Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.
The Birth of Vervain
Egyptian myths say that Vervain was born from the tears of Goddess Isis as she cried gathering the remains of her deceased husband Osiris from the ground. Romans called Vervain, Herba Sacra, meaning the holy herb, and used it to cleanse their sacred spaces. They believed this plant to be connected to their Goddess of Love, Venus. The Verbenalia festival of the Romans was in honour of Venus and the herb, Vervain. Believed to be a strong aphrodisiac, Vervain was made part of bridal bouquets and blacksmiths mixed it with the water they use believing that it would impart better strength to the weapons they made. Roman soldiers wore Vervain on their bodies as protection from harm and Vervain was worn in sacred boughs by messengers to enemy camps to indicate that they meant peace.
The common names of Vervain are,
Herb of Grace
Tears of Isis
Mercury’s Moist Blood
The German word for Vervain is Eisenkraut, which is related to iron. However, the plant has no iron content in it. It is assumed that the use of Vervain by blacksmiths in the process of hardening iron led to this nomenclature. The plant can grow up to 36 inches tall. It is widely seen in Europe and North America. It blooms from mid-summer through the beginning of fall. The plant has a spike inflorescence that carries pale lilac, purple, pale blue or white flowers that have five petals. It is assumed as a Mediterranean-origin plant.
Vervain, a Druidic Herb
In ancient Celtic religion, a Druid is a priest, a magician, a religious authority or a soothsayer. Roman scholars such as Cicero and Pliny have written about the Druids. Between 58 and 50 BCE, the Romans defeated the Celtic race of Gauls who inhabited today’s France, and parts of Germany, Belgium, and Italy and that marked the end of Druid culture. Vervain, also named the Druid’s weed, was a special herb used by Druids in medicinal healing and divine rituals along with mistletoe, Selago and Samolus. Ceridwen’s brew, a concoction used to anoint the bard and bless him had Vervain and primrose oils as its ingredients. The Roman author and naturalist, Pliny, has mentioned Vervain as one of the favourite herbs of the Druids. The gathering of Vervain from the wild by the Druids was accompanied by a strange ritual. They collected the plant when the moon was up and in exchange for taking the herb from nature, they would offer honey to the earth from where it is removed. Before removing the plant from the earth, they would draw a circle around it using an iron object. The Druids also believed that sprinkling Vervain water in a sacred grove before making their offerings to the Gods helped purify the place and ward off evil spirits. There is a 14th-century Welsh poem that describes the initiation rite of a bard and the rituals involved boiling Vervain along with other magical herbs in the ‘Cauldron of Inspiration’. It is an amazing thought to hold on to if a cauldron of inspiration could be prepared to unleash one’s creative abilities! Pliny has written that the Celts used Vervain for soothsaying also. According to him, the Druids thought that by rubbing Vervain on their body, they can attain their wishes, keep away diseases, and solve the quarrel with a friend. Vervain was also thought to be a remedy for snake bites.
The ancient Welsh people used Vervain to sprinkle holy water in the church. Dry Vervain leaves sewn into a silk bag and tied around the neck of an ill child were supposed to cure him/her in Sussex. The Welsh people also wore dried and powdered Vervain inside an amulet around their necks. This herb was also thought to give witches the power of invisibility. If you are offered Vervain as a gift, one superstition is that you should refuse it two times before accepting. Another age-old superstition goes like this- if you put Vervain oil in a river mid-stream, it will lead has to where a dead body is floating.
Vervain in Scandinavian and Aztec Mythology
Thor, the Scandinavian god, is the god of lightning and the Vervain flower is believed to have gained its colour from lightning. This plant is also associated with Nehallennia, the goddess of plenty, in Nord mythology. The Aztecs and the North American tribes knew the medicinal properties of Vervain and used it for healing headaches, sleep disorders, and as a diuretic.
Vervain: A Drawing
Herb of the Cross
Some people believe that Vervain was the herb that was applied to the wounds of Jesus Christ, to contain the blood flow on Calvary Mount. J. White, Minister of God’s Word wrote in 1624 that people wore Vervain as protection against blasts and before wearing it, they would utter the following verse as a chant,
“Hallowed be thou, Vervein,
As thou growers on the ground
For on the Mount of Calvary
There thou wast first found
Thou healedst our Saviour Jesus Christ
And staunchedst his bleeding wound
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,
I take thee from the ground.”
