Species: Verbena officinalis
Related species: Aloysia citrodora, Lantana camara
Names: Common Vervain, Simpler’s Joy, Devil’s Bane, Holy Herb, Herb of Cross, Herba veneris, Persephonion, Tears of Isis, Mosquito Plant, Wild Hyssop, Echtes Eisenkraut (German: “true ironherb”), IJzerhard (Dutch: “iron-hard”), Læge-Jernurt (Danish: “medical ironwort”), Železník lekársky (Slovak: “medical ironherb”), Rohtorautayrtti (Finnish: “medical ironherb”)
Other German names include Taubenkraut, Katzenblutkraut, Sagenkraut and Wunschkraut.
The scientific name references the Ancient Roman term verbena, which was used for any sacrificial herb or any herb considered as especially powerful (as described e.g. by Pliny the Elder). Latin officinalis refers to any plant “used in medicine or herbalism”.
Plant description: Annual, sometimes also perennial, hardy plant, grows 30-80 cm tall, with small white or bright purple flowers from June to late summer. Pollinated by bees and bumblebees or self-pollination. Seeds develop from July on and are spread by the wind. Modest and easy to grow herb, which easly sows out itself. Harvest all year round.
History and folklore: The name Eisenkraut, “iron herb”, comes from the belief the herb was able to protect from being wounded by weapons made of iron and taht it was used in the melting of iron ore. As part of Indogermanic rituals, vervain was used to cleanse sacrificial stone altars. Egyptians called the herb “Tears of Isis” and used it in ceremonies. Similar the Romans, who called it “Tears of Juno” and placed the herb in bundles on the altars of Jove (brother to Juno). In ancient Greece the herb was sacred to Eos Erigineia, Titan goddess of the dawn. Up until the Middle Ages vervain was used in conjurations, and it is still applied for ritual cleansings, protection and also as a ‘vision enhancer’. E.g. some Native American tribes use it as entheogen enhancer and in oneiromancy, similar to Calea Zachtechichi. In Christian faith vervain was used to staunch Jesus’s wounds when he was taken down from the cross. Vervain is believed to drive out demons (illnesses) and so vervain flowers are engraved on cimaruta, Italian anti-stregheria charms. According to Jean Baptiste Pitois vervain was employed in a Mandragora charm.
Hazlitt’s Faiths and Folklore (1905) quotes Aubrey’s Miscellanies (1721), to wit:
Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will.
Magical uses: Connected to anything sacred and the act of sacrifice. Believed to bear strong protecting and visionary powers and typically used in Samhain incense and teas for remembering the Beloved Dead, but also on Summer Solstice, when strewn on the field or in the home for fertility and keeping evil away. Use as a strewing herb and in herbal charms for fertility and protection, in ritual washes for purifying and teas or philtres for divination and shapeshifting. Associated with the planet Venus it has also links to Jupiter and Mercury, the underworld and the dead. Druids were said to gather Vervain during the dark of the moon, when the dog star Sirius was on the rise.
Planet, element: Venus, Earth
Medicinal Uses: Vervain has been considered a medicinal plant since antiquity. The supernatural attributions aside, vervain may act as an abortificiant as it contains sex steroid analogues. It is also said to ease nervousness and insomnia and is prescribed against “over-enthusiasm”.
Propagation: via seed – cold germinator. Sow seeds on fresh seeding compost. You can blend the seeds with sand or some other loose medium to avoid sowing too many at a time. Press seeds on soil and do not cover. Sow in autumn or spring, directly into the bed or cultivate in containers. Sowing pots should be kept cool and shaded for 4 weeks and later exposed to sun and warmth. Or place outdoors in February, keep moist and allow to germinate under natural conditions. Germination temperature: 5-10°C, germination time: ca. 4 weeks. Separate young plants and plant outdoors in spring and when strong enough, in full sun or semi-shade and normal or rich, well-drained soil.