Vervain is a perennial herb native to the Old World. Most people are thinking of either Verbena officinalis or Verbena hastata when they think of this herb, and the plant is also sometimes referred to as “verbena.” Several societies have historically used it for healing, and it was once a very common feature in herb gardens. Today, people grow it for both medicinal and ornamental use, and many health food stores stock dried forms for people who do not wish to grow their own.
The leaves of this herb are saw-toothed and hairy, and it produces small white to purple flowers on delicate spikes. Gardeners can grow this plant in zones three through eight. Vervain likes full sun and well drained, limey soil, and it can also be grown in containers. It can tend to look a little bit weedy and unkempt, which is something that gardeners should consider when they decide where they want to plant this herb.
Historically, the plant was associated with Christ, and it was viewed as a holy or auspicious herb. Some cultures referred to it as “devil's bane,” referencing the idea that wearing or using it could drive off evil spirits, and the herb was also said to be effective in vampire deterrence. The distinctive fragrance also made it an excellent herb to add to sachets that were designed to add a sweet scent to clothing while deterring insect pests.
In addition to being used ritually, the herb was also used in medical treatments. Vervain teas were consumed as tonics that were designed to promote relaxation while invigorating the spirit. The herb also supposedly promoted digestion, and was used to treat colic, nausea, diarrhea, and other intestinal complaints. Solutions and teas were also used as mouthwashes to freshen the breath and cut down on oral bacteria. Minor skin conditions such as itches and irritation have also historically been treated with this herb, often in the form of a bath additive.
Few studies have been conducted to determine how effective this herb is. This is often the case with herbal medicines, as drug companies are not usually interested in investing time and energy in drugs that cannot be patented. As a result, little evidence exists to indicate how effective vervain really is. Pregnant women should be aware that this herb is not safe for them, especially in the first trimester, as it has been linked with miscarriages.
People who grow the plant can cut the stems when the flowers mature and dry them for future use. The dried herb should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place to prevent it from being damaged and to preserve its potency.