wood betony leaves (Betonica officinalis)
    Wood betony leaves (Betonica officinalis)

    The best use of wood betony is where digestive issues are connected to stress and nervous debility. As a mildly bitter aromatic it is stimulating (carminative) to the digestive system. It offers relief in irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions that are classified by tension and flatulence. It serves as a good supporting or directing herb in any herbal formula directed towards the stomach (3) and can be combined with more specific herbs to address the specific presentation of the patient.

    ‘Solidarity apothecary’ discusses a further use for wood betony through its healing and vulnerary properties. The suggestion is towards using wood betony as part of a treatment approach to address intestinal permeability, otherwise known as a leaky gut syndrome (11).

    Cardiovascular system

    Wood betony can be used in conjunction with other cardiovascular tonics and hypotensive (herbs that reduce blood pressure) for the treatment of stress-related hypertension (high blood pressure). It addresses a number of stress-related symptoms whilst also working as a direct support to the structural health of vascular tissue (9).

    Wood betony is not directly hypotensive, however its action on the nervous system makes it an important element in the treatment of hypertension, particularly where stress is a causative factor (10).

    A herbalist may incorporate herbs that offer direct action to the cardiovascular system such as bilberry or hawthorn which offer support on a structural level by improving the integrity of the microcapillaries. A medicine for hypertension may also include diuretics such as dandelion or hibiscus to reduce blood volume via increased fluid output (which reduces the blood pressure). These would often be given as part of a treatment plan that also includes lifestyle and dietary interventions to improve the systemic health of the patient.

  • Research

    Purple betony (Betonica officinalis)
    Purple betony (Betonica officinalis)

    There are currently no clinical trials on the effects of wood betony in humans. However, there are a small number of in vitro studies that have been included to demonstrate a variety of its effects. Clinical trials afford us the best insight into the effects of medicinal plants in the context of clinical practice. 

    Animal studies are not condoned by Herbal Reality, however for the purpose of including research from which some understanding of therapeutic actions can be confirmed, some reference is made to animal studies within the works that have been included herein:

    Phytochemical analysis and in vitro biological activity of wood betony and sage extracts

    An in vitro study was conducted to evaluate the antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of extracts from wood betony and  sage (Salvia officinalis) herbs.

    The study results demonstrated that wood betony displayed positive antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activity as well as wound healing properties. Wood betony demonstrated antibacterial properties against B. subtilis and P. aeruginosa (12).

    Wood betony works as an anti-inflammatory agent as it moderates auto antigen (inflammatory marks that are involved in autoimmune diseases) and inhibits denaturation of proteins in inflammatory disease (12).

    Wood betony extract followed by sage extract also demonstrated the highest free radical scavenging capacity. The study suggests these results are comparable to that of ascorbic acid. The antioxidant activity of wood betony is believed to be related to its phenolic compounds (12).

    A further in vitro study set out to explore the antioxidant properties of wood betony, finding that an extract that was lower in phenolic compounds possessed the most powerful antioxidant activity. The study suggests a connection between the bioactive compounds phenylethanoid glycosides and chlorogenic acid for these free radical scavenging actions (9).

    The study also references the effects of wood betony glycosides exhibiting hypotensive activity by unblocking constrictive blood vessels (9).

    These works offer us some insight into the medicinal activities of this fascinating traditional medicine showing that it has significant potential beyond many of its previously known uses.

  • Did you know?

    The name ‘betony’ is thought to derive from the Celtic ‘bew’- head, and ‘ton’- good. Its more modern scientific name, Stachys, derives from Greek, meaning ‘an ear of grain’-  making references to its spike of pink/ purple flowers. The Latin specific epithet ‘officinalis’ refers to plants that were considered to have culinary or medicinal use.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Wood betony is an herbaceous perennial wildflower that grows in matted clumps. It grows gradually and can reach up to one to two feet in height and width.

    Its leaves are large, heart-shaped, ovate to oblong, petiolate and dark green with scalloped edges. The leaves are stalkless and grow alternately at wide intervals, in pairs along the stem along stems. The largest leaves arise from the root in clumps at the base of the plant. Smaller leaves grow from the slender, squared stems that arise into singular flower heads. Both types of foliage have a rough texture and short hairs. The surface has glands that emit a bitter, aromatic oil.

    The purple, red flowers are arranged in a whorl. Above the whorl is bare stem, followed by the small and stalkless leaves, then additional flowers which forms a spike of alternating flowers and leaves. The flowers attract bees and other pollinators. It can be mistaken for marsh woundwort (Stachys palustris).

  • Safety

    Wood betony is safe to use for all ages. Due to its emmenagogue properties it is best to avoid using during pregnancy and lactation.

  • Interactions

    None known

  • Contraindications

    None known

  • Preparation

    • Infusion (tea)
    • Tincture
  • Dosage

    Tincture (1:5 in 40%): Take between 2– 6ml in a little water up to three times a day.

    Infusion: To make an infusion place 1– 2 teaspoons of dried material in one cup of boiling water, infuse for between 15– 20 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.

