ChapterPDF Available

Verbena officinalis, vervain

Figures

Content may be subject to copyright.
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
327
CHAPTER 31
Verbena officinalis, vervain
DESCRIPTION
Family: Verbenaceae
Vervain is an example of an ancient medicine which has
fallen out of, and back into, favour in our history of its
2000 years of use. It was one of the sacred herbs of the
European tradition and according to Pliny no plant was
more highly revered by the Romans than this. But our
Arabic writers do not mention it, and the medieval sources
emphasize its external usage, medicinal as well as magical.
The latter uses were predictably condemned by Renais-
sance writers such as Gerard. Quincy notes in the early
18th century that vervain is little taken internally com-
pared to its external use. Yet the first mention of the plant
as a nerve tonic, its major action for herbal practitioners
today, is proposed by Parkinson nearly 80 years before
Quincy. This does not prevent vervain from disappearing
from conventional medicine, for Cullen does not mention
it in his Lectures on Materia Medica. Then another seven
decades pass before vervain is written about again, this
time by the Americans Coffin and Cook concerning their
native species Verbena hastata, for which they propose only
internal administration. Wren reckons the European and
American species are synonymous as medicinal herbs and
from this assertion a modern set of indications in herbal
medicine is constructed. This parity is attested by the value
placed on a bitterness and an opening action on the
liver shared by both species: Dioscorides recommends 1
drachm (4 g) of ‘Hiera Botane’ or sacred herb Verbena
officinalis mixed with half as much frankincense in 1 cotyle
(274 mL) of aged wine, taken warm on an empty stomach
for 4 days in cases of jaundice; Cook writes of blue vervain
Verbena hastata that a ‘free use of a concentrated decoction
many times will open and sustain the liver and gall-ducts
so effectually as to cure intermittents’. In other respects,
however, the American indications for blue vervain have
dominated those few applications that have managed to
pass down through the European tradition. We have used
vervain Verbena officinalis on very many occasions as a
nerve tonic with thymoleptic qualities for cases of depres-
sion, anxiety and insomnia, in convalescence and for
chronic fatigue syndrome, cases of restless legs and head-
ache and sometimes for abdominal pains.
Part used: aerial parts
Verbena officinalis L. is a hardy, herbaceous perennial found in Eurasia, North and South America. It is found on rough
grassland on dry soils. The Flora of Turkey (Davis 1982) gives two Verbena species, including Verbena officinalis.
It forms an evergreen rosette which overwinters. Erect, hairy, woody, square stems (to 70 cm) bear opposite leaves with
the lower leaves deeply lobed with serrated edges. Clusters of small pinkish lilac flowers with a two-lipped, five lobed
tubular corolla occur on slender branched spikes in June to September. The calyx is long and tubular and the fruit contains
four nutlets.
A study carried out on waste ground the UK over 13 years found that population density depended on winter
temperature in that plants died below –17°C, and summer temperature as seed germination required a temperature of
above 19°C (Woodward 1997).
Other species used: Verbena hastata is a taller North American species that is easy to cultivate. It has bright green,
larger, toothed leaves, a dark stem and branching flowerheads of blue flowers. It is discussed in American texts (Henriette’s
Herbal Homepage 2009). Lemon verbena Aloysia triphylla (syn. Lippia citriodora) is a half-hardy lemon scented member of
the Verbenaceae that is native to South America (Bown 1995). It is cultivated in Europe and flourishes in a warm climate.
Quality
In a study in Spain where aerial parts were collected every week in June and July, the concentration of the iridoid glycoside
verbenalin was highest just before flowering (Calvo et al 2000).
Historical sources suggest a range of harvesting times. The herb is gathered in midsummer and the ‘dog days’ until the
plant has gone to seed (Bryce 1987). To obtain the juice, collection early in the season is necessary since the stems later
become long and woody.
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
328
Figure 31.1 Verbena officinalis, vervain (Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, August).
Chapter
Verbena officinalis, vervain | 31 |
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
329
Dioscorides (IV 60) presents us with two possible herbs
named ‘peristerion’ which Beck names as separate species:
the first peristerion, so-called because doves delight to be
near it, ‘generally found with a single stem and a single
root’ whose leaves are ‘split and whitish growing from the
stem’ is identified as Lycopus europaeus, today called gypsy-
wort; the second the holy vervain, ‘hiera botane’ Verbena
officinalis, which ‘some called … peristerion. It sends out
shoots … angular and knobby, surrounded at intervals by
leaves resembling oak leaves except they are narrower, less
indented at the periphery and grayish’. At the same time
Pliny also records that there are two kinds of ‘hiera botane’,
one of which has many leaves and thought to be a female
plant, while the other male plant has fewer leaves,
although he adds that some authorities see only one plant
in the two forms, for they both have the same properties.
