How does it feel?
The tincture and tea of this vervain is powerfully bitter to taste with mildly sour and aromatic notes.
What can I use it for?
Vervain is primarily a herb for the nervous system. It can be used to gently calm the nervousness of acute anxious or depressive states. Vervain nourishes the nervous system and can be an excellent support where burnout is accompanied by a low or depressive mood. It is also particularly useful for helping to increase both mental and physical wellbeing after one is left with lack of motivation, energy and joy following a bout of viral illness such as influenza.
Vervain is also a powerful diaphoretic. It can be used in the early stages of a fever to stimulate perspiration and movement of heat out through the skin. This helps to regulate the core body temperature whilst also encouraging the body’s natural defence mechanisms.
The overall objective of holistic fever support is to encourage the ‘breaking’ of a fever. This can be done by supporting a balanced and healthy immune response with herbs that enable better detoxification of pathogens. Vervain may be used in combination with herbs like elderflower and peppermint for this purpose.
It is also a liver tonic due to its bitter compounds which directly support the liver function. It may be used for general liver support but also for more specific conditions such as colitis and dyspepsia for which better digestive or gall bladder function may be of use.
The decoction of vervain may be used as a mouthwash for gingivitis and inflammations in the mouth.
Into the heart of Vervain
Vervain is a deeply restorative medicine used in a number of nervous conditions. It is energetically dry as well as cooling. It has relaxant and antispasmodic effects upon the nervous system. It also has the ability to open up the circulatory channels because of this relaxing action upon the nervous system.
It also has this relaxing and cleansing effect on the viscera,working on the liver, gallbladder and kidney channels. Vervain releases tensions and obstructions and facilitates a diffusive and externalising action. This allows for better availability of the important nutritive metabolites to the cells whilst also reducing heat and toxicity in the blood (3).
As a nourishing nervine herb it is particularly suitable to use during the convalescent stages of illness. It works on multiple levels to support systemic recovery. Primarily it works by building strength and resilience in the nervous system, however, these effects are elicited by improving liver function. This leads to better expulsion of toxins from the blood and also improving the absorption of dietary nutrients via increased gall bladder activity (1).
In a women’s book of herbs, Brooke describes that vervain is excellent for phlegmatic presentations. Much like Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, ancient Western herbalism was based on concepts such as energetics and people having patterns that make up individual constitutions and personality types. For example, one of the personality type was “phlegmatic’s”. Phlegmatic’s may be prone to getting lost in deep emotions. Brooke explains that such an individual may easily lose their sense of boundaries and proportion. Vervains strengthening and focusing qualities is said to help to improve emotional resilience (1).
Andrew Stableford describes in his newly released book; The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine that vervain is a facilitator for change. It may be used for tension and ‘scattered disharmony’ associated with over-striving, anxiety and competitiveness (3).
All of these psycho-emotional actions can be understood through vervains effects on autonomic balance in the nervous system. Herbalists will often assess the balance of this part of the nervous system which is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). This is because it controls all automatic functions in the human body such as sleep, digestion, breathing and heart rate. This system is also responsible for regulating the stress response and is impacted by prolonged exposure to stress. It is therefore understandable that imbalance in either of its two branches (parasympathetic and sympathetic) is possible as a result of chronic stress and that physical and emotional symptom patterns may arise as a result.
This is a deeply cooling medicine and if taken in large doses it is said that it may cause a chill through the body (4).
Vervain has a long history of use in European folk medicine. It was reputed as a plant with magical association among the druids. It was also considered by the ancient Greeks, Romans and the Celts to be sacred. It was apparently used to cleanse the altars within their temples. It was also used medicinally for a variety of ailments including pains in the womb, and relief during confinement.
John William Fyfe, an eclectic herbalist of the early twentieth century wrote that vervain‘has cured cases of epilepsy which had been unsuccessfully treated for a long time by many other methods’. In cases of depression that is rooted in hormonal anxiety, chronic stress or melancholia characterised by anger (what the Greeks would call an excess of black bile) vervain is well established in the Materia Medica as an appropriate nervine.
Hildegard von Bingen, a 10th century medical writer and practitioner in Germany classified vervain as cooling. Within Hildegard’s practice of medicine, she references vervain to treat swelling and inflammation in the throat, for the healing of ulcers, to treat jaundice, tooth and gum infections, and to reduce gum inflammation.
It was also traditionally used for a variety of reproductive ailments including menstrual pain.
