This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Betonica purpurea C. B. Betonica officinalis Linn, Vetonica Cordi. Betony, or wood-betony: a low plant, with dark green, oblong, wrinkled, crenated, somewhat hairy leaves, set in pairs; and square unbranched stalks; bearing thick spikes of labiated purplish flowers, each of which is followed by four oblong triangular seeds inclosed in the flower cup. It grows wild in woody and shady places, flowers in June and July, and in winter dies to the ground, the roots continuing.
This herb is recommended as a corroborant and aperient; in obstructions of the viscera; in catarrhal, vertiginous, paralytic, hysteric, and other disorders both of the nervous and the vascular system. Its virtues have, by many practical writers, been greatly exaggerated; those of the more efficacious medicines to which it was joined, as rue, mint, cloves, guaiacum, and others, being often placed to the account of this favourite ingredient.
(a) Menu de l'acad. des scienc. de Berlin, four l'ann. 1749.
The leaves and tops of betony have an agreeable but weak smell, which in keeping is soon dissipated: to the taste, they discover a slight warmth, roughishness and bitterishness. The powder of the dry leaves, snuffed up the nose, provokes sneezing, and hence is sometimes made an ingredient in sternutatory compositions.
Infusions of the leaves in boiling water smell and taste lightly, and not ungratefully of the herb: on infpiffating them, the specific flavour of the betony is dissipated, and only a weak bitterishness and a kind of saline austerity remain in the extract. The vapour which exhales in the boiling, caught in distilling vessels, is lightly impregnated with the smell of the betony: when large quantities are distilled at once, a very small portion of essential oil separates, in colour yellowish, in taste moderately warm and pungent, and in smell pretty strong, but some-what less grateful than the herb in substance. Spirituous tinctures, in colour deep green, discover rather less of the smell and taste of the betony than the watery infusions, though the spirit extracts all the active parts of the herb. On infpiffating the filtered tinctures, a con-siderable part of the odorous matter exhales: the remaining extract has little smell, and a weakly pungent, bitterish, aromatic taste.
The roots are said to be very different in quality from the other parts of the plant; to be nauseous, bitter, purgative, and emetic(a).
(a) L'Obel, Adversaria, p. 229. Ray, Hist. plant. p. 551. Cafpar Hoffman, De wed. officinal. lib. ii. cap. xxxvii. § 6.