These two contemporaneous opinions thus set up a con-
tinuing confusion concerning the identity of vervain. Later
writers group the two plants together but distinguish them
by form, name and powers, according to Bauhin: between
the upright peristerion or verbena recta, and the sprawling
hiera botane or verbena supina. As to form, writers such
as Fuchs claim that it was Dioscorides who discriminated
between upright and sprawling kinds, although his actual
words quoted above fail to support this notion. Mattioli
and Turner seem to take the plant named hiera botane as
vervain and speculate on the true identity of the other
peristerion. As to medicinal powers, Dioscorides writes of
peristerion that its leaves applied in a pessary with rose
ointment or fresh pig fat stop uterine pains, while as a
poultice with vinegar it checks erysipelas and with honey
it controls putrid humours and resolves and cicatrises
wounds. Galen’s peristerion has a drying power enabling
it to close up wounds. Where Dodoens makes an attempt
to separate out the uses of peristerion from those of hiera
botane, he attributes a Dioscoridean indication to the
wrong one. Mostly he lists the indications without dif-
ferentiation, noting that both kinds are of a drying power.
Gerard makes no attempt at distinguishing separate indi-
cations, but reckons the temperature of both plants as very
dry, binding and also cooling with a list of virtues in
common.
It is the hiera botane of Dioscorides that treats jaundice
as well as ague, its leaves applied in a plaster to the bites
of reptiles, chronic swellings and inflammations and to
clean filthy sores, and a decoction of the entire plant as a
gargle to remove scabs from the tonsils and heal spreading
mouth ulcers. It is a sacred herb because it is used in
amulets during purificatory offerings. Also noted by Dio-
scorides is that the sprinkling around of an infusion of the
plant at drinking parties seems to make the guests merrier,
while the harvesting of specifically the third joint of the
stem from the ground with its surrounding leaves is neces-
sary to treat a tertian ague, and the fourth joint in a
quartan ague. Pliny records only the treatment of snake
bite by the herb crushed in wine but relates much more
concerning sacred and magical uses. He too notes its
benefit at parties, but only later, in the Grete Herbal of
1526, is a quantity specified: four leaves and four roots of
vervain, to be steeped in wine and sprinkled about the
house where the guests will be (Brooke 1992). Pliny notes
that the altar of Zeus is cleansed by it, that it is carried by
Rome’s envoys to her enemies, that the Gauls employ it
in fortune-telling and sooth-saying and the Persian Magi
‘madly’ imagine that those who have been rubbed with
the plant win friends and obtain their wishes, banish
fevers and cure all diseases.
PURIFICATION, PEACE AND
LOVE MAGIC
Purification of sacred places has formed a key use of the
sprigs of this sacred herb. The Romans used them to
cleanse the altars and temples dedicated to Jupiter. In
Egypt the herb was dedicated to Isis and played an impor-
tant role in religious ceremonies. The Druids held a sprig
of vervain during the act of soothsaying or speaking divine
prophecies, having first made offerings to Mother Earth in
grand ceremonies surrounding the gathering of the plant
(De Cleene & Lejeune 2002). In medieval Europe, vervain
was considered one of the magical midsummer plants, but
there were rules for its gathering. It had to be collected at
midsummer, during the solstice of the Sun. People in
Germany cast their posies of vervain and mugwort Artemi-
sia vulgaris onto the St John’s day fire on 24 June. Pliny
writes of the Magi that they required vervain to be gath-
ered at the rising of the constellation of Sirius the Dog
Star, when neither Sun nor Moon was shining. A circle had
first to be drawn around the plant with iron, and after
gathering, some wax and honey was given back to the
Earth in its place. Culpeper mocks similar instructions in
the London Dispensatory for the gathering of squills,
questioning how anyone might know which astronomical
rising of the star the physicians of the College meant, for
instance the heliacal rising of Sirius before dawn, or its
acronycal rising after sunset (Culpeper 1669). De Cleene
& Lejeune (2002) suggest that no exact astronomical event
was specified, merely the gathering of the herb before
dawn during the dog days, roughly 3 July to 11 August,
when Sirius would be bright in the eastern sky.
In ancient Rome, priests of the College of the Fetiales
were garlanded with flowering sprigs of vervain in the
course of their duties, which were to examine the causes
of conflicts between Rome and other peoples and to estab-
lish whether Rome was within her rights. If so, and the
opponents did not pay the damages claimed by the priests,
then war would be declared on that people. If not, then a
pig would be slaughtered and the priests would send their
envoys, called ‘verbenarii’, with sprigs of vervain in their
hands to negotiate peace. This practice is said to date back
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
330
Figure 31.2 Verbena officinalis, vervain.
