- Family Verbenaceae
- Verbena hastata
- Verbena officinalis
- Enchanters Plant, Herb of the Cross, Devil’s Medicine, Bastard Balm, Junos Tears, Pigeons Grass, Pigeonweed, Simplers Joy, Herb of Grace, Wild Hyssop, Blue/False/American Vervain, Iron-weed, Wild Verbena, Indian Hyssop
- Chinese: Ma Bian Cao
- Spanish: Verbena, Dormilón, Moradilla
- Nahuatl: Axixipatli
- Do not use during pregnancy as it is a uterine stimulant. However, it may be taken during labour.
- Blue vervain should be avoided if there is a history of heart disease.
- Do not use tinctures for liver disorders. Use only the hot water method of extraction.
- It can cause vomiting in high doses.
Likely native to the Mediterranean region, vervain grows wild throughout much of Europe and North Africa, as well as in China and Japan. It is a slender perennial, growing to three feet with stiff, thin stems and spikes of small lilac flowers. The American Blue Vervain (V. hastata) is a perennial native to the northern US and Canada. The plant grows up to five feet in height and produces blue flowers, hence its name. American varieties are found mainly on moist prairies and meadows, low open woodlands, stream banks, and around springs, seepage areas, and roadsides. The aerial parts are gathered in the spring and summer while flowering.
Strangely, this unassuming plant was one of the most revered herbs used by the Druids. It was called hiera botane (sacred plant) by the Romans, who used it to purify their homes and temples. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese also considered the plant as having “hidden powers”. It was the herb of prophecy for the magi, the mystic sages of Persia.
The name Verbena, is a classical name for branches of laurel, olive, myrtle, cypress, and other trees used in religious rites.
Vervain is used extensively by perfumery houses because of its delicate aroma.
Gerard gives an interesting treatise on the herb in his herbal. He recommended it for “Tertian and Quartaine Fevers,” but derided those who promoted it as a cure for the plague. He also warned against using the herb for “witchcraft and sorcery.”
The herb has long been used for dropsy. Modern research has identified cardioactive glycosides as being responsible for this action.
The herb also has antidepressant qualities, an idea that goes back to Pliny, at least. However, its action is weak unless taken in large doses, which are poisonous.
The Aztecs called it “medicine for urinating” and used the mashed roots as a diuretic.
In early 18th century “New Spain”, the Jesuits prescribed the herb as a remedy for headache, jaundice, and other ailments. Mexicans today use “verbena” tea to treat bad colds and flu.
Native American tribes also used the herb medicinally, mainly as a treatment for circulatory problems, headaches, insomnia, and hepatitis. The Teton Dakotas boiled the leaves to make a drink used to treat stomachache. The Omahas used the leaves for a beverage tea. The Mesquakies used the root as a remedy for “fits”. The Menominis made a tea from the roots to clear up cloudy urine. The Chippewas took the dried flowers and pulverized them to make a snuff to stop nosebleeds. The Iroquois made a root decoction and used it to treat intestinal worms.
A report from 1785 stated that American Army physicians used the plant as an emetic and expectorant when they could not find anything else, and found it to be a successful remedy.
The dried aerial parts were officially listed in the National Formulary from 1916 to 1926 as a diaphoretic and expectorant.
- bile stimulant
- liver restorative
- promotes milk flow
- promotes sweating
- relaxant tonic
- uterine stimulant
- volatile oil (including citral)
- bitter glycosides (including iridoids – verbenin, verbenalin)
- Aerial parts
Infusions are taken for insomnia, nervous tension, or to encourage sweating. They also stimulate the immune system in feverish conditions and can be used as a liver stimulant to improve poor appetite and digestive function. When sipped during labour, the herb stimulates uterine contractions, and when taken during lactation, increases milk flow.
Tinctures are used for nervous exhaustion and depression, and combine well with oats in this treatment. They are also used as a liver stimulant for sluggish digestion, but should not be used if any liver disease is present. It can be combined with other urinary herbs to treat stones and such conditions related to excess uric acid as gout.
Poultices are applied to insect bites, sprains, and bruises.
Ointments are used on eczema, wounds, and weeping sores, as well as for painful neuralgia.
Mouthwash made from infusions are used to treat mouth ulcers and soft, spongy gums or sore throats.
The herb is also an effective nerve tonic, urinary cleanser, and fever remedy.
The herb is generally used as a diaphoretic or sudorific in cases of chills and colds. It has quite a pleasant and invigorating action and helps clear blocked nasal passages.
The American Blue Vervain (V. hastata) is regarded as a variety of V. officinalis and used to treat pleurisy. It also has expectorant qualities that can be of value in pulmonary disorders. It is also an effective natural tranquilizer. Blue vervain works in much the same way as aspirin, although the two are not chemically the same.
It also encourage milk flow and can be taken during labour to stimulate contractions.
Topically, the herb is used for sores, wounds, and gum disorders.
In China, the plant is used as a fever remedy for malaria and influenza.
In the Caribbean, a related species, V. domingensis, is taken as a bitter tonic for digestion, and is also used for wounds and headaches.