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Vervain: How This Vibrant Herb Works in Improving Health

August 30, 2018

Story at-a-glance

  • Vervain may seem like it’s just visually appealing, but there’s definitely more to it than meets the eye
  • With these known health benefits associated with vervain, you can be certain that it can positively impact your health

By Dr. Mercola

A member of the Verbenaceae family,1 vervain (Verbena officinalis) is an herb known for its multiple uses, potential capabilities and variety of names, such as:2

Common or European vervain

Enchanter's plant

Herb of grace

Herb of the cross

Ma bian cao

Pigeonweed

Simpler's joy

Verbena

Vervain was first brought from Europe to North America, but it's also abundant in North Africa, China and Japan.3 It's a perennial plant that can reach 1 to 3 feet, and has oblong-shaped leaves and thin, stiff stems.4 The plant produces pink, purple, white or blue flowers that appear during summer.5

Other vervain plant varieties like blue vervain (Verbena hastata), white vervain (Verbena urticifolia), hoary vervain (Verbena stricta)6 or MacDougal verbena (Verbena macdougalii) can be used for herbal remedies, too.7

Many powerful civilizations considered vervain a sacred plant. In fact, Egyptian legend tells us that the vervain plant sprung out when the goddess Isis shed tears to mourn the death of another god, Osiris. Vervain was called "herba sacra" by the Romans, and "hierobotane" or "holy plant" by the Greeks, with these groups both using vervain to brush temple altars. This practice may be a reason why Verbena, vervain's generic name, means "leafy branch."8

Lastly, vervain is connected to a very important chapter in Christian faith. The herb was said to have stopped the bleeding of Jesus' wounds when he was crucified.9 This is probably why vervain is also called the "herb-of-the-cross."10

Vervain may seem visually appealing, but there's definitely more to it than meets the eye. Continue reading to learn more about vervain's positive impacts on your health and the various uses this plant is known for.

Health Benefits of Vervain

There are many health benefits that have been associated with vervain, mainly because it exhibits the following properties:11,12,13,14

Analgesic — This herb helps alleviate headaches, migraines and abdominal cramps linked to menstruation.

Anti-inflammatory — Complementing the plant's analgesic properties, vervain may help reduce swelling and inflammation.15

Anti-spasmodic — Vervain may assist in healing muscle spasms.

Astringent — Tannins in vervain may help ease skin infections,16,17 as well as bleeding gums, halitosis, mouth ulcers and tonsillitis.

Diuretic — Vervain may help with diarrhea relief, and may encourage release of urine and water from the body.

Antiparasitic — Vervain can help kill, expel and prevent growth of intestinal worms and other parasites.18

Other benefits you can get from vervain include:19

Alleviating women's common health concerns — Apart from easing menstrual cramps, vervain aids in encouraging production of breastmilk20 and stimulating uterine contractions.21

Enhancing mood — A cup of vervain tea can ease anxiety and stress by soothing nerves and inducing calmness and relaxation.22,23

Addressing flatulence24

Boosting oral health25

Vervin may help with stimulating appetite and helping with digestion (when used as a liver tonic)

Restoring parasympathetic nervous system health

Healing sprains

Common Uses of Vervain

Vervain leaves and flowers are often collected during mid- to late summer when the plant is in full bloom.26 These can be incorporated into an infusion, tincture, poultice or ointment, which can then be used to help address these conditions:27

Colds

Fevers

Asthma

Scrofula (a form of tuberculosis28

Chest congestion29

Chronic bronchitis

Colic

Mouth ulcers

Nervous tension

Irritability

Insomnia

Jaundice

Lethargy

Depression

Anxiety

Traditionally, vervain was used to treat snake bites, nervous disorders, headaches, pain in certain parts of the reproductive system and throat tumors. Mother Earth Living notes that the Chinese utilized vervain as an experimental treatment to potentially combat malaria, blood flukes, coughs and inflammation.30

Vervain may help heal bruises, insect bites, eczema and other skin disorders when used as a poultice or ointment. Some people also believed that chewing the plant's roots helped strengthen teeth and gums. It also has aphrodisiac properties to help stimulate sexual arousal.31

How to Grow Vervain

You may find vervain growing along the edges of roads and in meadows. Planting good vervain requires well-drained soil and full sun.32 Although this plant may also grow under partial sun,33 there's a higher risk for powdery mildew disease and fungi and insect attacks.34

You can start growing vervain through transplants or seeds.35 SF Gate provides step-by-step procedures if you're interested in growing vervain:36

Growing Vervain From Seeds or Cuttings

Items needed:

  • Sand
  • Germinating mix
  • Tiller
  • Garden hose with nozzle
  • Rooting medium containing sand and perlite
  • Seedling tray
  • Pruning shears

Instructions:

Seed Propagation

  1. Get some site-appropriate vervain seeds from your local garden or nursery. Refrain from buying seeds from out-of-area or online retailers, since these may not be suitable to conditions at your current location.
  2. Choose a planting area that's in full sun or appropriate for your specific vervain specie. Check the seed supplier's instructions if available, or consult an expert at your local nursery about the appropriate site for your chosen seeds.
  3. Combine two parts germinating mix with one part sand. Make enough mixture to cover your planting bed for up to 3 inches deep.
  4. Till the existing soil, working the germinating material and sand mix with it. Soak your plant bed with water.
  5. Ensure first that temperatures will fall between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the few weeks after planting. Once you're sure, plant the seeds at the particular spacing and depth for your vervain variety, as instructed by your supplier.
  6. After seeding, lightly water your plant bed. This area should be well-watered until vervain seedlings appear.

