You Betcha, Betony!

by Jessa Fisher and Phyllis Hogan

Plants are like people. Every single species of plant has a distinct personality and a special roll to play, with a unique assemblage of pollinators, herbivores, and neighboring plants. No plant is too small or insignificant, just like every person has an important roll to play in this lifetime, with their family, their community, and with the whole planet. Just as with humans, a plant's personality is partially shaped by its physical characteristics, partially by chemical constituents, and partially by that magical, divine touch some call God, some call DNA or genetics, and some call karma. This concept can be important in herbal medicine, homeopathy, and flower essences.  

Betony (Pedicularis centranthera) is no different, being a harbinger of spring. This little plant pops up this time of year under shrubs in Sedona and Prescott area and ponderosa pine trees in Flagstaff. It is very low growing, unlike its impressively tall cousin, elephanthead lousewart (Pedicularis groenlandica) (with a decidedly unfortunate name!), which also grows in Arizona. Being in the Scrophulariaceae plant family, they have a characteristic long, tubular flower with lips, like other family members foxglove, Indian paintbrush, and penstemon. Plants in the genus Pedicularis are semi-parasitic, so part of their nutrients and also chemical constituents can be derived from the host plant they are living under, so it is important to not use individuals growing under poisonous plants.  

If you are hiking and happen upon a stand of what might appear to be clumps of small ferns with purple flowers, chances are you have just met up with the lovely betony. The leaves and flowers are collected, so no need to disturb the roots, which makes collecting a sustainable adventure. I (Phyllis) find great relief with this plant for insomnia that is trigged by a busy mind, the kind of incessant mental harassment that happens when I want to sleep but thoughts of the day or a stressful situation won't let me rest. A dropper full of betony tincture and *poof*- I'm in dreamland. Also, for children over four years old who are having reoccurring nightmares, try warm betony tea a half hour before bedtime while reading them a happy story. During the day when you are hiking, I recommend tasting the sweet flower nectar and munching on a few peppery leaves- they wont put you to sleep, but will just take the edge off and for a brief moment in time to help you forget what might be bothering you. About that silly name lousewort- in the time of the Roman Empire the seeds and flowers were believed to ward off lice, however I've never success with this.  

Besides teas and tinctures, another way to get to know the personality of a plant is through flower essences. Flower essences take the unique characteristics of plants and match them up with human personalities, emotions and character traits. This is discovered through divination, intuition, observation, and scientific provings, that is, by testing these theories on humans. Rhonda Pallas Downey, founder of Living Flower Essences, is our local Verde Valley flower essence diva. She meditates with the plants, and uses solar, lunar and earthly influences to match plants with emotions in her line of local flower essences. All of the plants correspond to a flower color, chakra, vibration, and subtle energy, which can then help us rebalance back to our natural state of alignment with use of their essence. (Go to for more info on her essences, books and certification classes, or find them at Winter Sun Trading Co. in Flagstaff.)  

Well one gorgeous spring day last year, I (Jessa) decided to travel to Sedona to make a flower essence of betony based on Rhonda's teachings. I sat with the little patch of betony I found, and asked it if I could make an essence out of it. These were the thoughts and words that came to me when I sat with this special little plant:  

Humble. Low growing. Passive. Femininity. Lipstick. Hidden secrets will be revealed. Survival. Low energy. Mystery. Moonlight. Forget your winter troubles and patiently move forward. Patience. Slow and Steady. Impermanence. Let go of ego. Worker Bee. Maid/Caretaker. Paving the way for others. Have to work to get to know me. Shy. Hidden. Seductress. Enchanter. Confusion. Fog. Seriousness. Crabby. Reticent. "Don't bother with us we're just doing our thing".  

I felt the little betony didn't want any praise or attention, it just wanted to continue doing its important role of getting us all ready for spring, and easing our worried minds, and being one of the first flowering plants out for pollinators. It had a job to do and was hard at work! Never underestimate the power a plant has, or the job it has on this planet. And never underestimate how important YOU are. If you are feeling imbalanced, you might want to try a flower essence or a tincture, or a walk in the woods to help realign you with your divine nature and singular, special path in life.  

ENDING STATEMENT: The Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association (AERA) is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 to investigate, document, and promote the use of traditionally utilized plants of the Southwest and to aid in preserving this knowledge for future generations. Phyllis Hogan is the director of the AERA and Jessa Fisher is the herbarium curator.

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