Chapter
Verbena officinalis, vervain | 31 |
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
331
peristerion, taken in drink to disperse poison, and 11
indications for vermenaca. These include liver pain, head-
ache, wounds of various kinds including the bites of
snakes, spiders and mad dogs, ‘for those who have clogged
veins so that blood cannot get to the genitals’, an indica-
tion recalling the employment of vervain in love magic,
and for those who cannot keep their food down. Two new
uses are mentioned: for bladder stones and for swollen
glands. Grieve tells us that the name vervain comes from
the Celtic ‘fer’ and ‘faen’ meaning ‘to drive away the stone’.
The Salernitan herbal specifies the root in mead for
bladder stones, Macer wants equal parts of vervain,
betony Stachys officinalis and saxifrage in white wine and
Fuchs cites Aetius of Amida and Simeon Seth on the
herb taken in drink with honey for unspecified stones.
Parkinson and Culpeper after him state that vervain
cleanses the kidneys and bladder of humours which
engender stones, and helps to break stones and expel
gravel. Quincy comments more generally on indurations
and obstructions of the liver, spleen, kidneys and mesen-
tery, Coffin lists diuretic and anti-scorbutic actions and
both Priest & Priest and Bartram refer to vervain’s influ-
ence on hepatic and renal function. Stainton (1990)
makes it a kidney tonic and Chevallier suggests a use in
gall-stones. It is reasonable to identify a herbal diuretic
action (Bisset & Wichtl 2001) and there is also some evi-
dence that vervain can be useful in cases of urinary stones
(Mills & Bone 2000).
As for swollen glands, this is named scrofula by the
Myddfai physicians and vervain as a simple is recom-
mended to be inwardly taken and externally applied,
using the whole plant, until the swelling is dispersed.
Hildegard describes topical compresses for swellings of
the throat and corroding ulcers. The juice of vervain
boiled in wine with honey is proposed by the teachers
of Salerno for any swelling, growth or abscess of the
throat which hinders swallowing. This may include scabs
of the tonsils and takes us back to Dioscorides, but the
recommendation for scrofula is not passed down into
Renaissance herbals. There is a surprise re-appearance,
however, in Victorian England, when Fernie (1897)
writes that ‘the vervain has fallen of late years into dis-
favour as a British Herbal Simple, though a pamphlet
has recently appeared, written by a Mr Morley, who
strongly advises the revived use of the herb for benefiting
scrofulous diseases. Therein it is ordered that the root of
vervain shall be tied with a yard of white satin ribband
round the neck of the patient until he recovers. Also an
infusion and ointment are to be prepared from the leaves
of the plant’. A prescription for scrofula is also recorded
by John Skelton in The Science and Practice of Medicine,
published by the National Association of Medical Herb-
alists of Great Britain in 1904 but with an introduction
by the author from 1870. A decoction of vervain, colts-
foot Tussilago farfara and the poisonous dog’s mercury
Mercurialis perennis and spurge laurel Daphne laureola,
to the very founding of Rome itself and seems to have
been followed also by the Magi of Persia and later among
Germanic peoples (De Cleene & Lejeune 2002). It is likely
that vervain was not the sole plant used in these rituals,
for ‘verbenae’ refers to a number of cooling herbs such as
myrtle, olive and laurel (Lewis & Short 1890).
Vervain is also said to have been dedicated by the
Romans to Venus since, as Virgil testifies, it was used in
love magic and the preparation of love potions (De Cleene
& Lejeune 2002). This enchantment is reflected in ver-
vain’s epithet of ‘you tempt me’ in the language of flowers
(De Latour 1819). To counter the spell, this same ‘Enchant-
er’s Weed’ or ‘Herbe aux Sorcieres’ was used to drive away
evil and undesirable people. It was said that ‘Vervain and
Dill hinder witches from their will’ (De Cleene & Lejeune
2002). Vervain was hung on stable doors in Greece to
protect and bring luck; guns were rubbed with the plant
so that they would never miss, and armour also, so that it
might remain impervious to arrows and other weapons
(De Cleene & Lejeune 2002). He who carries vervain
about his person, says the Salernitan herbal, will be pro-
tected against all serpent bites (or dogs in Apuleius and
the Old English Herbarium under peristerion), while Macer
wants the bruised herb applied to the bite. It was used in
a more magical way also by being hung round the neck
rather than ingested, as Turner and Culpeper suggest, for
garlands of this herb as a crown for the head are recom-
mended in the Salernitan herbal to treat a headache.
Gerard tells us that this method comes from Archigenes,
but another method cited by Fuchs from Aetius becomes
the approved treatment in the London Dispensatory: an
oil of vervain is used to anoint the head. Culpeper adds a
proviso that the headache must not be accompanied by
inflammation or fever, presumably because, like Parkin-
son, he regarded the herb as hot and dry in quality. For
Culpeper, vervain is ‘an herb of Venus, and an excellent
herb for the womb, to strengthen it, and remedy all the
cold griefs of it, as Plantain doth the hot’. The fact of
vervain’s bitterness adds credence to the assessment of a
heating power, but Galen himself only states the plant’s
drying action and several authors go no further than this.