Cutting Propagation

  1. Take a seedling tray and fill it with rooting medium, ideally a combination of sand and perlite.
  2. During the early spring, carefully cut 4-inch-long strips from stems of established vervain plants by using pruning shears. Remove leaves that are closest to the cut end, and push the end of each stem into your rooting medium.
  3. Soak the seedling tray in water, and place it in an area with full sun. Water for the next few weeks until you notice that the roots have been well-established.
  4. Once the cuttings have taken root, transfer them onto a planting bed that's already been prepared for seed propagation.
  5. Water the seedlings to maintain soil moisture.

Vervain requires application of additional fertilizer for around a month.37 Do not forget to deadhead, or discard seed heads you may find, as it's a way to ensure that plants remain where they are.38 According to the book "Secrets of Bach Flower Remedies," vervain is best harvested young, typically when it blooms during the middle to late portions of summer.39 Afterward, they should be air-dried and kept in airtight containers.40

How to Make Vervain Tea

A good way to reap some of vervain's health benefits is by making vervain tea. The tea-making process is similar to that of making an infusion:41

Vervain Tea Infusion Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 to 3 teaspoons of dried vervain or 1 to 3 tablespoons of freshly crushed herb per cup of boiling water

Procedure:

  1. Steep the herbs in boiling water for 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Once the drink is finished and poured into a mug, make sure to sip the drink slowly.

Before drinking vervain tea, or any form of vervain, be cautious as it can trigger allergic reactions and side effects.42 If taken in excess, vervain can cause vomiting.43 The book, "The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines," explains that large doses of vervain may cause problems in your central nervous system and trigger stupor and seizures. Avoid taking vervain if you're using blood thinners like Coumadin, since it can prompt side effects or change the medicine's effect.44

Pregnant women must avoid vervain because it can stimulate uterine contractions. Nursing and pregnant women, and children under 2 years old must avoid this herb as much as possible, while older children must use the correct dosage, which must be based on their weight.

People over 65 years old who want to take vervain must begin with a low dose, and only increase it when necessary.45 Ideally, talk to your doctor regarding the correct amounts of vervain you should be taking, and to see if this herb might be helpful for your condition.

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Sources and References

  • 1 "California Plant Families: West of the Sierran Crest and Deserts," 2009
  • 2 EMedicineHealth, "Verbena"
  • 3, 18 "The New Healing Herbs: The Classic Guide to Nature's Best Medicines Featuring the Top 100 Time-Tested Herbs," April 21, 2001
  • 4 "The Complete Guide to Growing Healing and Medicinal Herbs: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply," 2011
  • 5 Better Homes & Gardens, "Verbena"
  • 6 Mother Earth Living, October 31, 2012
  • 7, 11, 19, 27, 31, 32 The Herbal Resource, "Vervain – Side Effects and Health Benefits"
  • 8, 30 Mother Earth Living, September 1999
  • 9 "Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs," 1987
  • 10 Plants for a Future, "Verbena officinalis - L."
  • 12 "The Home Reference to Holistic Health and Healing …," December 15, 2014
  • 13 J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Oct 11;107(3):380-2. Epub 2006 Apr 18
  • 14, 33, 35 "Rodale's 21st-Century Herbal: A Practical Guide for Healthy Living Using Nature's Most Powerful Plants," April 29, 2014
  • 15 Planta Med. 2007 Mar;73(3):227-35. Epub 2007 Mar 12
  • 16 "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," 2006
  • 17 Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry (2012), 1:3, pp. 45-50
  • 20 "The Miracle of VEGETABLES: The Scientific Facts About Nutritional Properties and Medicinal Values of Vegetables," March 13, 2013
  • 21 "Victims in Emergency Situations," August 22, 2014
  • 22 Front Pharmacol. 2016; 7: 499. Published online 2016 Dec 21
  • 23 "Herbal Almanac 2010," 2009
  • 24 "Mood Enhancing Plants," September 30, 2011
  • 25 Quintessence Int. 2016;47(6):491-8
  • 26, 39 "Secrets of Bach Flower Remedies" March 1, 2018
  • 28 "Backyard Medicine: Harvest and Make Your Own Herbal Remedies," May 1, 2009
  • 29 "Herbs: Partners in Life: Healing, Gardening, and Cooking with Wild Plants," 2000
  • 34 Clemson Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center, September 27, 2015
  • 36 Home Guides SF Gate, "How to Grow Vervain"
  • 37, 38 The Spruce, July 1, 2018
  • 40 "The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs: Growing • Health & Beauty • Cooking • Crafts," April 12, 2016
  • 41 "An Essential Collection of Home Remedies and Recipes," April 26, 2015
  • 42, 45 "The New Healing Herbs: The Essential Guide to More Than 125 of Nature's Most Potent Herbal Remedies," March 16, 2010
  • 43 "American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook, Second Edition," March 15, 2013
  • 44 "The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines," September 1, 2000
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