Herb of Love
Medieval witches are known to have prepared love potions out of Vervain. The lore is that Vervain would generate affection in the minds of those who receive it towards those who give it. In northern France, the rural people were heard to be using Vervain as a love charm as recently as in the late 1800s. The German tradition is to gift a Vervain hat to the new bride. In Fen Country of Eastern England, married couples used to exchange Vervain leaves to be then kept carefully inside their Bibles. The leaves staying green inside the Bibles was supposed to be a sign of mutual true love. In Piedmont of North-West Italy, young men would collect Vervain on Midsummer Eve and then if they shook hands with the young girls they loved, it was believed that those girls would love them back.
Witch and Her Cauldron
Medicinal Properties of Vervain
Vervain reduces stress, and fever; is a diuretic, improves digestion, and increases milk production in nursing mothers. It is also helpful in bringing in menstruation. The renowned Greek physician, the father of modern medicine, is known to have prescribed Vervain for fever and plague. Vervain infused tea is taken as a medicine and digestive supplement sometimes but its regular use is not recommended. The taste of Vervain is bitter and like many other bitter plants that are good for health, this herb is also beneficial in moderate quantities. The main chemical ingredients of the plant are glycosides, tannins, and alkaloids.
Vervain in German Medicine and Hildegard of Bingen
In the High Middle Ages, that is, the period of 1000 CE-1300 CE, a German Abbess, theological writer, and mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, documented and practised herbal healing techniques and she noted down that Vervain has cooling properties. She has also documented this herb having the ability to cure swelling, throat infection, ulcers, jaundice, and tooth and gum inflammations. Especially gargling with water infused with Vervain helps heal gum and mouth ulcers. This plant is also a common ingredient of traditional German medicine. It has antispasmodic properties that help cure cramps. Sinus and respiratory tract infections are also relieved by the intake of Vervain. Vervain crushed into a pulp can be directly applied to wounds. Pregnant women should not use Vervain and if you are taking any other medication, or have any health condition, you should consult a certified medical practitioner before using this herb. If taken in excess quantities, Vervain will cause diarrhoea and vomiting.
Vervain Tea Recipe
10 grams of dried Vervain
10 grams of Thyme
10 grams of Elderflower
10 grams of Cowslip Primrose
10 grams of Peppermint
Mix 2 teaspoons of the above mixture in one cup of hot water
Allow to steep
After 10 minutes, strain.
You can take this tea hot. It can be taken at a frequency of one cup per day and continuously for not more than one week. Also, please remember that Vervain tea is a sedative. Physicians of Myddfai, a Welsh village, had prescribed Vervain tea for getting a good sleep without dreams.
Vervain in Literature and Movies
William Faulkner wrote in his novel, ‘The Unvanquished’,
“Again I watched her arms angle out and upward as she removed the two verbena sprigs from her hair in two motions faster than the eye could follow, already putting one of them into my lapel and crushing the other in her other hand while she still spoke in that rapid passionate voice not much louder than a whisper: ''There. One I give to you to wear tomorrow (it will not fade), the other I cast away, like this--'' dropping the crushed bloom at her feet. ''I abjure it. I abjure verbena forever more; I have smelled it above the odor of courage; that was all I wanted. Now let me look at you.”
Verbena is another name used to describe Vervain. However, Vervain flowers have no scent at all. It is the variety named lemon Verbena, which is a rousing Vervain, that has fragrance but does not have flowers. It seems Faulkner combined these two plants into a fictional single plant so that he can use it as a powerful metaphor, a symbolic presence, in his story.
In the web series, Vampire Dairies, Stefan, the protagonist and the vampire tells his human friend, Elena,
“That necklace, it contains a herb called vervain. It protects you from being compelled. I wanted to protect you from Damon's influence. But I also wanted to... protect you from me.”
The imaginary place where the story unfolds is Mystic Falls. This is a place where vampires live among humans and many humans know this. To protect themselves from the vampires, many humans either wear or consume Vervain. This web series created a renewed interest in Vervain and the superstitions surrounding this herb. However, it also sparked a renewed interest in the plant’s medicinal properties.
Plant Lore, druidry.org
The Religion of the Ancient Celts, J.A. MacCulloch.
The Mythic Moons of Avalon: Lunar and Herbal Wisdom from the Isle of Healing, Jhenah Telyndru, 2019.
Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folklore of the Plant Kingdom, Richard Folkard, 1884.
Vervain (Verbena): A Forgotten Medicinal Herb, healthyhildegard.com
Gods, Goddesses, and Other Beings, Nordicwiccan.blogspot.com
The Significance of Verbena in William Faulkner’s “An Odor of Verbena.”, Maryanne M. Gobble.
The Unvanquished, William Faulkner, 1991.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Deepa