However, the Salernitan herbal repeats the Roman classi-
fication of the plant as cold and dry, and Hildegard writes
that it is more cold than hot, while Macer has hot and dry
in the second degree, like Parkinson and Culpeper. Eight-
eenth century recommendations of the herb for diseases
of cold and phlegm suggest the acceptance of vervain as
heating and drying.
EUROPEAN MEDICINAL USES
Now that we have returned to medicinal virtues of vervain,
let us look at the medieval sources. The Old English Her-
barium lists one internal use of the powdered herb
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
332
plague: but these men are deceived, not only
in that they looke for some truth from the father
of falsehood and leasings, but also because in
stead of a good and sure remedy they minister
no remedy at all: for it is reported that the
Divell did reveale it as a secret and divine
medicine.
Quincy cites a magical use of vervain from Marcellus
Empiricus, a Gallic physician of the 5th century AD and
author of a book on medicines (De Medicamentis), before
complaining that ‘many country people pretend to do
great feats with it in agues, by applying it to the wrist in
the form of a cataplasm, and also to cure gouty pains and
swellings being use in the same manner’. Miller and Hill
describe only physical applications: Miller recommends
vervain for diseases of cold and phlegm, for clearing
obstructions of the liver and spleen including jaundice, for
gout and watery, inflamed eyes already mentioned by Par-
kinson, and as a vulnerary; Hill comments only on its
ability to warm the stomach, open the liver and spleen
and, with continued use, to remove nervous conditions.
This last indication may stem from Parkinson’s opinion
that the herb is good for those who are frantic and is the
earliest mention we have found of vervain’s primary indi-
cation today.
Parkinson also establishes other indications, which
will have been read more often in Culpeper’s rendering
of the same virtues of vervain. He emphasizes benefits
for defects of the stomach, liver, spleen, kidneys and also
the lungs, treating cough, wheezing and breathlessness,
and generally for all inward pains. It will cause a good
colour in the face and body. Vervain kills worms in the
belly and its distilled water, dropped into the eyes for
films and mists ‘wonderfully comforteth the optick
veins’. Among the external uses are ointments for pain and
swelling in the groin and for haemorrhoids, the juice or
bruised herb to cleanse pustules, freckles and morphew
(possibly a type of psoriasis). He lists gout and fistulas,
which we have already seen mentioned in Byzantine
sources.
VERVAIN OF THE AMERICAS
Where later writers have included any of the older indica-
tions, they are likely to have come from Culpeper. This
includes Dioscorides’ indication for jaundice in the British
Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and references to lung conditions
(Robinson 1868, Brooke 1992), but these are negligible
compared to the importance of the descriptions by Coffin
and Cook of the American Verbena hastata. Take vervain’s
with added poke root Phytolacca americana and Spanish
juice (liquorice Glycyrrhiza glabra) is prescribed for inter-
nal administration, while the enlarged glands are covered
with flannel during the day and treated with hot worm-
wood compress at night. A poultice of white pond lily
Nymphaea alba is used instead if the glands appear ripe
for suppuration. The detail of Skelton’s treatment sug-
gests actual use but for reasons of likely toxicity could
no longer be repeated today.
Another medieval topical use for vervain involves
applying the fresh juice to the chest while the herb is
available, or the dried and powdered herb with honey in
winter, for chest complaints. The Myddfai physicians rec-
ommend this to counter the effects of scrofula on the
lungs, while the Salernitan herbal insists the plants used
must be gathered when the sun is at its highest point,
presumably mid-summer rather than noon. Macer
accounts the herb generally good for stomach, liver and
lungs and Fuchs reads the same in his copy of Pliny, the
interpolation emphasizing the benefits of vervain for
consumption.
The Byzantine sources Aetius of Amida and Simeon Seth
cited by Fuchs, and Paul of Aegina cited by Dalechamps,
provide yet more external uses: hair loss, toothache and
loose teeth, mouth ulcers and fistulae. To these are added
abdominal colic, elephantiasis, epilepsy, common or quo-
tidian fevers, gout and hip pains by internal medicine.