  • Plant parts used

    Dried aerial parts (leaf, flower and stem)

  • Constituents

    Volatile oils: Monoterpenes 0–5%; oxygenated monoterpenes 0.4–1.4%; sesquiterpenes 62–71%; oxygenated sesquiterpenes 4–11%; monoterpenes 0.6%; sesquiterpenes 71%: germacrene D 42.8%, gamma-cadinene 6.3%, delta-cadinene, 5%, alpha-amorphene 3.9%, alpha-cadinol 2.3%, alpha bergamotene 1.2%, beta-bourbonene 1.9%; Sesquiterpenes: isocaryophyllene 22.9%, beta-caryophyllene; germacrene D 20.1%, beta-caryophyllene 14.6%, caryophyllene oxide 7.9%, beta-humulene 6.7%

    Phenylpropanoids: Total polyphenols 6.75%, phenolic acids 2.7%, flavonoids 0.15%

    Phenolic acids: Caffeic acid 3.8%

    Phenylethanoid glycosides: Acetoside, betonyosides A-F, campneosides II, forsythoside B, leucosceptoside B

    Flavonoids: Flavone glycosides: tricin glycosides, luteolin glycoside and C-glycoside, apigenin diglycoside and apigenin; coumaroylglucoside; apigenin glycosides and C-glycosides, quercetin glycosides

    Tannins: Total 5.6% calculated as gallic acid 6% (3)

Wood betony illustration (Betonica officinalis)
  • Habitat

    Wood betony is native to Europe and Asia. Its native habitat includes grassbanks, meadows, pastures, hedgerows, hedge banks, heathlands, open lands and margins. It is occasionally found in cliff-top grassland — in some cases as the genetically dwarfed variety, Betonica officinalis. nana. It favours mildly acidic soils, but is also found on those that are neutral or strongly calcareous.

  • Sustainability

    Wood betony is classified as ‘least concern’ in the IUCN list of at risk species (13). However, there have been significant local declines throughout its native habitats in England and Ireland where it is considered rare (14).

    Habitat loss and over-harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well-known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind. 

    The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.

    The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). 

    Read our article on Herbal quality & safety: What to know before you buy and Sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.

  • Quality control

    Herbal m edicines are often safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.

    Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.

    A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.

  • How to grow

    Wood b etony is a perennial wildflower that is most commonly found growing in hedgerows, cut or grazed grasslands or in open woodlands. Wood betony is a highly resilient plant that is easy to cultivate. It can be grown in full sunshine or partial shade in any soil type although it prefers loamy and sandy soils.

    • Plants can be propagated from seed in autumn or spring. They can also be propagated from cuttings or the clumps can be divided.
    • Sow indoors in pots or trays in late winter or early spring. To sow in late spring or early summer use the cold stratification method by keeping the seeds refrigerated for a few weeks. Keep the compost moist as germination can take several weeks.
    • Once the plants are big enough to handle they can be transferred into small pots or planted out in the summer. Wood betony will flower in the second year.
    • It prefers a damp soil, but waterlogging should be avoided. Generally speaking, it is a resilient plant that will be fine in most UK gardens and only needs watering when it is very dry. Once established, this plant is resistant to drought.
  • Recipe

    ‘Clear head’ tea blend

    This blend of gently relaxing, aromatic nervine herbs will help bring a sense of relaxation and grounding to the mind and body — allowing one to drop into a calm, clear headspace. This is a great blend to offer some extra support during times of stress or just as a general support for the nervous system. Drink throughout the day and enjoy the benefits of these delicious herbs.

    Ingredients:

    • Wood betony
    • Skullcap
    • Lime flower
    • Oat straw
    • Chamomile, lemon balm or lavender

    Method:

    Mix equal parts of the dried herbs listed below to the approximate weight of 5–10g (or 3–4 teaspoons). Steep in hot water in a teapot for up to 15 minutes. Then strain the infusion into your favourite mug. Drink up to three times a day and enjoy the benefits of these delicious herbs.

  • References

    1. British Herbal Medicine Association. Scientific Committee. A Guide to Traditional Herbal Medicines : A Sourcebook of Accepted Traditional Uses of Medicinal Plants within Europe. British Herbal Medicine Association; 2003.
    2. Menzies-Trull C. Herbal Medicine Keys to Physiomedicalism Including Pharmacopoeia. Newcastle, Staffs. Faculty Of Physiomedical Herbal Medicine; 2003.
    3. (PDF) stachys officinalis, Wood Betony. Accessed March 5, 2024. https://www.researchgate.net publication/301109360_Stachys_officinalis_wood_betony. 
    4. Easley T,  Horne SH. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory : A Medicine-Making Guide. North Atlantic Books; 2016.
    5. Wood Betony Monograph – Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. eclecticschoolofherbalmedicine.com. Published January 24, 2018. Accessed March 7, 2024. https://eclecticschoolofherbalmedicine.com/wood-betony-monograph/#:~:text=It%20is%20well%20known%20as
    6. Wood M. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books; 2003.
    7. Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Haworth Herbal Press; 1999.
    8. Grieve M, Leyel CF, Marshall M. A Modern Herbal : The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with All Their Modern Scientific Uses. Dover Publications : Made available through hoopla; 2013.
    9. Šliumpaitė I, Venskutonis PR, Murkovic M, Ragažinskienė O. Antioxidant properties and phenolic composition of wood betony (Betonica officinalis L., syn. Stachys officinalis L.). Industrial Crops and Products. 2013;50:715-722. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2013.08.024
    10. Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism : The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press; 2003.
    11. Betony Plant Profile – Solidarity Apothecary. Accessed March 7, 2024. https://solidarityapothecary.org/betony-plant-profile/
    12. Paun G, Neagu E, Moroeanu V, Ionescu E, Radu G. Antioxidant, antimicrobial and in vitro anti-inflammatory activities of Betonica officinalis and Salvia officinalis extracts. Planta Medica. 2016;81(S 01):S1-S381. doi:https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0036-1596394
    13. Khela S. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Betonica officinalis. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Published June 8, 2012. Accessed March 7, 2024. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/203273/2762726
    14. PlantAtlas. plantatlas2020.org. Accessed March 7, 2024. https://plantatlas2020.org/atlas/2cd4p9h.6yb1xg
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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