Vervain (Verbena officinalis) has no known psychoactive effects, however it is used in Medical Herbalism for various purposes, including as a Sleep Herb.
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While the majority of Verbena species are native to the Americas and Asia, Verbena officinalis, is native to Europe where it has been held in high esteem since classical antiquity both as a medicinal and divine plant.
Vervain is also known as:
- Holy herb
- Pigeon’s grass
- Mosquito plant
- Herb of the Cross
- Wild hyssop, simpler’s joy, & blue vervain – also refer to a similar plant, swamp verbena (V. hastata). Studies done on rats clearly show it’s a sedative.
Vervain as a Medicinal Herb
Vervain is a Sleep Herb, which can be used as a moderate strength hypnotic (with a special affinity for the digestive system) and a nervine relaxant.
Medical herbalists also use it as a:
- Nervine tonic – it can be used for depression, melancholia, and anxiety (it is a also gentle anxiolytic).
- Galactagogue (lactation stimulating) and emmenagogue (menstrual flow stimulating/increasing).
- Hepatic (liver) remedy – it is appropriate for jaundice and inflammations of the gallbladder.
- Mild parasympathomimetic agent, gently relaxing the autonomic nervous system.
- Diaphoretic (perspiration inducing) – it can be used in the early stage of fevers.
- Mouthwash – it can be used to treat caries and gum disease.
- Mild hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) – through the following secondary actions: astringent, cholagogue, diaphoretic, hepatic, laxative, and nervine.
- Relaxing expectorant.
- Strong antispasmodic – through the following secondary actions: carminative, diaphoretic, hepatic, and tonic. It can be used for seizures and hysteria.
Scientific studies have been able to confirm the anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, and sedative activities of Verbena officinalis, suggesting that some neurological ailments may be treated with it, including epilepsy, anxiety, and insomnia.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, vervain is known as ma bian cao (“horse whip herb”) and used for amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, joint soreness and pain, as well as other conditions.
Verbena officinalis contains iridoids, such as:
- Aucubin – hepatoprotective
- Hastatoside – has sleep-promoting (soporific) properties.
- Verbenalin – its activity weakly resembles that of ergot in promoting uterine contractions. Also sleep-promoting.
It also contains:
- Beta-sitosterol – studied for its potential to reduce benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and blood cholesterol levels.
- Oleanolic acid – hepatoprotective, antitumor, and antiviral.
- Verbascoside – antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.
- Essential oil
Verbena as a Magical Herb
The Romans burned vervain as incense along with Laurus nobilis and other herbs. In fact, the word verbena in Ancient Rome was used for any sacrificial herb which was considered very powerful.
In Europe of the Middle Ages and the early modern era, vervain was a renowned magical plant. It had the following uses:
- as an ingredient in an incense blend, still used by Wiccans during the night of the full moon before Samhain; the leaves have to be plucked by hand in the afternoon.
- for magical protection as well as magic for gaining wealth
- as an aphrodisiac and in love magick (it is associated with Venus)
- as an ingredient in witches’ flying ointments – Vervain was claimed to have been the “iron plant” of Pliny the Elder known as hiera botane, or “sacred plant.” While vervain lacks the powerful mind-altering properties of hiera botane, in many Eastern European languages its common name is often associated with iron (e.g., “true ironherb” in German, “iron-hard” in Dutch, “medical ironherb” in Danish, Slovak, and Finnish, and “common irongrass” in Hungarian.)
- as an ingredient in a lotion for prophetic dreams along with ergot and other ingredients such as Hedera helix and Aconitum.
In America, marari, a drink consumed by Brazilian Indian shamans to consult with the spirits, is said to induce a state of excitation, sleeplessness, and pains, for some 24 hours. This may have been a vervain species or a plant often confused with it, lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora).
As a Dream Herb
Vervain may have been used as a Dream Herb and a sort North American version of Calea zacatechichi.
Verbena, particularly blue vervain, is often used as an aid in astral projection.
An example of a magickal use of vervain would be preventing nightmares by placing “a handful of vervain leaves in your bed, wear them in a mojo bag on a string around your neck, or brew them into a tea and drink it just before bedtime.”
Not many reports are found regarding vervain, possibly reflecting the mildness of its effects.
One person writes after drinking 2 cups of vervain tea with lemon:
I felt relaxed and lightened, similar effects as Damiana tea but much more subtle. 1 hour later and I feel very sleepy and unmotivated which is unusual for me. I went to bed and had some of the most realistic and movie like dreams I’ve ever had. I really enjoyed the effects even if the taste is horrible.
Other reports mention the effects are very soothing but may cause nausea and stomach upset for sensitive people.
How to Use Vervain for Sleep?
To make an infusion, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1-3 teaspoons (2-4 grams) of dried herb (the aerial parts) and infuse in a covered container for 10-15 minutes.
Take up to 3 times per day.
Tinctures can also be used.
In Chinese Medicine a decoction is made from 15-30 grams of the herb.
If taken to effect sleep, take just before going to bed.
Vervain is approved for use as food and appears in the FDA’s list of substances generally recognized as safe. However, manufacturers of dietary supplements do not need to prove the safety and effectiveness of their products, which is why it may be preferable to buy whole plant material.
Verbena is well tolerated, but gastrointestinal and allergic reactions have been reported.
It should not to be used during pregnancy and breast-feeding.