These citations appear where we might have expected
comments in Renaissance herbals on new uses of vervain
among contemporary doctors. The plant’s common name
‘simpler’s joy’ might suggest an enthusiastic usage outside
trained medical practice, especially given the extent of
vervain’s reputation in magic, and the popular tendency
to deploy elaborate rituals in the use of medicinal plants
(Webster 2008). Could a superstitious reverence of the
plant have diminished its standing among more qualified
and professionally aware practitioners? Some writers want
to distance themselves from such practices. Gerard chooses
Dioscorides’ recommendation of vervain in agues to rep-
rimand improper practice:
It is reported to be of singular force against the
tertian and quartaine fevers: but you must
observe mother Bumbies rules to take just so
many knots or sprigs and no more, least it fall
out so that it do you no good, if you catch no
harme by it. Many odde olde wives fables are
written of vervaine tending to witchcraft and
sorcerie, which you may reade else where, for I
am not willing to trouble your eares with
reporting such trifles, as honest eares abhorre to
heare … Most of the later physitions do give the
juice or decoction hereof to them that have the
Chapter
Verbena officinalis, vervain | 31 |
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
333
disorders, and to in vitro and in vivo evidence which may
explain these effects.
Recent research identifies four types of constituent in
vervain which have been shown to be antiinflammatory:
iridoid glycosides, phenylpropanoid glycosides, flavo-
noids and triterpenoids, which has led to recommen-
dations that the plant merits further research for use
particularly as a tea (Deepak & Handa 2000a, Bilia et al
2008).
Use of vervain is reported in recent ethnographic surveys
for many disorders. Vervain is used in traditional Chinese
medicine and is described as cold, bitter, anticoagulant,
detoxifying and diuretic and used for amenorrhea,
traumatic injuries; hepatitis, mastitis; liver cirrhosis and
ascites, nephritic oedema and urinary tract infections
(Revolutionary Health Committee of Hunan Province
1978). A study of medicinal plant knowledge amongst the
Bai people, in the Himalayan foothills in southwest China
documented use of 176 plants. The whole plant of vervain
is used, as a decoction or poultice, as an anthelmintic, to
treat injuries and, eaten raw, to ‘strengthen bones and
tendons’. The authors note the continuing influence of the
herbal manuals distributed in the 1970s to improve rural
healthcare (Weckerle et al 2009). A survey of markets in
Yunnan, southwest China documented use of 216 plants.
Aerial parts of verbena are collected in the wild and used
for cold-fever, hepatitis and enteritis (Lee et al 2008). A
European survey in rural northern Portugal documented
use of 88 plants and found that verbena is used for depres-
sion, nervousness, stress and insomnia (Neves et al 2009).
Another survey in the Italian Alps documenting the use of
58 species found that the whole plant of vervain is col-
lected and used for coughs and asthma. The dose given is
3 cups of tea daily for several weeks (Vitalini et al 2009).
A third survey in central Italy documented use of 96
plants. Aerial parts of vervain are used as a plaster to stop
bleeding and aid in wound healing and for rheumatic
pains in the knees and elbows. Aerial parts are used too
as a poultice for thyroid problems. The herb is chopped
together with Thymus longicaulis subsp. longicaulis and Pari-
etaria diffusa, added to bean flour and beaten egg white
and applied with a cloth to the neck for 4–5 hours or
preferably overnight. It is applied for 3 days, stopped for
3 days and the cycle is repeated three times (Guarrera
et al 2005).
Western herbalists writing about vervain feature its
relaxant tonic action on the nervous system. Perhaps more
readily available in the shops is Lemon verbena Verbena
triphylla, which makes a refreshing tea possessing nervine
properties also. It is used in traditional medicine in South
America for depression and to calm the nerves (Carnat
et al 1999, Ceuterick et al 2008). It has similar consti-
tuents to vervain (Bilia et al 2008), including the
iridoid glycoside verbenalin and the phenylpropanoid
glycoside verbascoside. The concentration of verbascoside
use in gynaecology: Cook discusses vervain as a relaxant
tonic with mild laxative effects indicated in recent
obstructions of the menses, from which is derived an
emmenogogue action and an indication of amenorrhoea
(Priest & Priest, Bartram, Hoffmann), which has nothing
to do with Culpeper’s original assertion, that vervain is a
sympathetic remedy for the womb correcting all cold dis-
eases of that organ. The relaxant effect becomes an anti-
spasmodic action, useful in gall-bladder inflammation
(British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, Hoffmann), acute spasms
of bronchitis and pertussis as well as dysmenorrhoea
(Priest & Priest), seizures (Hoffmann) muscle spasm,
neuritis and ear neuralgia (Menzies-Trull) and labour
pains (Coffin). None of these writers mentions abdomi-
nal colic cited by the old Byzantine writers, or repeats
