Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
Vervain, the remedy for those whose over-enthusiasm may lead to burnout, is made by the sun method.
It is considered a holy herb that legend has it was used to staunch the wounds of Christ after crucifixion. Some of its common names are herb of grace, herb of the cross, herba sacra and holy wort. Vervain was used as an altar plant by the Romans and was also sacred to the Druids. In Holland, Germany, Finland, Slovakia and Denmark it is known as iron herb – traditionally used in a procedure to harden steel and also in love potions to promote love as hot as burning iron!
Vervain was placed in fields to prevent bad weather. It was believed to handicap witches, protect against the Evil Eye and had unique lock-opening properties. A man whose hand had been treated with vervain could turn keys and slide bolts at his slightest touch.
Its numerous uses in traditional medicine included to improve the sight, to treat fevers and ulcers, for purging and to promote lactation. It was also used as a poultice for headaches, earache and rheumatism and also applied externally for piles. The herbalist Culpeper recommended its use ‘for those who are frantic’. Another common name for vervain is simpler’s joy which may refer to its wide range of medicinal uses – a simple was a herbal remedy. Simplers foraged for medicinal herbs and sold them to apothecaries. As vervain commonly grows near areas of human habitation, the name can also be interpreted as referring to the simpler’s happiness at knowing this valuable plant was close-by or their feelings on seeing the plant, in anticipation of shelter at the end of a long day!
Vervain is used in herbal medicine today to treat stress and nervous exhaustion. A tea is also sometimes taken for insomnia and two closely related compounds found in the extract, hastatoside and verbenalin, have proven sleep-promoting effects. Verbenalin has one less (-OH) group than hastatoside. These compounds have also shown antioxidant and liver-protecting activities and the extract of vervain also has anti-inflammatory activity. Other beneficial compounds include acubin, which has liver-protecting properties and verbascoside which has antmicrobial and antiinflammatory activities.
The essential oil verbena or lemon verbena, comes from the related plant Aloysia tryphylla. It is used in aromatherapy to helps to ease exhaustion, relieve anxiety, boost concentration and for its antibacterial, antiseptic and antispasmodic effects. In perfumery and cookery, it offers a lemony fragrance and taste. It is one of the herbs used in the French liqueur Verveine du Velay. Lemon verbena contains verbascoside but a study of the antioxidant activity of the extract showed this was higher than predicted on the basis of verbascoside content, suggesting possible synergistic effects.