A hardy, rather straggly perennial, with an erect, branched stem, it has ovate, deeply lobed, sometimes pinnate, leaves, which are dull green and slightly hairy. Small, pale-lilac flowers are sparsely arranged in terminal spikes.
History and traditions
This unspectacular plant has a long history as a magical herb of exceptional powers and features widely in the folklore of Celtic and northern European cultures. It was venerated by the Romans, who scattered it on their temple altars and whose soldiers carried sprigs to protect them. A story began that it grew at the site of Christ’s crucifixion and was used to staunch his wounds on the cross. It was called herba sacra, a holy herb, when used in religious ceremonies, and herba veneris for its supposed aphrodisiac powers. In Anglo-Saxon and medieval times it was worn as an amulet to protect against plague, snakebites and evil in general. And, with so much going for it, by the 16th century it became an “official” herb of the apothecaries, used for at least 30 complaints. Although it had largely fallen from favor by the early 19th century, it does have a place in herbal medicine today and in traditional Chinese medicine.
Grow in well-drained but moist soil in full sun. Propagated by seed sown in spring.
Leaves, flowering stems dried for use in infusions, ointments, liquid extracts and other medicinal preparations.
Vervain has mildly sedative and hypnotic properties and is taken in infusions for nervous exhaustion, anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches and migraine. Also for disorders associated with the stomach, kidneys, liver and gall bladder. Externally it is used in compresses and Verbena lotions for skin complaints and as a gargle for sore gums and mouth ulcers.