Synonyms and Common names: European vervain, Enchanter's plant, Herb of the Cross, Holy herb, Juno's tears, Pigeon's grass, Pigeon-weed, Simpler's joy, Herb of Grace
Description and Habitat: In England Vervain is often found growing by roadsides and in sunny pastures. It is a perennial bearing many small, pale-lilac flowers. The leaves are opposite, and cut into toothed lobes. The plant has no perfume, and is slightly bitter and astringent in taste. The flowers sit on tall spikes and are very small, although once recognised its leaves have a distinct oval shape.
It’s a herb that readily reproduces itself by throwing seed in their hundreds all around wherever it grows, it can be a pest if not kept under control. Vervain will grow just about anywhere, although it does prefer a sunny spot and well drained soil.
Parts used: All aerial parts’
Harvesting and preparation: The aerial parts are best harvested when the plant is in bloom, this is usually from mid summer to early autumn and before it sets seed. Dry the leaves and flower spikes in a dark, warm place, spreading them out on kitchen roll is a good idea, or between two sheets of kitchen roll. When dried, crumble the leaves and chop the flower spikes, and keep in an airtight jar in a dry and dark place.
Constituents: Bitter glycosides called verbenalin, essential oil, mucilage, tannin.
Actions: Nervine tonic, sedative, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, possible galactagogue, hepatic, analgesic, anti-bilious, emmenagogue, expectorant, pectoral.
Indications: Depression, melancholia, hysteria, generalised seizures, cholecystalgia, jaundice, early stages of fevers. Specifically indicated in depression and the debility of convalescence after fevers, especially influenza.
Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Vervain strengthens the nervous system whilst relaxing tension and stress. It is used in the treatment of depression and melancholia, particularly following a debilitating illness such as influenza. It is used as a relaxant and antispasmodic remedy in asthma, migraine, insomnia and nervous coughing. Verbenalin, one of the constituents, has a direct action on smooth muscle and also has a potential hypotensive effect. As a diaphoretic, the herb is indicated in the early stages of fever.
The glycosides also have a reputed galactagogue and emmenagogue action, and the Chinese use vervain to treat migraines associated with female sex hormone fluctuations. The galactagogue properties are attributed to aucubin. A luteinising action has been reported, and attributed to inhibition of the gonadotrophic action of the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Vervain has been documented to possess weak parasympathetic properties, causing slight contraction of the uterus, and verbenalin exhibits uterine stimulant activity.
Vervain is used for liver conditions, jaundice and gallstones, and as a gentle but effective laxative. It is a traditional remedy for infected gums and tooth decay, halitosis and tonsillitis. This is supported by the discovery that the glycoside verbenin has a direct effect on glandular secretions, suggesting an effect on the production of saliva.
A poultice of the herb may be applied to insect bites, sprains and bruises, and the ointment is used to treat eczema, wounds, weeping sores and painful neuralgia.
Contraindications: Vervain should not be used during pregnancy as it is a uterine stimilator, although it may be used during labour to stimulate contractions.
Preparation and Dosage:
Infusion: Pour a cup of boiling water onto 1 to 3 tsps of the dried herb and leave to stand for between 10 and 15 minutes. Should be taken 3 times a day.
Tincture: Take 2-4ml of the tincture 3 times a day.
Vervain works well with other herbs.
Combine with skullcap, valerian and oats to combat depression
Vervain Infusion Recipes:
To reduce fever
2 tsp dried Catnip
1 tsp dry Vervain
1 ½ oz dried Vervain leaves
1 oz Valerian Root
½ oz Devils Hoof or Juniper
Folklore & Additional Comments: The name Vervain is derived from the Celtic ferfaen, from fer (to drive away) and faen (a stone), as the plant has been used to combat problems of the bladder and kidneys, especially kidney stone.
Another derivation is given by some authors from Herba veneris, because of the aphrodisiac qualities attributed to it by the Ancients.
Priests used it for sacrifices, and hence the name Herba Sacra. The name Verbena was the classical Roman name for 'altar-plants' in general, and for this species in particular.
Druids included it in their lustral water, and magicians and sorcerers employed it, usually for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities.
Bruised, it was worn round the neck as a charm against headaches, and also against snake bites, as well as for general good luck. It was thought to be good for the sight.
Its virtues in all these directions may be due to the legend of its discovery on the Mount of Calvary, where it staunched the wounds of Jesus after removal from the cross, and legend has it that it must be blessed when it is gathered using sexual fluids from the harvester.
Its also said that vervain will handicap witches (this is usually because it’s a herb witches might use)