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Verbena (/vərˈbiːnə/, vervain) is a genus in the family Verbenaceae. It contains about 250 species of annual and perennial herbaceous or semi-woody flowering plants. The majority of the species are native to the Americas and Asia. Verbena officinalis, the common vervain or common verbena, is the type species and native to Europe.

The leaves are usually opposite, simple, and in many species hairy, often densely so. The flowers are small, with five petals, and borne in dense spikes. Typically some shade of blue, they may also be white, pink, or purple, especially in cultivars.

The genus can be divided into a diploid North American and a polyploid South American lineage, both with a base chromosome number of seven. The European species is derived from the North American lineage. It seems that verbena as well as the related mock vervains (Glandularia) evolved from the assemblage provisionally treated under the genus name Junellia; both other genera were usually included in the Verbenaceae until the 1990s. Intergeneric chloroplast gene transfer by an undetermined mechanism – though probably not hybridization – has occurred at least twice from vervains to Glandularia, between the ancestors of the present-day South American lineages and once more recently, between V. orcuttiana or V. hastata and G. bipinnatifida. In addition, several species of verbena are of natural hybrid origin; the well-known garden vervain has an entirely muddy history. The relationships of this close-knit group are therefore hard to resolve with standard methods of computational phylogenetics.

Although verbena ("vervain") has been used in herbalism and traditional medicine, usually as an herbal tonic, there is no high-quality evidence for its effectiveness. [1] Verbena has been listed as one of the 38 plants used to prepare Bach flower remedies, a kind of alternative medicine promoted for its effect on health.[2] The essential oil of various species, mainly common vervain, is traded as "Spanish verbena oil". 

In Folklore

Verbena has long been associated with divine and other supernatural forces. It was called "tears of Isis" in ancient Egypt, and later called "Hera's tears". In ancient Greece it was dedicated to Eos Erigineia. The generic name is the Latin term for a plant sacred to the ancient Romans. Pliny the Elder describes verbena presented on Jupiter altars; it is not entirely clear if this referred to a verbena rather than the general term for prime sacrificial herbs.

Species: Verbena rigida Family: Verbenaceae photo by Kurt Stüber for Wikimedia Commons licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Pliny the Elder notes "the Magi especially make the maddest statements about the plant: that  a circle must be drawn with iron round the plant". [3]

"105 Nulla tamen Romae nobilitatis plus habet quam hiera botane. aliqui aristereon, nostri verbenacam vocant. haec est quam legatos ferre ad hostes indicavimus; hac Iovis mensa verritur, domus purgantur lustranturque. genera eius duo: foliosa, quam feminam putant, mas rarioribus foliis."[4]

"No plant however is so renowned among the Romans as hiera botane ('sacred plant'). Some call it aristereon, and Latin writers verbenaca. This is the plant which I mentioned as carried to the enemy by envoys. With this the table of Jupiter is swept, and homes are cleansed and purified. There are two kinds of it; one has many leaves and is thought to be female, the other, the male, has fewer leaves." [4]

The common names of verbena in many Central and Eastern European languages often associate it with iron. These include for example the Dutch IJzerhard ("iron-hard"), Danish Læge-Jernurt ("medical ironwort"), German Echtes Eisenkraut ("true ironherb"), Slovak Železník lekársky ("medical ironherb"), and Hungarian vasfű ("iron grass").

In the early Christian era, folk legend stated that V. officinalis was used to staunch Jesus' wounds after his removal from the cross. It was consequently called "holy herb" or (e.g. in Wales) "Devil's bane". [5]

Vervain flowers are engraved on cimaruta, Italian anti-stregheria charms.[6]

In the 1870 The History and Practice of Magic by "Paul Christian" (Jean-Baptiste Pitois) it is employed in the preparation of a mandragora charm. The book also describes its antiseptic capabilities (p. 336), and use as a protection against spells (pp. 339, 414).

While common vervain is not native to North America, it has been introduced there and for example the Pawnee have adopted it as an entheogen enhancer and in oneiromancy (dream divination), much as Calea zacatechichi is used in Mexico.[7]

An indeterminate vervain is among the plants on the eighth panel of the New World Tapestry (Expedition to Cape Cod).

In the Victorian language of flowers, verbena held the dual meaning of enchantment and sensibility.[8]

In Vampire Lore

This section is being written.