Parkinson’s ‘all inward pains’. Both Coffin and Cook note
vervain also as a treatment for worms, with an action
similar to that of balmony Chelone glabra. Coffin high-
lights vervain’s diaphoretic action ‘one of the strongest
sweating medicines in nature. It is good for colds, coughs
and pains in the head, and some years ago was highly
esteemed as a remedy for consumption’. The National
Botanic Pharmacopoeia advocates its use in some forms of
fevers only and it remains a mild diaphoretic for coughs
and colds in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, to be taken
as a simple infusion of 1 oz of herb to 1 pint of water
according to Wren and only for the early stages of fever
for Hoffmann. Coffin is also full of praise for vervain’s
emetic action ‘It ranks next to lobelia … As an emetic it
supercedes the use of antimony and ipecacuanha … I
generally give a teaspoon of the pulverized herb every
half hour in a tea of pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) or
raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) until it operates, taking
great care to keep the patient warm in bed, with a hot
brick or stone to the feet, and use freely of cayenne or
ginger tea, taken as hot as convenient during its opera-
tion’. Cook too relates that a warm infusion of vervain
proves emetic if used freely. Chevallier thinks that the
bitter terpenoid verbenalin may be responsible for the
effect. Yet this action goes without mention or caution in
Priest & Priest, Grieve, whose entry for vervain is short as
if she could not be bothered with it, Bartram and the
British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. Perhaps Cook’s conclusion
that ‘this article is nearly overlooked by the profession,
but deserves decided attention’ is just as true today. So,
a recent survey by researchers looking at 16th and 17th
century herbals for citations of herbs indicated for rheu-
matic disorders, which included vervain in that number
(Adams et al 2009), is most welcome. The uses men-
tioned in the herbals of Bock, Fuchs and Tabernaemonta-
nus, of vervain decocted in wine for topical application
to painful parts, including gout of the feet, is linked by
the authors to ethnobotanical field studies in Italy and
Serbia which report knowledge of vervain’s analgesic and
antiphlogistic properties and topical use in rheumatic
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
334
RECOMMENDATIONS
Nervous disorders: stress, anxiety and depression,
withdrawal from tranquillizers or mood-altering
drugs, agoraphobia, chronic fatigue syndrome,
nervous exhaustion and insomnia; sexual neurosis;
headache; restless leg syndrome.
Convalescence: depression and debility after fevers
such as influenza or in recovery from chronic illness;
post-natal or post-operative depression.
Digestion: abdominal colic, jaundice, gall-bladder
inflammation, intestinal worms.
Respiratory: colds and fevers, tightness of the chest,
bronchitis, asthma, pertussis, sinusitis.
Urinary: urinary stones, urinary tract infections.
Reproductive: dysmenorrhoea.
Topical: wounds, bites, oral and throat
inflammation, muscle spasms and rheumatic
conditions.
Daily dosage: the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia recom-
mends 2–4 g three times a day of dried herb.
is substantially higher in lemon verbena (Bilia et al 2008).
It is more aromatic with a lemony aroma as the volatile
oil contains geranial, neral and limonene (Carnat et al
1999, Svoboda & Greenaway 2003) which renders the tea
more pleasant to take.
However, our medicinal herb is Verbena officinalis and
the writers variously describe its principal indications as a
nervine agent: as a sedative and anxiolytic for nervous
disorders and breakdowns, irritability, over-sensitivity,
withdrawal from tranquillizers or mood-altering drugs,
paranoid tendency, hysteria, agoraphobia, generalized sei-
zures, fits and convulsions; as a thymoleptic in depression
and melancholia, and specifically for the depression and
debility of convalescence after fevers such as influenza, in
recovery from chronic illness or in post-natal or post-
operative depression; as a nerve tonic in chronic fatigue
syndrome, nervous exhaustion and insomnia, for which
last it is often prescribed as an infusion with other relaxant
herbs in Mességué’s (1981) ‘tea of happiness’: 2 parts
vervain, chamomile Matricaria recutita and lime flowers
Tilia x vulgaris; 1 part peppermint Mentha piperita and
(additional to Mességué’s four herbs) lavender Lavandula
angustifolia.
CONSTITUENTS
Barnes et al (2007), Bisset & Wichtl (2001), Bradley (2006), Williamson (2003).
Iridoid glycosides
Verbenalin 0.34%, hastatoside 0.3% (tender parts, wild, India) (Deepak & Handa 2000b); dihydrocornin, aucubin (Bradley
2006).
Verbenalin, hastatoside (decoction, tea, ethanol tincture, wild, Italy) (Bilia et al 2008).
Verbenalin 1.49–2.73%, hastatoside 0.5% (six samples, commercial, Switzerland) (Műller et al 2004).
Verbenalin was the most abundant constituent (cultivated, Spain) (Calvo et al 1997).
Triterpenes
Beta-sitosterol, ursolic acid, oleanolic acid (Deepak & Handa 1998); ursolic acid, two new triterpenes (collected, India)
(Deepak & Handa 2000a).
