COMMON NAMES: Verbena, Verbenaca, Vervain, Veneris Herba, Herba Sacra, Holy Wort, Druid’s Weed, Enchanter’s Plant, Juno’s Tears, Brittanica, Pigeon’s Grass, Pigeonwood, Simpler’s Joy, Ma Bian Cao
Verbena officinalis is a perennial herb that grows up to three feet high. The leaves are lobed and toothed, and the flowers are delicate and mauve in color. Vervain prefers limey soil, and is grown for its powerful herbal properties and lovely appearance. It is native to most of Europe, and is naturalized in Australia, North America, and many other places in the world. Vervain is best gathered in summer (Voogelbreinder 2009, 346).
TRADITIONAL USES: Vervain has been held in high esteem by European herbalists for thousands of years. Ancient Roman priests swept and purified the altars of Jupiter with bundles of vervain. They also used it ritually to create love and peace. The Zoroastrian Magi are said to have rubbed the plants all over the body to obtain all desires and cure all ill. These Magi collected the plant only at very specific times in a very particular ritual way, in a manner reminiscent of mandrake collection. Vervain was an ingredient in many witches’ flying ointments, and Ancient Germans wore vervain on their bodies as charm to create peace, bring love, and pacify evil energies (Voogelbreinder 2009, 345).
Western European Druids collected verbena when Sirius was rising and the moon was dark. They used it for divination, consecration, and cleansing sacred spaces. Vervain is said to have been one of the ingredients of the famed Cauldron of Cerridwen, along with rowan berries, sea water, celandine and flixweed. This potion was said to create energy for bardic song and storytelling. Vervain is still thought to bring good fortune to poets and storytellers. Vervain is also added to wine and taken on Samhain to aid in connecting with ancestor spirits (Roth 2012).
In Bolivia, the Mojo Arawak people use a plant called ‘marari’, which is very similar to vervain. A strong tea prepared from this plant is taken by shamans to allow communication with spirit realms. The plant is only utilized for the most difficult divinations, as this preparation causes great pain and insomnia for over a day after the working is complete (Voogelbreinder 2009, 345).
The Pawnee people of North America have adopted vervain as a powerful dream teacher, and it is thus that the plant has come to be known as the North American Calea zacatechichi. Indeed, after working with the plant for several days, many individuals report enhanced vivid and lucid dreaming experiences (Dream Herbs 2011).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Vervain herbage, either fresh or dried, can be placed in boiling water and steeped to make a tea. It may also be smoked, although it is more effective as part of a dreamers smoking blend than on its own. Vervain extract can also be purchased in capsule form, making the herb very easy to take as a daily supplement. If looking to enhance dreaming, it is best to drink vervain tea or take one dose of dried extract right before going to sleep (DreamHerbs 2011).
Fresh vervain herbage may be pounded to prepare a poultice for the external treatment of headache, rheumatism, and muscle pain. It dyes the skin a light red when used externally in this way, leading people to believe that it drew the blood from the body (Grieve n.d.)
MEDICINAL USES: In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dried vervain is used as an antibacterial, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and blood coagulant. It also is thought to have anti-depressant and anti-tumor activity. Vervain is very helpful in treating headaches and gallstones, and acts as a tonic for the liver and heart. The flower tops are prepared as a tea or tincture to treat insomnia and cramps. A wash of vervain is excellent for mouth ulcers, hair and eyes. A poultice of the herbage may be used to rapidly heal wounds. Vervain does cause nausea in some people, and must be avoided by pregnant women (Voogelbreinder 2009, 345).
A decoction, prepared by covering fresh plant material in boiling water and allowing it to sit for several hours, may be taken several times in a day to produce a purging effect that will ease bowel pain in serious situations (Grieve n.d.). A flower essence prepared from vervain is used to create grounding and stability in individuals who become so focused on a goal that they lose the connection between mind and body and no longer are able to care for physical health (Cech n.d.).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Vervain brings wondrous, vivid, and prophetic dreams, and also acts as an aphrodisiac and nerve tonic. It has a powerful calming effect and is useful in cases of insomnia for creating restful sleep. Vervain is also very good for calming anxieties, and has a very balancing effect on the hormone cycles of women. However, it may act as an abortifacient and so must be avoided at all costs by pregnant women (Voogelbreinder 2009, 345).
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
“Verbena Officinalis.” DreamHerbs, 2011. http://dreamherbs.com/herbal-products/verbena-officinalis/.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.