Example 1:

Other spellbinding common names include enchanter’s herb, sorcerer’s herb, and witch’s herb. For those who followed the Wiccan tradition, vervain was a magical treasure. Charms and spells made with enchanter’s herb were believed to ward off plagues, snakebites, toothaches, bad storms, wicked spirits, and other unspeakable horrors. Drinking vervain tea allegedly kept vampires at bay and smearing its juices on your body could make wishes come true. The herb was added to love spells to conjure a soulmate or reignite an old flame. It was often woven into bridal wreaths or bridal bouquets to ensure lasting love for the happy couple. Given all its “magical powers”, who wouldn’t want to have a little vervain sprinkled in their direction?

In the new world, the folklore surrounding our native vervain is more medicinal than magical in nature. There’s little evidence of it being used here to ward off vampires, but it was believed to ward off disease. As a folk medicine, early settlers used a cure-all tonic made from the leaves to relieve fevers, respiratory ailments, insomnia, as a poultice for flesh wounds, and for purging intestinal worms. You name it, vervain cured it! Native Americans also used it as a wellness tea and dried the flowers as a snuff to treat nosebleeds.[9]

Example 2:

Drinking a tea made of vervain is said to ward off vampires.[10]

Example 3:

Some cultures referred to it as “devil's bane,” referencing the idea that wearing or using it could drive off evil spirits, and the herb was also said to be effective in vampire deterrence.[11]

Example 4

vervain An herb sacred since ancient times and used in both witchcraft and antiwitchcraft charms, philtres and potions. Vervain grows throughout Eurasia and North America. It was said to be revered by the Druids because it resembles the oak, which was sacred to them. Druids gathered it on moonless nights in the spring when the Dog Star, Sirius, rose in the sky, being careful not to touch it as they collected it into IRON containers. The ancient Greeks and Romans considered vervain sacred as well. In Rome, it was consecrated for the purification of homes and temples and was used in medicinal remedies for a variety of ailments. Early Christians called vervain "herb-of-the-cross" because it was believed to have staunched Christ's BLOOD as he hung on the cross. 

Because of its association with Christ, vervain was said to be an effective charm against witches, evil spells and demons. People hung it in their homes, over their stable doors, among their crops and around their necks. [12] 

Further Reading


  2. D. S. Vohra (1 June 2004). Bach Flower Remedies: A Comprehensive Study. B. Jain Publishers. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-7021-271-3.
  3. Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia. pp. Liber XXV, Section LIX.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Pliny the Elder. Natural History. pp. Book 25, Section 59.
  5. Watts, D. C. (2007). Dictionary of Plant Lore. Elsevier. p. 197. ISBN 9780080546025.
  7. Pitois, Christian (1952). The History and Practice of Magic, Volume 2, Forge Press. p. 402.
  8. "Language of Flowers - Flower Meanings, Flower Sentiments".
  12. The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc. pp 354

More Links

  1. "Genus: Verbena L." Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2004-01-29.
  2.  "GRIN Species Records of Verbena". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
  3.  Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  4.  S. M. Botta; S. Martinez & M. E. Mulguta de Romero (1995). "Novedades nomenclaturales en Verbenaceae" [Nomenclatural revisions in Verbenaceae]. Hickenia. 2: 127–128.
  5.  Yao-Wu Yuan & Richard G. Olmstead (2008). "A species-level phylogenetic study of the Verbena complex (Verbenaceae) indicates two independent intergeneric chloroplast transfers". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 48 (1): 23–33. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2008.04.004. PMID 18495498.
  6.  RHS A-Z encyclopedia of garden plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  7.  "RHS Plant Selector Verbena 'Silver Anne' (G) AGM / RHS Gardening". Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  8.  "Vervain". 2009.
  9.  D. S. Vohra (1 June 2004). Bach Flower Remedies: A Comprehensive Study. B. Jain Publishers. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-7021-271-3.
  10.  Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names, Volume 4: R-Z. Taylor & Francis US. p. 2787. ISBN 978-0-8493-2678-3.
  11.  Gledhill, D. (2008). The Names of Plants (4th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 399. ISBN 978-0-521-86645-3.
  12.  Pliny the Elder. Naturalis Historia. pp. Liber XXV, Section LIX.
  13.  Pliny the Elder. Natural History. pp. Book 25, Section 59.
  14.  Watts, D. C. (2007). Dictionary of Plant Lore. Elsevier. p. 197. ISBN 9780080546025.
  15.  Pitois, Christian (1952). The History and Practice of Magic, Volume 2, Forge Press. p. 402.
  16.  Pitois, (1952) pp. 336, 339, 414
  17.  "Language of Flowers - Flower Meanings, Flower Sentiments".
  18.  "Verbena". NCBI taxonomy. Bethesda, MD: National Center for Biotechnology Information.