Phenylpropanoids
Phenylpropanoid glycosides: verbascoside (acteoside) 0.24% (tender parts, wild, India) (Deepak & Handa 2000b).
Verbascoside, isoverbascoside, eukovoside (wild, Italy) (Bilia et al 2008). Concentration was higher in the ethanolic tincture
than in the infusion or decoction.
Flavonoids
Flavone glycosides: luteolin 7-diglucuronide, apigenin 7-diglucuronide (Műller et al 2004).
Apigenin 7-glucoside, luteolin glycosides, diosmetin glycosides, chrysoeriol galactoside (wild, Egypt) (Kawashty et al 2000).
Luteolin 7-diglucuronide, apigenin 7-diglucuronide (decoction, wild, Italy) (Bilia et al 2008). In this study the flavone
glycosides were extracted into the tea but not into the ethanol tincture, whereas Calvo et al (1997) found the flavonoids
were extracted into a methanolic tincture.
Luteolin and glycoside, 6-hydroxyluteolin and glycoside, apigenin and glycoside, 6-hydroxyapigenin and glycoside (Calvo
et al 1997).
Chapter
Verbena officinalis, vervain | 31 |
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
335
Ceuterick M, Vandebroek I, Torry B, et al 2008 Cross-
cultural adaptation in urban ethnobotany: the
Colombian folk pharmacopoeia in London. Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 120:342–359.
Culpeper N 1669 Pharmacopoiea Londinensis. London:
George Sawbridge.
Davis PH (ed.) 1982 Flora of Turkey, vol 7. Edinburgh
University Press, Edinburgh.
De Cleene M, Lejeune MC 2002 Compendium of symbolic
and ritual plants in Europe. Man & Culture Publishers,
Ghent.
Deepak M, Handa SS 1998 3alpha,24-dihydroxy-urs-12-en-
28-oic acid from Verbena officinalis. Phytochemistry
49:269–271.
Deepak M, Handa SS 2000a Antiinflammatory activity and
chemical composition of extracts of Verbena officinalis.
Phytotherapy Research 14:463–465.
Deepak M, Handa SS 2000b Quantitative determination of
the major constituents of Verbena officinalis using high
performance thin layer chromatography and high
pressure liquid chromatography. Phytochemical Analysis
11:351–355.
De Latour C 1819 Le langage des fleurs. A Pihan Delaforest,
Paris.
Fernie WT 1897 Herbal simples approved for modern uses
of cure. Boericke & Tafel, Philadelphia. Online.
Available: http://www gutenberg.org.
Guarrera PM, Forti G, Marignoli S 2005 Ethnobotanical and
ethnomedicinal uses of plants in the district of
Acquapendente (Latium, Central Italy). Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 96:429–444.
Henriette’s Herbal Homepage 2009 Verbena hastata. Online.
Available: http://www.henriettesherbal.com/plants/
verbena/hastata.html.
Kawashty SA, El-Garf IA 2000 The flavonoid
chemosystematics of Egyptian Verbena species.
Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 28:919–921.
Lee S, Xiao C, Pei S 2008 Ethnobotanical survey of
medicinal plants at periodic markets of Honghe
Prefecture in Yunnan Province, SW China. Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 117:362–377.
Lewis C, Short C 1890 A Latin dictionary. Clarendon Press,
Oxford.
Mességué M 1981 Health secrets of plants and herbs. Pan
books, London.
Mills S, Bone K 2000 The principles and practice of
phytotherapy. Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.
Műller A, Ganzera M, Stuppner H 2004 Analysis of the
aerial parts of Verbena officinalis L. by micellar
electrokinetic capillary chromatography.
Chromatographia 60:193–197.
Neves JM, Matos C, Moutinho C, et al 2009
Ethnopharmacological notes about ancient uses of
medicinal plants in Trás-os-Montes (northern of
Portugal). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 124:
270–283.
Revolutionary Health Committee of Hunan Province 1978
Barefoot doctor’s manual. Routledge Kegan Paul,
London.
RECOMMENDATIONS ON SAFETY
1. Do not use in pregnancy.
Several sources suggest that this herb should not be used
in pregnancy (Bradley 2006, Brooke 1992) and it has been
investigated in China as a possible herb to terminate early
pregnancy (Zhang et al 2004).
2. Vervain should not be drunk with meals by
vegetarians and vegans.
Mills & Bone (2000) state that phenylpropanoids inter-
fere with non-haem iron absorption and include vervain
in the list of herbs where this may be of concern. A study
in Morocco using an in vitro model of digestion found
that non-haem iron absorption was decreased by vervain,
although vervain had one third of the level of polyphenols
in tea (Zaida et al 2006). This was an in vitro study
designed to estimate the effect of drinking tea, vervain or
mint teas on women weaning their babies and so would
require further confirmation.
