Vervain (Verbena officinalis) is a flowering plant in the Verbena (Verbenacea) family of plants. It also has some other names such as:

  • common verbena,
  • wild verbena,
  • simpler’s joy,
  • holy herb,
  • enchanter’s plant,
  • mosquito plant,
  • wild hyssop,
  • Indian hyssop,
  • blue vervain,
  • juno’s tears,
  • pigeon’s grass,
  • pigeon weed, and
  • herb of the cross.

This herb is often confused with lemon verbena. Lemon verbena is actually an entirely different plant. Both vervain and lemon verbena are in the same plant family, but there are many plants in the Verbena family.

Not all are used medicinally in the same ways as vervain. Other medicinal varieties of this plant include blue vervain (Verbena hastata) and white vervain (Verbena urticifolia.)

The Vervain Flower

vervain flowers

Verbena officinalis is a perennial plant with delicate jagged leaves and small, pale lilac five-petaled flowers on shoots. The vervain flower can bloom light blue to purple flowers, but some will bloom with pink or white flowers. Although pretty, vervain flowers have no fragrance. The origins of this common verbena are not entirely known. However, it is believed to be native to southern Europe in the Mediterranean region. It has since been naturalized to other parts of the world, including North America. The plant will grow wild in most soils. Most varieties will mature at 12″ to 36″ tall. It will spread slowly, staying low to the ground until blooming mid-summer through early fall.

The Herb of Love: The Lore and Tradition of Vervain

The use of common verbena for medicinal, ceremonial, and superstitious purposes goes back thousands of years. Ancient cultures throughout Europe have held this plant in high esteem. The significance of the herb as a cultural symbol and healing plant is partly how it acquired its many names. Even its nicknames convey adoration, as in: the herb of love and the herb of the cross.

Vervain was a sacred plant to several ancient civilizations, including ancient Egypt. Egyptians believed this plant first sprung from the tears of the goddess Isis as she mourned the death of the god Osiris. In ancient Persia, the Persians also treated it as a sacred plant.

Supernatural and religious symbol

The ancient Druids of what’s now Ireland believed vervain held supernatural powers. Worshippers of Thor in Scandinavia similarly used this plant in ceremonies and rituals calling upon its mystical powers. Both the Greeks and the Romans believed that it was a holy plant. They used the sacred vervain branches to purify their temples. The Greeks called it hierobotane, “holy plant”, while the Roman version of the name was herba sacra or “sacred herb.” The Romans also used the plant to bless their altars. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, is said to have recommended Verbena officinalis for fever and plague. In Christian lore, it was used to treat Christ’s wounds on the cross. That is why it is sometimes called the herb of the cross. The Aztecs and other Native American tribes used vervain roots and flowers as diuretic and natural treatment for headaches, circulatory issues, and insomnia.

Vervain Flower: Roots in Traditional German Medicine

During the middle ages, vervain was often used in magicians’ and witches’ potions. In folk medicine, the plant was used for protection, but was also used as an aphrodisiac, earning it the name herba veneris, or “herb of love.” The plant was highly revered in many European cultures and was considered a virtual panacea to treat organs of the abdominal region – along with the lungs, and as a remedy for headaches.

Hildegard of Bingen‘s synopsis

Hildegard von Bingen generally classifies the plant as “cooling.” Within Hildegard medicine she references vervain and verbena to treat swelling and inflammation in the throat, to heal ulcers, to treat jaundice, tooth and gum infections, and to reduce gum inflammation. Vervain remedies are commonly found in Traditional German Medicine and in Hildegard of Bingen Writings. The herb was once thought useful for diplomacy and was present at all contract signings and carried by messengers and envoys. Pliny the Elder described vervain as a “sacred plant” with innumerable applications including the ritual sweeping and smudging of homes and its use in potions for love and good fortune.

Reviving a forgotten medicinal plant

As a medicinal plant, vervain has been largely forgotten, and is often confused in German homeopathy for the fragrant Lemon Beebrush (aloysia citrodora), which is often included in herbal teas. We have a vervain tea (also called blue vervain tea) recipe for you from Hildegard. But first, how vervain works. The German word for Vervain (“Eisenkraut“) includes reference to iron. The vervain herb, however, contains no iron. Therefore, it is believed the word derives from the plant’s use in the smelting process as means to help harden and improve longevity of steel. The herb was also frequently used to treat cuts and puncture wounds.

