Common name: Blue vervain
Latin name: Verbena hastata
Affinity: Nervous system, hepatic system, digestive system, reproductive system
Actions: Nervine tonic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, sedative, diaphoretic, hepatic, digestive bitter, nervine trophorestorative, nootropic
Diseases: Anxiety(3), depression(3), jaundice(3), ME(3), epilepsy(3), headache(3), neck and shoulder tension(3), menstrual cramps(3), vaginismus(3), spastic bladder(3), neuralgia (nerve pain)(3)
Parts used: Aerial parts
Characteristics: Blue vervain is a perennial herb with brilliant blue flowers and member of the vervain family (Wood, 2009). It is native to North American where it is commonly found in open ground, however, it also grows in Africa, for example in Southern Nigeria (Akuodor et al., 2010). It is not to be confused with European vervain (Verbena officinalis), a closely related species of similar medicinal importance.
History: Vervain was likely introduced from Europe by early settlers and natural selection resulted in blue vervain (Everett, 1982). Blue vervain is thought to be more powerful medicinally than European vervain as Dr. O. Phelps Brown of Jersey, New Jersey City, tested several vervains before the civil war and found Verbena hastate the most effective (Wood, 2004). In his book ‘The Complete Herbalist (1867)’, he writes, ‘the very great medicinal value of this plant was brought to my attention by an accidental knowledge of the good it had effected in a long-standing case of Epilepsy’ (Wood, 1997). He also used blue vervain for disorders of the liver, menstruation, stomach, but most of all for epilepsy. He writes, ‘A more valuable plant is not found within the whole range of the Herbal pharmacopoeia’. Brown also considered blue vervain a potent sexual remedy writing, ‘There is no herb so well adapted to cure all sexual derangements as the blue vervain’.
Current applications: David Winston writes, ‘Blue vervain is used with ashwagandha and skullcap for people with nervous tics, restless leg syndrome, mild Tourette’s syndrome, and tardive dyskinesia’ (Winston, 2007). It is also recommended it for women who have premenstrual or menopausal anxiety where he uses it in combination with fresh milky oats, motherwort, and yuan zhi root. Blue vervain can relieve menstrual cramps, vaginismus, spastic bladder, irritability from premenstrual syndrome, and menstrual headaches.
Blue vervain as an excellent medicine for calming and restoring the nervous system, Maria Groves writes, ‘Blue vervain targets overly controlling, driven, type A personalities who have a lot of neck tension and headaches’ (Groves, 2016). She lists it as a nerve pain tonic alongside skullcap, wood betony, and St. John’s wort.
Blue vervain is very bitter and can be used to stimulate digestion. It is closely related to European vervain and can be used in the same ways, although it is more potent, only small doses are required. It pairs well with fresh St. John’s wort tincture to restore and uplift the nervous system.
Science: Due to the medicinal importance of blue vervain in Southern Nigeria, it has been studied there and found to display anti-malarial (Akuodor et al., 2010), anti-diarrhoeal (Akuodor et al., 2010), and anti-ulcer activities (Akuodor et al., 2012), using in vivo models, this supports the traditional use of the herb in this region. Like vervain, there are no human studies of blue vervain.
Safety: Blue vervain is safe for most. However, it should not be taken by pregnant and breast feeding women. As it lowers heart rate, it is not suitable for those with heart failure or disease.
Dosage: 10-25 drops two or three times daily. Low doses around this range are better as it is very bitter so may induce nausea at higher doses. I have found blue vervain is strong and effective even at low doses.
Brands: I recommend Herb Pharm for the U.S.A. and U.K. The European vervain may also be considered, for this I recommend Neal’s Yard.
Research on models
Anti-malarial activity: One study found ethanolic leaf extract from blue vervain displayed anti-malarial properties using in vivo models (Akuodor et al., 2010). This study provides preliminary support for the traditional use of blue vervain in Southern Nigeria as an anti-malarial.
Anti-diarrhoeal activity: A study found that blue vervain ethanolic leaf extract had anti-diarrhoeal activity using in vivo models (Akuodor et al., 2010). This supports its traditional use in Southern Nigeria in the relief of fever, dysentery and diarrhoea.
Anti-ulcer activity: Anti-ulcer activity was observed in vivo models using an ethanolic leaf extract (Akuodor et al., 2012).
Akuodor, G. C., et al. “Ethanolic leaf extract of Verbena hastata produces antidiarrhoeal and gastrointestinal motility slowing effects in albino rats.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4.16 (2010): 1624-1627.
Akuodor, G. C., et al. “Evaluation of anti-ulcer and antimicrobial effects of Verbena hastata leaf extract.” African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology 6.11 (2012): 778-782.
Akuodor, G. C., et al. “In vivo antimalarial activity of ethanolic leaf extract of Verbena hastata against Plasmodium berghei berghei in mice.” J Her Med Toxico 4 (2010): 17-23.
Everett, Thomas H. The New York botanical garden illustrated encyclopedia of horticulture. Vol. 10. Taylor & Francis, 1982.
Groves, Maria. Body into Balance. Storey Publishing, 2016.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Wood, Matthew. The book of herbal wisdom: Using plants as medicine. North Atlantic Books, 1997.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. North Atlantic Books, 2009.
Wood, Matthew. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism: Basic Doctrine, Energetics, and Classification. North Atlantic Books, 2004.