Anti-inflammatory herbs reduce inflammation in the body. There are different systems in the body that anti-inflammatory plants target. For example for the gastrointestinal tract chamomile, fenugreek and meadowsweet are useful. For the musculoskeletal system rosehips, turmeric and celery seed are useful. For inflammation against immune mediated inflammation gotu kola (centella asiatica), rehmannia (rehmannia glutinosa) and feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) can be useful.Antimicrobial
Antimicrobials are herbs that interfere with the proliferation and life-cycle of microbes; bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Examples include Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris), Echinacea (Echinacea species), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).Antioxidant
Antioxidant substances that protects against oxidation and degradation from free radical damage. Plants rich in antioxidant include bacopa (bacopa monnieri), bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus), green tea (camelia sinensis) and thyme (thymus vulgaris).Antispasmodic
Antispasmodic plants reduce or relieve smooth muscle spasm. They can be helpful for an array of issues including menstrual cramps. Also known as spasmolytics, these plants include aniseed (Pimpinella anisum), blue cohosh (caulophyllum thalictroides), cramp bark (viburnum opulus) and lavender (Lavandula angustofolia).Astringents
Astringents contain tannins that act to precipitate proteins and draw tissues together, tightening and toning them to reduce secretions and discharge. Astringents also tend to stop bleeding and can act on tissues with which there is no direct contact. Examples include Raspberry leaf (Rubus ideaus), Lady’s Mantle leaf (Alchemilla vulgaris), Agrimony leaf (Agrimonia eupatoria), Shepherd’s Purse leaf (Capsella bursa-pastoris), Witch Hazel leaf (Hamamelis virginiana) and Yarrow leaf (Achillea millefolium).Bitters
Bitters stimulate digestion by enhancing digestive secretion and peristaltic movements of the gut. They act via a reflex from the taste buds to the brain then through the vagus nerve to whole digestive system. Often these herbs are combined with warming digestives to balance the cold nature of bitters. Examples include Artichoke leaf (Cynara scolymus), Gentian root (Gentiana lutea), Wormwood leaf (Artemisia absinthium), Oregon Grape root (Mahonia aquifolium), Goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis).Cholagogues and choleretics
Cholagogues promote the production of bile in the liver. A cholereticis a type of cholagogue that promotes the release of bile from the gall bladder into the duodenum. Cholagogues have an alterative and laxative effect. Cholagogues are contra-indicated if there is acute liver failure, obstructive jaundice, painful gallstones or cholecystitis. Examples include Celandine leaf (Chelidonium majus), Barberry root (Berberis vulgaris), Dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinalis root), and Blue Flag root (Iris versicolor).Diaphoretics
Diaphoretics are herbs that cause sweating by increasing circulation in the periphery of the body. Usually used to help to relieve fevers, some examples are Yarrow aerial parts (Achillea millefolium), Elder flowers (Sambucus niger), Ginger root (Zingiber officinalis).Emmenagogues
Emmenagogues are herbs that stimulate and promote menstruation. Examples include Marigold flowers (Calendula officinalis) and Chaste Tree fruits (Vitex agnus-castus), Turmeric root (Curcuma longa).Galactagogues
Galactagogues are herbs that encourage the flow of breastmilk. Examples include Fennel seed (Foeniculum vulgare), Celery seed (Apium graveolens) and Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus).Hepatics
Hepatics are herbs that generally support liver function by decongesting as well as supporting bile flow. Examples include Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis), Yellowdock root (Rumex crispus), Turmeric root (Curcuma longa).Hepatoprotective
Hepatoprotective herbs support and protect the liver. Often they can help regenerate the liver, and examples include milk thistle, rosemary, dandelion, andrographis and schisandra.Nervines
Nervines are herbs that soothe the nervous system and have a calming effect on the emotions. Examples include Oatstraw flowering tops (Avena sativa), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), Lavender (Lavandula officinalis), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Rosemary leaf (Rosmarinus officinalis), and Gotu Kola leaf (Centella asiatica).Sedative
A sedative is a substance that reduces as activity, particularly in the nervous system and decreases nervous tension. It may alleviate pain, anxiety or spasm and induce sleep. Sedatives include Californian poppy (eschscholzia californica), hops (humulus lupulus), true unicorn (aletris farinosa), and valerian (valeriana officinalis).
What practitioners say
Vervain has a number of effects on the nervous system. It works as a powerful anxiolytic and is used by some herbalists to help balance the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS governs the function of all automatic processes in the body by means of adrenal control. Herbalists may use vervain as one of the best remedies for ANS balance, particularly where stress, trauma and burnout are part of the picture (3). Vervain is one of the best ANS relaxants.
