V is for Vervain

IMG_5676“Bring Your Garlands, and with reverence place Vervain on the Altar”

(B. Johnson – Quote taken from an article in The Naturalist Magazine Vol 2 1851)

Along with Mugwort, Vervain (Verbena officianalis) is probably one of my favourite and most widely used herbs in my craft, it’s taken a long time to get to ‘V’ and I have been really looking forward to talking about Vervain and all the reasons I love using it!

Growth and Cultivation Vervain grows wild and fairly prolifically in my part of the UK where I have spotted it growing along roadsides, footpaths, beneath hedgerows and in parks and meadows. The plant has a herbaceous nature so dies back to nothing in winter. The best time to spot Vervain out in the wild is around now…mid to late summer when it transforms from a very low growing prostrate herb to suddenly sending up tall, flower bearing stems often around 12” high. The leaves are about 2” long, darkish green with a serrated edge and pale green veins and markings which oppose each other on the flowering stem. The flowers are distinctly delicate and small. Each flower, usually pale blue-violet in colour although not always, opens from the base of the flower spike which has a pyramidal shape which each of the tiny flowers are arranged around. The flower spikes themselves are thin and spindly, branched with around three to five flower stems branching from the main. A large clump of Vervain in high summer, with its flower spikes blowing gently in the warm breeze is just sheer magic.

Vervain can easily be grown in the garden. Some appeared in my garden by chance and I have two or three good clumps which I regularly lift, divide and replant elsewhere to provide ample herb to harvest in summer. Seeds can be purchased on line (I recommend trying here)

Healing and Magical Uses

Somewhat atypically I’m merging the healing and magical properties of Vervain under the same sub heading, the simple reason being that it’s quite hard to distinguish between what you might consider genuine medicinal applications for Vervain and folk tradition, Vervain is considered to be a powerful herb of healing magically throughout history, it was applied and used for almost every ailment…it’s understandable how much of the folk lore has transferred into herbalism ‘proper’.

There is a wealth of lore surrounding Vervain. I use Vervain in pretty much every magical application where I want a bit of a boost and some added power (where isn’t that desirable?) For me Vervain is one of nature’s magical catalysts and most magical work will benefit from the inclusion of Vervain. So much so that Vervain is traditionally used in the preparation and consecration of other powerful charms such as the Mandragora where the drying root is often ‘cured’ in smouldering Vervain and the infamous Hand of Glory which is bathed in Vervain and also cured in its smoke. I have also read that those old sorcerers, the Blacksmith’s, employed Vervain to help harden steel! Perhaps keep a strong infusion or tincture of Vervain on hand to use when blessing and empowering magical tools such as the Iron Cauldron or the blade…as far as I’m concerned, there are no down sides or limits to using Vervain!

IMG_5677I use Vervain in herbal bath sachets and teas where I too want to benefit from some of Vervain’s healing and power giving properties. Vervain was also widely used by the Romans and British to sanctify, it is a sacred herb, and by its very nature makes sacred all it touches. It was used to strew upon the floors of sacred temples and scattered upon the altars of the Gods, especially Jupiter, to dedicate and make holy, hence one of its most common names being ‘Holy Herb’ and its latin name ‘Verbena’, also signifies its uses as an altar herb. I also use Vervain to dedicate the home altar. Even Interestingly the word ‘Vervain’ comes from the old ‘Ferfeayn’ apparently meaning to move or clear stones…perhaps cleanse stones…perhaps cleanse stone altars…a tenuous leap maybe but still…? Culpepper recognises Vervain’s powers of “opening obstructions, cleaning and healing” although he is more likely referring to kidney and gall stones, but…!

Its sacred use was known to Christians. It is said that Vervain grew upon Mount Calvary where Christ was crucified and the herb was used to staunch Christ’s wounds, as such Christian folk magic makes use of Vervain as a powerful herb of healing, as well as carrying the dried leaves for good luck, it truly is a blessed herb the world over. Its ability to heal wounds and stop bleeding even carried through into Culpepper’s work where he states “It consolidates and heals all wounds, both inward and outward and stays bleedings“. Herbalists throughout history have noted that Vervain turns the skin a mild red colour when applied as a poultice… could this be the sacred blood of Christ?

Because of its highly sacred nature, the Saxons employed Vervain to repel and treat the bites of all venomous creatures and all manner of poisons. Over the centuries Vervain has been revered, it is no wonder that there are specific rituals to employ when gathering Vervain. The early British believed Vervain to be one of Cerridwen’s Cauldron herbs and used Vervain in mystical initiations to aid the power of prophecy and poetic inspiration and even a few drops of Vervain water into the eyes aids both every day and spirit vision. Loving a good ceremony, the Druids only gathered Vervain on the dark of the moon when the star Sirius rose in the night sky, but only after placating the spirit of the herb with Honey of course. Christians however, who may call Vervain ‘Herb of Grace’ or ‘Herb of the Cross’ state that the following must be recited and the plant crossed three times before harvesting:

“Vervain thou growest on holy ground

In Mount Calvary thou were found

Thou curest all sores and all diseases

And in the name of holy Jesus I pluck you from the ground”

 Another similar (non-denominational) verse is as follows:

“All-heal, thou holy herb, Vervain,

Growing on the ground;

blessed is that place whereon thou art found.”

Vervain, being so fecund around Midsummer has also become associated with the other Midsummer protective herbs. Most people will be famous with this old charm: “Trefoil, Vervain, St John’s Wort, Dill Hinder Witches of their Will” On Midsummer’s day (June 24th, Feat of St John) I gather a selection of midsummer herbs including St John’s Wort, Vervain, Mugwort, Dill, Oak and Rue and make a small wreath to hang upon the front door of the house. I use a similar charm to the above to empower the herbs as I’m making the wreath, occasionally substituting the herb names for what I’ve managed to gather but Vervain is always there thanks to it growing so well in the garden! Vervain is a herb associated with the planet (and lady) Venus, one of Vervain’s other common names is ‘Juno’s Tears’ Juno being the wife of the Roman’s chief God Jupiter. Interestingly Vervain was also said to spring from the tears of Isis as she wept for her slaughtered beloved. Note how Vervain seems to be a real common thread in tales of pantheon’s chief matriarchs. I find it interesting that Vervain was said to be found beneath the cross at Calvary as was Jesus’s mother Mary (another Queen) perhaps Vervain is symbolic of her nurturing, motherly healing power perhaps another name for Vervain could be ‘Mary’s Tears’, Vervain’s floral colour matching Mary’s robes…anyway…trail of thoughts!!  I associate Vervain with all those feminine powers of love, marriage, motherhood and sovereignty….and also sacrifice…after all sacrifice means to make sacred, which Vervain does oh so well!

I would include Vervain in all spells involving marriage and love, sacred to the Holy Mother yet hard as steel, imagine the strength and endurance Vervain could bestow upon a marriage or even the blessing of a new baby! Or with a little lateral thinking…perhaps for a man who needs a little extra help hardening his own weapon?!

Vervain is a herb everyone should grow, be able to identify in the wild but certainly keep a good supply of in their store cupboards, it has to be the most versatile herbs I can think of, owing to its natural power, strength and sacredness. Vervain is to the British, what Rue is to the Italian! Use it plentifully but as always with respect… like all great Queens, treated well she will reward you greatly!

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