Flowering Vervain

vervain

In herbal medicine, the above-ground plant parts of vervain are used during the flowering period. They contain concentrations of bitter plant compounds and tannins, as well as silica and volatile essential oils. The tannins are part of what gives this herb its astringent (constricting) properties. Other active plant components include glycosides (verbenin) and alkaloids. These chemical plant compounds give vervain its healing medicinal properties. The bioactive compounds naturally contained in this plant interact with your body. The result of these interactions is how the plant helps you heal or relieves discomfort of underlying illness or injury.

Medicinal Effects

The medicinal effects of vervain include Antispasmodic (relaxant), Antipyretic (fever-reducing), Diuretic (water reducer), Astringent (constrictive), Antibacterial, and Anti-inflammatory. The natural astringent activity of this herb is what makes it a good oral rinse for bleeding gums and mouth ulcers. Gargling this plant with lukewarm water also helps to relieve sore throat inflammation. It can be used as a tea, a tincture, or topically.

Vervain is an antispasmodic, which makes it a great way to relieve cramps. The fever-reducing properties of this herb are also great for minor colds or fevers. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a great natural remedy for many different conditions. You can use it for the following conditions such as digestive issues, urinary tract infections, kidney stones, gout & jaundice, headaches, insomnia, anxiety & depression, improve lactation, relieve painful menstruation, general pain relief, especially joint pain.

Vervain stimulates bile flow and establishes balance among bodily juices. It is also used in Hildegard of Bingen medicine as an herb to address symptoms related to the common cold. It can be used topically for wound treatment as well as for treating skin disorders. In fact, you can use our vervain tea for wound washing and compressing wounds. More recently, the herb has become known for its effectiveness in treating infections in the airways. It is particularly well suited for acute and chronic inflammation of the sinuses and respiratory tracts because it acts as an anti-inflammatory as well as an expectorant.

Medicinal Tea

The traditional application of medicinal vervain is in tea. The flavor of vervain tea takes some getting used to. Our modern palettes are less accustomed to bitter flavors and vervain is particularly bitter. Hildegard extolled the virtues of bitter flavors and encouraged working to improve our tolerance for bitter herbs. Notwithstanding the taste, vervain has played an important role in healing and herbal magic since ancient times. So, you should try to include it in your natural holistic healing regimen. Making your own vervain tea is a great way to start.

Vervain Tea Recipe

cup of tea with verbena isolated on white
  • Mix ten dry grams (approximately 1/3 ounce) each of vervain, thyme, elderflower, cowslip primrose, and peppermint.
  • Add 2 heaping teaspoons of the herbal mixture per one cup of hot water. Allow to steep for ten minutes.
  • Drink two to three cups daily, but for no longer than a week (and not during pregnancy).
  • You can drink vervain tea to treat any of the conditions listed previously, but it works
  • Particularly well for stomach ailments of all kinds. It will also strengthen your liver and kidneys.

We often talk about the value of bitter substances, particularly as digestive agents. Vervain has a bitter flavor profile so it is also a natural way to add bitter flavors into your diet.

Topical Application

You can use vervain as a skin lotion or compress. It helps relieve discomfort from insect bites and can accelerate the healing process by closing wounds more quickly. You can use fresh vervain plant, crushed into a pulp. Or you can just soak a clean cloth in a strong version of vervain tea and apply directly to your skin.

Precautions

As always, consult with an herbalist or herbal medical practitioner if you are new to medicinal herbs. Consult with your physician if you suffer from any serious medical conditions or are currently under the care for a health condition.

You should also consult with your physician before taking vervain if you are currently taking any medications. This plant is a uterine stimulant. Because of its labor-inducing effects, you should not use it if you are pregnant. In fact, midwives use it for its effectiveness in encouraging labor. Even though Verbena officinalis does not have any well-researched side-effects or drug interactions, you should not take this herb in large doses. Blue vervain (Verbena hastata), however, is known to potentially interfere with blood pressure medications. It may also interact with drugs used in hormone therapy. Large doses of this variety have also caused diarrhea and vomiting in some people. If you find the taste of vervain tea to be unappealing, there are many commercially available forms of this herb you can take.