Canadian Wood Betony
Origin: Eastern North America
Improvement status: Wild
Seeds per packet: ~45
BOTANICAL SAMPLE - NOT GERMINATION TESTED
Life cycle: Perennial
Also called Canadian lousewort, Canadian wood betony (often just called wood betony) is a wide-ranging native perennial found from Quebec to Manitoba, south to Mexico, and east to Florida. It lives in a wide range of habitats too, including forests, prairies, savannas, and barrens. The pretty flowers are somewhat similar to dead nettles, but larger and more striking. They range in color from greenish-yellow to purplish-red and are pollinated by native bumblebees and possibly some ants and beetles. The early bloom time makes it an important source of nectar for pollinators.
A member of the Orobanchaceae (broomrape) family, many of which are fully parasitic plants, Canadian wood betony is considered a "hemiparasite", since it still uses photosynthesis, so does not rely on its host plant for all of it energy needs. It attaches to the roots of a wide variety of species — especially warm-season grasses like big bluestem as well as prolific broad-leaved plants like goldenrod — and is sometimes used in native landscape restoration to temper the aggressiveness of more common plants.
Canadian wood betony has a long history of use as a food and medicine. Haudenosaunee people are said to have cooked the plant as a vegetable, often using it in soup. After European colonization, Indigenous peoples are said to have added it to oats for feeding horses. Native people also used the plant medicinally, with a root infusion being a remedy for gastrointestinal issues, anemia, and heart trouble, and a poultice used for sore muscles, swellings, and tumors. There are accounts of Menominee people calling the plant "enticer root" and carrying some of it as a charm to help seduce a lover. Similarly, the root was used to mend broken marriages by having the couple both eat some food containing it.
Wood betony is truly a magical being — food, medicine, love potion, perennial, parasite — yet it manages to evade the notice of most of us, even when we live right alongside it. We hope you come to enjoy this lovely and unusual plant!
GROWING TIPS: Wood betony seeds should be put into cool-moist stratification right away upon receipt of seeds, and then kept in the refrigerator for two months. They can then be kept in a warmer place for up to another two months or so, but keep an eye on them to make sure they're not sprouting (if so, those plants should be planted in a permanent spot as soon as possible). As a hemiparasite, Canadian wood betony will want a plant host, so you should provide one for it. Perennial grasses and sedges make good hosts. Some people like to start both a host and the wood betony at the same time, while others prefer to start the wood betony near to a host plant, or even to seed directly into a slit cut into the base of the potential host plant. You could also simply plant the seeds in soil right next to a potential host plant. Or try a few different methods! Please let us know how these seeds do for you.