Blue vervain is a plant in the verbena family of herbs. While there more than 250 species of verbena, vervain refers mainly to the varieties used for medicinal purposes: primarily Verbana hastata or Verbana officinalis. In my gardens right now, you will find Verbena hastata in all her glory – starting to flower with beautiful bluish-purple blooms that will last now until early autumn. It is a great plant for attracting pollinators such as bumblebees, and provides a great source of nutrients for songbirds and butterflies.
Verbena Officinalis is a perennial plant with dainty, serrated leaves and little, five-petaled flowerets. Verbena hastata has individual floral spikes up to 5” long, with blue-violet flowers. Although vervain has no fragrance, herbal practitioners believe that vervain has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic, and analgesic qualities advantageous to one’s health.
Vervain, also known as wild hyssop, should not be mistaken with lemon verbena, a garden herb utilized for cooking that also has medicinal attributes. It is used in warm infusions of leaves, roots and/or flowers, generally as a tea.
The medicinal use of vervain can be tracked to the 18th-century book “Sauer’s Herbal Cure,” where it was said to assist in the remedy of kidney stones. In fact, the title “verbena” is thought to be descended from the Celtic word ferfaen, signifying “to drive away masses.”
Vervain reacquired popularly in the late 1930s as one of the 38 flowering botanicals used in a homoeopathic tincture denominated Bach Flower Remedy, alterations of which are currently still sold to date. Amongst its purported benefits, vervain may help with:
Stimulating the liver
Common aches and pain
Upper respiratory tract manifestations, especially chest congestion
Urinary tract diseases
Depression and stress
Detoxifying the body
Decreasing inflammation and pain
Supporting the nervous system
Easing menstrual cramps, bloating and regulating mood
Stimulation of breast milk production
As with several natural treatments, some of the health claims are more adequately backed by research than others.
Several studies have examined the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of V. Officinalis, both in oral and topical formulations. Results have been mostly mixed.
A 2006 investigation from Spain discovered that an extract of V. Officinalis, employed topically in rats, was as potent in reducing edema (swelling) as traditional anti-inflammatory drugs, but it was far less effective in regards to pain relief.
Anxiety and Insomnia
Verbena tea has long been thought to have a soothing effect that can support stress relief and improve sleep. This effect was first outlined in the 1652 book, The English Physician, in which vervain was employed as a tea to manage “over-enthusiasm.”
Although there have been few examinations investigating these outcomes in humans, there is an indication that V. Officinalis not only decreases nervousness and insomnia but may inhibit the event of epileptic seizures. These outcomes are associated with a sugar molecule in vervain, known as verbenalin, which is thought to have psychoactive qualities.
The handling of contagious diseases, both standard and severe, has become more challenging in the light of increasing antibiotic resistance. Vervain, long employed to treat upper respiratory and urinary tract infections, is considered to exert antimicrobial forces that may assist in overcoming these difficulties.
This is documented in part by a 2016 investigation in which different elements of the V. Officinalis were effective in eliminating 24 strains of disease-causing bacteria.
According to the analysis, extracts obtained from the stem of V. Officinalis were able to destroy Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the test tubing more efficiently that the antibiotic amoxicillin. Similarly, the leaves of the plant exhibited noteworthy activity toward Citrobacter freundii, while the root turned out to be extremely powerful toward Bacillus subtilis.
While it is unclear whether the same outcomes would be observed outside of the test tube environment, the examination does present evidence of vervain’s long-presumed effectiveness in tackling insignificant cuts and skin infections.
Of all the conditions vervain is assumed to treat, the inhibition of kidney stones is one of the most limitedly researched. This is principally due to its difficulty in measuring how efficient treatment is in not creating a medical condition. To date, there is little evidence to proposes it has any effect.
What vervain does seem to do is raise urine output, which perhaps may help counteract the development of kidney stones. But it does so not by doubling the volume of water and sodium in the urinary tract—the way in which most diuretics work—but instead by irritating the kidneys.
One of the stronger claims made by herbalists is that vervain may support the treatment of colorectal cancer. These claims were principally raised by research which revealed that polysaccharides (a type of long-chain carbohydrate) in vervain modified the action of colorectal cancer cells in test containers.
A 2017 study from China stated that an extract of V. Officinalis polysaccharides obstructed the expanse of colorectal cells by blocking their adhesion to healthy cells.
Without the means to connect to healthy cells, a tumor cannot metastasize and attack different organs. This implies that vervain polysaccharides may one day be applied to help confine and control tumors in people with colorectal cancer, increasing survival. However, further research on this effect is needed.
Potential Side Effects
As a herb, V. hastata and V. officinalis are deemed safe for consumption with only a few side effects, particularly indigestion and gas.
The herb also delivers an oily substance that may induce contact dermatitis, but a usually mild form with localized redness. Before utilizing a vervain tincture, always employ a little to the skin and wait an hour to see if a rash occurs. Severe anaphylactic reactions are uncommon.
Because there is not sufficient research to support use in children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, it is best to avoid this herb in these populations.
Can You Grow Your Own Vervain?
Vervain can unquestionably be cultivated in home gardens, but be sure to purchase V. hastata or V. officinalis seeds rather than decorative varietals, like V. bonariensis. The plant thrives well in full to partial sunlight and properly drained soil.
V. hastata will reach heights of 5 feet, and is hardy to zone 3. V. Officinalis will grow between 12 and 34 inches in height and develop bunches of tiny white or purple blossoms. The growing period is from mid-summer to early fall, with harvesting of flowers in Jul and August.
If used for tea, avoid herbs that may have been treated with pesticide or chemical composts. Once harvested, you can use the herb fresh, freeze dry, or dry it in a dehydrator for eventual use. When harvesting, take the aerial parts in full flower. Tinctures are more potent when made from the fresh plant, but dried herb can be used as well.