It may be used by herbalists as part of an approach to restore balance in the nervous system, in some cases of anxiety, nervous irritability and depression (1, 2).
Vervain combines well with motherwort and skullcap for anxiety conditions. It is always important to combine nerve tonics and regeneration protocols when treating nervous debility or any depressed state in the nervous system. This would include the use of tonic and trophorestorative herbs like oat straw or ashwaghanda.
Mathew Wood explains a recurrence of case studies where vervain is found to be helpful for spasmodic nervous disorders including tics, palsy and tourette’s syndrome (6).
The mechanism of action for these nervous system effects of vervain are likely as a result of the relaxing effects of its iridoid and polyphenol compounds (8).
As a powerful bitter, vervain produces a stimulating effect on the liver. It can be used as part of a supportive approach for the treatment of a number of chronic liver conditions such as cirrhosis, jaundice and persistent viral infections of the liver (1). This would be in combination with other specific liver tonics such as milk thistle and dandelion root, as well as herbs that support overall lymphatic and digestive health such as burdock root.
Vervain is a specific uterine tonic which both cleans and tones the female reproductive organs (3). It is used in a number of menstrual conditions, particularly those where there is a constricted state in the tissues, as vervain is a relaxant. Some conditions that may be indicated for use of vervain include amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea.
It is referenced in the writing of Matthew Wood as being most specific for problems which occur during the last half of the cycle, which is the half with dominant progesterone. Its effects as a nervine make it particularly helpful for pre-menstrual tensions (4).
Vervain may be used in the long-term treatment of menstrual pain caused by coldness or atrophy in the uterus. This coldness is explained as constriction in the tissues. It is also useful for treating the migraines and headaches that occur around menstruation (1).
Very little research has been carried out around the effects of this plant for its actions on the nervous system. However, there are a number of in vivo studies that focus on compounds found in vervain which show a number of effects such as anti-tumor, antioxidant and anti-inflammation (10). A small number of in vitro and in vivo have been included below to demonstrate the mechanism of action for some of the uses of vervain that have been discussed in this monograph, however there is a lack of available human studies.
Animal studies are not condoned by herbal reality, however for the purpose of including research from which some understanding of therapeutic actions can be confirmed, some animal studies have been included herein.
An in vitro study was carried out to investigate the cytoprotective effects on cells of the central nervous system. The study showed that using aqueous extracts of vervain significantly reduced the toxicity of β-amyloid (Aβ) peptide and reduced agent dithiothreitol in primary cultures of cortical neurons. Extracellular accumulation of Aβ peptide is known to be an important cytotoxic factor in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Further investigations show that treatment with vervain also reduced Aβ-triggered DEVD- and VDVAD-cleavage activities in a dose-dependent manner.
Further studies elucidated that phosphorylation of both interferon-inducing protein kinase (PKR) and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) was reduced in Aβ-treated neurons.
The study concludes that vervain shows significant novel neuroprotective effects actions in vitro. The study is described as a lead for its potential to be a neuroprotective agent against neuronal loss in AD. Further research is needed to fully understand its efficacy using clinical trial methods in human subjects (5).
An in vivo study was carried out to investigate the sleep-promoting effects of some compounds found in vervain. The three major iridoids; hastatoside, verbenalin, and verbascoside and the polyphenol verbascoside were investigated. The researchers used an electroencephalographic scan (also known as an EEG scan) to measure the brain activity of rats after oral administration of the compounds.
Hastatoside (0.64 mmol/kg of body weight) and verbenalin (1.28 mmol/kg of body weight) shows a significant improvement in non-rapid eye movement sleep during a 9 hour period from 23.00 to 08.00 hours by 81% and 42%, respectively. There was a lag time of about 3–5 hours after the administration at 20.00 hours (lights-off time).
Both compounds were also observed to increase the delta activity during non-rapid eye movement sleep. Delta brain waves indicate the deepest level of sleep. However, verbascoside had no effect on the amount of sleep. The study concludes with promising results to explain the activity of vervain as a nervous system relaxant and sedative (8).
An in vivo study was carried out to assess the efficacy of vervain for the treatment of depression in female rats. The methodology’s used were the Forced-Swimming Test (FST), Light-Dark Box (LDB) test, and Open Field Test (OFT). Across all methods used improvements were observed which suggests that vervain has anti-depressant activity (9). This study should be followed up by a series of clinical trial in human subjects with mild to severe depression to fully understand its effects.
