Common name: Vervain
Other names: Simpler’s joy, holy herb, herb-of-the-cross, enchanter’s herb
Latin name: Verbena officinalis
Affinities: Nervous system, hepatic system, digestive system
Actions: Nervine tonic, anxiolytic, antispasmodic, sedative, diaphoretic, hepatic, digestive bitter
Specific indications: Anxiety, sharp shooting pains, fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, seizures
Diseases: Anxiety(3), jaundice(3), CFS/ ME(3), neuralgia(3), epilepsy(3)
Parts used: Aerial parts
Energetics: Cooling, drying
Characteristics: Vervain is a perennial herb, native to Europe, it was introduced into North America and subsequent selection likely yielded blue vervain (Everett, 1982). The word vervain comes from the Celtic ferraen, ‘fer’ meaning to drive away, and ‘faen’, a stone (reference to the traditional role of treating kidney stones).
History: Vervain has a rich, ancient history of medicinal use and it features in Egyptian mythology where the herb grew from the tears of Isis as she grieved for her murdered husband and brother, Osiris (Castleman, 2001). A thousand years passed and vervain became incorporated into Christian mythology where the herb was placed onto Christs wounds and so therefore it became known as ‘herb-of-the-cross’. The Greek physician, Hippocrates recommended vervain for plague and fevers. The Roman physician to Theodosius the Great prescribed it for throat tumours. The Romans spread vervain over Europe and it became popular among pre-Christian Druids of England.
The 12th century herbalist, Hildegard of Bingen, used vervain against infections and tooth ache. Later, in the Middle ages the herb became popular as a treatment for acne and from this it became a treatment for other skin problems. In the 17th century Culpeper recommended vervain in the treatment of bleeding gums, cough, gout, shortness of breath, fever, plague, kidney stones, and jaundice. Later colonists from Europe introduced vervain into North American and it went wild. During the the American War of Independence, vervain was used to relive pain, loosen mucus of the lungs, and induce vomiting. A century later, the Eclectics recommended it as a treatment for colds, fever, coughs, intestinal worms, bruises, menstrual irregularities, and a tonic for recovery from acute diseases.
Current applications: Vervain is one of the age old European nervines alongside wood betony and St. John’s wort. David Hoffman, in Holistic Herbal points out vervain is a herb that will strengthen the nervous system whilst relaxing any tension or stress (Hoffman, 1988). He mentions it may be useful in depression, seizure, hysteria, fevers, inflammation of the gall-bladder, and jaundice. If used for depression he recommends it be combined with skullcap, milky oats, and lady’s slipper. Thomas Bartram, in his herbal encyclopedia, recommends it for jaundice, headaches, and ME (Bartram, 2013).
Science: Studies using in vivo or ex vivo models have shown vervain extracts have anti-oxidant (Hernández et al., 2000), anti-inflammatory (Deepak et al., 2000), and anti-microbial properties (Hernández et al., 2000). However, there are no human clinical studies to date.
Safety: Moderately high. 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. If combining vervain with sedative drugs be extra cautious regarding dosage.
Dosage: Tincture; 5-60 drops 2-3 times daily.
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory activity: Extractions from the aerial parts of vervain using chloroform and methanol or successive petroleum ether found the extracts displayed anti-inflammatory properties in an in vivo model (Deepak et al., 2000).
Anti-microbial activity: Flavonoid extractions from vervain displayed anti-microbial activity ex vivo (Hernández et al., 2000).
Anti-oxidant activity: Chloroform, ethyl acetate, and 50% methanolic extracts of vervain exhibited anti-oxidant activity ex vivo (Casanova et al., 2008).
Bartram, Thomas. Bartram’s encyclopedia of herbal medicine. Hachette UK, 2013.
Casanova, E., J. M. García-Mina, and M. I. Calvo. “Antioxidant and antifungal activity of Verbena officinalis L. leaves.” Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 63.3 (2008): 93-97.
Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.
Deepak, Mundkinajeddu, and Sukhdev Swami Handa. “Anti-inflammatory activity and chemical composition of extracts of Verbena officinalis.” Phytotherapy Research 14.6 (2000): 463-465.
Everett, Thomas H. The New York botanical garden illustrated encyclopedia of horticulture. Vol. 10. Taylor & Francis, 1982.
Hernández, Nancy E., M. L. Tereschuk, and L. R. Abdala. “Antimicrobial activity of flavonoids in medicinal plants from Tafı del Valle (Tucuman, Argentina).” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 73.1 (2000): 317-322.
Hoffman, David. Holistic herbal. Element Books, 1988.