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What is Vervain? - Vampire Diaries Reference

We are constantly hearing about vervain on The Vampire Diaries. The humans need it to keep themselves from being compelled (Jedi mind tricks) by the vampires. The “good” vampires need it to help control the “bad” vampires. The vampires use it between themselves for revenge and for their oddball games…and what the heck is it?! I’m sure I was not the only one who was wondering if it was just something invented by the writers. To be perfectly honest when the vervain was introduced in Season 1 of The Vampire Diaries it kind of looked like Zach Salvatore was growing pot in his basement. Actually, vervain does in fact exist and is a perfectly common herb.

1796 detailed drawing of common vervain from a book by Johann Georg and Jacob Sturm

1796 detailed drawing of common vervain from a book by Johann Georg and Jacob Sturm


If you research vervain online you will most likely come up with results for verbena. Verbena is the official name for a genus of plants which includes more than 200 different species. This includes Mint Vervain, Swamp Verbena, and of course Lemon Verbena. The vervain discussed in The Vampire Diaries, however, is verbena officinalis. This species is the most common and is therefore often known as Common Vervain. The plant, although native to Europe, also grows in other places. It is a rather sparse looking plant that has white to light purple flowers and tends to grow up to about three feet high.

Vervain has a part in the history of nearly every culture. In ancient religions it was a symbol of purity and was often used at weddings. It was also considered a sign of peace and was used, much like the olive branch, during diplomatic relations in Ancient Rome. There is a legend in Christianity that vervain was used to clean the wounds of Jesus Christ after he was brought down from the cross. For centuries vervain was considered a holy herb or the “herb of the cross”. It was used for protection, like holy water, and was thought to protect people from the power of witches. Although it is culturally recognized that vervain was used against witches, there is nothing known about its use against vampires. The idea that it could disable or even kill them was created by L.J. Smith and the other writers of The Vampire Diaries.

In the past, vervain officinalis was often made into scented oil, though it was also considered cheap perfume as most people preferred the more expensive scent of aloysia citrodora or Lemon Verbena. The fact that common vervain was used as a perfume, however, does explain why Elena originally thought her defensive necklace was rose scented. You will recall that Stefan avoided answering directly by saying it was an ancient herb that would protect her.

Early 20th century drawing of an Aconitum plant by Carl Axel Magnus Lindman

Early 20th century drawing of an Aconitum plant by Carl Axel Magnus Lindman

Vervain vs. Wolfsbane

Vervain should not be confused with wolfsbane. Not only are these two separate herbs but they are also part of two separate genera. In fact, wolfsbane is discussed later on in The Vampire Diaries and is used only to control the werewolf hybrids. The idea that wolfsbane could be used as a defense against “normal” vampires is due to a rather weird error in the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula. For some reason in this movie Van Helsing gives out wolfsbane as a defense against the vampires rather than using garlic. I might as well also add that there was nothing about wolfsbane in Bram Stoker’s novel.

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Wolfsbane is part of the extremely poisonous genus of plants known as aconitum. These plants were used across the ages for poisoning both people and animals, and in particular wolves. The wolfsbane used, at least in folklore, for repelling werewolves is most likely aconitum lycontonum.

Vervain, on the other hand, is edible. However, it can sometimes be toxic and therefore should be used only under the care of a qualified professional. The most common medicinal form of vervain is the Bach Flower Remedy made from verbena officinalis. It is typically given to patients who have started to run on mania to the point they rarely sleep or begin to do major harm to themselves. Ergo, doesn’t have much to do with being a vampire, eh?

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