Vervain (verbena officinalis)

Vervain was revered as a sacred herb by many ancient peoples, including the Romans, Persians, and Druids. The Egyptians believed the plant originated from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept for the dead god Osiris. Vervain was also associated with the crucifixion: According to legend, the herb was pressed onto Christ’s wounds to staunch the bleeding.

The genus name derives from the Latin for “sacred boughs,” while the common name is believed to come from the ancient Celtic words fer (“to drive away”) and faen (“stone”), reflecting a belief in the herb’s ability to treat kidney stones. Native Americans prepared a decoction of the roots for the treatment of liver and kidney problems.


Plant profile

Common Names: European Verbena, Vervain

Description: Stems grow 2 to 3 feet tall topped by slender spikes of small, tubular, pale purple flowers; opposite, deeply divided leaves

Hardiness: To Zone 4

Family: Verbenaceae

Flowering: Midsummer to late summer

Parts Used: Leaves and stems

Range/Habitat: Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, naturalized in North America

Medicinal use

Vervain has been reported to have astringent, antispasmodic, diaphoretic (sweat-promoting), diuretic, and other healing properties, but there is virtually no scientific evaluation of its efficacy. The herb could have the ability to clear bronchial passages, stimulate the digestive system, promote lactation, flush excess water from the body, reduce inflammation, and relieve anxiety.

Vervain tea or tincture is sometimes recommended for the treatment of coughs, bronchitis, and sore throats, as well as for bladder infections, nervous tension, and joint pain. Herbalists recommend a vervain leaf poultice for headaches, nerve and joint pain, sores, abscesses, and burns. In Spain, vervain is mixed with other herbs to make a poultice used to heal wounds on cattle.

Caution: Do not use vervain during pregnancy. Also, a glycoside in vervain may cause vomiting.

How to grow it

Vervain is easy to grow in full sun or partial shade and rich, moist soil. Amend the soil with compost prior to planting the seeds after the last frost in spring. Or start seeds indoors in late winter to early spring, and transplant the seedlings to your garden after the weather has warmed. For medicinal use, harvest the leaves and stems before the plant flowers, and use them fresh or dried. To propagate, divide the roots in fall or allow the seed heads to dry on the plants, then remove and collect the seeds.