A double-blind randomised controlled multi-centre clinical trial was carried out on 260 patients (130 control / 130 placebo) with generalised gingivitis. A decoction of vervain was used as a mouthwash in the control group. Both the control and the test group were instructed to brush and floss. The outcomes were measured at day 0, day 14 and day 28.
Significant improvements were confirmed by the group receiving vervain with the study compared to placebo, showing that vervain has a promising ameliorative effect for treating patients with chronic generalized gingivitis (7).
Vervain is a perennial herb native to Europe. It grows up to 70 cm high, with an upright habitus. The lobed leaves are toothed growing as opposites with two leaves per node along the stem and the delicate spikes hold clusters of two-lipped mauve flowers.
- Common verbena
- Blue verbena
- Holy herb
- Herb of the cross
- Juno’s tears
Vervain is not recommend in pregnancy due to its emmenagogue actions. It is however thought to be safe for those who are breastfeeding.
- Dried herb
Tincture (1:5 40%): Take between 2.5 and 5ml in a little water three times daily.
Infusion: To make an infusion, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-3 tsp of dried herb, infuse in a covered container for 10- 15 minutes This should be drunk 3 times daily.
Decoction – Add up to 2 heaped teaspoons of dried vervain into approximately one cup of boiling water. Simmer for around 15-20 minutes, strain and use as a mouth wash unto 3 times a day.
Plant parts used
- Iridoids – verbenin, verbenalin, bastatoside, hastatoside
- Polyphenol -verbascoside
- Volatile oils
Verbena is native to Europe. It grows in meadows and fields.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status vervain is classed as least concern due to its widespread distribution, stable populations and no major threats (11).
Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well-known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind.
The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.
The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world is now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on Herbal quality and safety: what to know before you buy and sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.
Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from unreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.
Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.
A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.
How to grow
Vervain is easy to grow in poor to moderately fertile, well-drained, alkaline to neutral soil, It requires full sun and can be incorporated into wild flower border or meadow gardens.
- Blue Vervain is best sown direct in late summer or early fall in a sheltered location where it is not overly exposed to high winds.
- If starting in spring, stratify seeds in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.
- Water around twice a week or more during periods of dry weather.
- Brooke, E. (2018). Woman’s Book Of Herbs.
- Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism – principles and practices. Inner Traditions Bear And Comp.
- Stableford, A. (2021). The Handbook of Constitutional and Energetic Herbal Medicine The Lotus Within. London: Aeon Books.
- Wood, M. (2004). The practice of traditional western herbalism : basic doctrine, energetics, and classification. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, Cop.
- Lai, S.-W., Yu, M.-S., Yuen, W.-H. and Chang, R.C.-C. (2006). Novel neuroprotective effects of the aqueous extracts from Verbena officinalis Linn. Neuropharmacology, 50(6), pp.641–650. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2005.11.009.
- Wood, M. (2008). The earthwise herbal, volume 1 : a complete guide to Old World medicinal plants. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books.
- Grawish, M.E., Anees, M.M., Elsabaa, H.M., Abdel-Raziq, M.S. and Zedan, W. (2016). Short-term effects of Verbena officinalis Linn decoction on patients suffering from chronic generalized gingivitis: Double-blind randomized controlled multicenter clinical trial. Quintessence International (Berlin, Germany: 1985), [online] 47(6), pp.491–498. doi:https://doi.org/10.3290/j.qi.a35521.
- MAKINO, Y., KONDO, S., NISHIMURA, Y., TSUKAMOTO, Y., HUANG, Z.-L. and URADE, Y. (2009). Hastatoside and verbenalin are sleep-promoting components in Verbena officinalis. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 7(3), pp.211–217. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-8425.2009.00405.x.
- Bekara, A., Amazouz, A. and Douma, T.B. (2020). Evaluating the Antidepressant Effect of Verbena officinalis L. (Vervain) Aqueous Extract in Adult Rats. Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, [online] 11(1), pp.91–98. doi:https://doi.org/10.32598/bcn.11.1.3.
- Miraj, S. and Kiani, S. (n.d.). Study of pharmacological effect of Verbena officinalis Linn: A review. [online] Available at: https://www.skums.ac.ir/Dorsapax/Data/Sub_39/File/ProfessorsArticles_etoolsfile1_90d3ffc4-72ba-49d4-a5fb-145add444b04p976-c2706f1a-e582-4f9a-9d4a-bbbc84ff3fb4.pdf [Accessed 20 Feb. 2023].
- Bilz, M. (2012). IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Verbena officinalis. [online] IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/164308/1040163.