REFERENCES
Adams M, Berset C, Kessler M, et al 2009 Medicinal herbs
for the treatment of rheumatic disorders – a survey of
European herbals from the 16th and 17th century.
Journal of Ethnopharmacology 121:343–359.
Barnes J, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD 2007 Herbal
medicines, 3rd edn. Pharmaceutical Press, London.
Bilia AR, Giomi M, Innocenti M, et al 2008 HPLC-DAD-
ESI-MS analysis of the constituents of aqueous
preparations of verbena and lemon verbena and
evaluation of the antioxidant. Journal of Pharmaceutical
and Biomedical Analysis 46:463–470.
Bisset NG, Wichtl M (eds) 2001 Herbal Drugs and
Phytopharmaceuticals, 2nd edn. Medpharm, Stuttgart.
Bown D 1995 Encyclopedia of herbs. Dorling Kindersley,
London.
Bradley PR 2006 British herbal compendium, vol 2. British
Herbal Medicine Association, Bournemouth.
Brooke E 1992 A woman’s book of herbs. The Women’s
Press, London.
Bryce D (ed.) 1987 The herbal remedies of the physicians of
Myddfai. Llanerch Enterprises, Lampeter.
Calvo MI, San Julian A, Fernandez M 1997 Identification of
the major compounds in extracts of Verbena officinalis L.
(Verbenaceae) by HPLC with post-column derivatization.
Chromatographia 46:241–244.
Calvo MI, Crespo A, Fernandez M 2000 Seasonal variations
of the iridoids, flavonoids and verbascoside content from
Verbena officinalis L. Acta Horticulturae 516:169–174.
Carnat A, Carnat AP, Fraisse D 1999 The aromatic and
polyphenolic composition of lemon verbena tea.
Fitoterapia 70:44–49.
THE WESTERN HERBAL TRADITION
336
and common widespread practice. Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 123:213–228.
Williamson E 2003 Potter’s herbal cyclopaedia. CW Daniel,
Saffron Walden.
Woodward FI 1997 Life at the edge: a 14-year study of a
Verbena officinalis population’s interactions with climate.
The Journal of Ecology 85:899–906.
Zaida F, Bureau F, Guyot S, et al 2006 Iron availability and
consumption of tea, vervain and mint during weaning in
Morocco. Ann Nutr Metab 50:237–241.
Zhang SX, Wang HQ, Ou N 2004 Studies on the effect of
Verbena officinalis extract on decidual stromal cells of
early pregnancy in vitro. Chinese Journal of Natural
Medicines 2:242–246 (Chinese, English abstract only).
Robinson M 1868 The new family herbal. W Nicholson,
London.
Stainton R 1990 Verbena officinalis in perspective. British
Journal of Phytotherapy 1:34–46.
Svoboda KP, Greenaway RI 2003 Lemon scented plants.
International Journal of Aromatherapy 13:23–32.
Vitalini S, Tomè F, Fico G 2009 Traditional uses of
medicinal plants in Valvestino (Italy). Journal of
Ethnopharmacology 121:106–116.
Webster C 2008 Medicine, magic and mission at the end of
time. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Weckerle CS, Ineichen R, Huber FK, et al 2009 Mao’s
heritage: medicinal plant knowledge among the Bai
in Shaxi, China, at a crossroads between distinct local
... Verbena officinalis L. (Verbenaceae), also known as vervain and common verbena, is a cosmopolitan species found in Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, South America, and northern Africa [1][2][3][4]. Its herb (Verbenae officinalis herba) has long been used in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, secretolytic, and expectorant properties [5][6][7]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Different types of microshoot cultures (agar, stationary liquid, agitated, and bioreactors) of Verbena officinalis were optimized for biomass growth and the production of phenylpropanoid glycosides and phenolic acids. Using ultra-high performance liquid chromatography with high-resolution time-of-flight mass spectrometry, the presence of verbascoside, isoverbascoside, leucoseptoside A/isomers, and cistanoside D/isomer was confirmed in the methanolic extracts obtained from all types of in vitro cultures. The compound’s content was determined by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography. The main metabolites in biomass extracts were verbascoside and isoverbascoside (maximum 4881.61 and 451.80 mg/100 g dry weight (DW)). In the soil-grown plant extract, verbascoside was also dominated (1728.97 mg/100 g DW). The content of phenolic acids in the analyzed extracts was below 24 mg/100 g DW. The highest radical scavenging activity was found in the biomass extract from agitated cultures, the most effective reducing power in agar culture extract, and the highest chelating activity in extract from bioreactor cultures. The extracts showed significantly stronger bacteriostatic and bactericidal activity against Gram-positive bacteria (minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of 0.3–2.2 mg/mL and minimum bactericidal concentration (MBC) of 0.6–9 mg/mL) than against Gram-negative bacteria (MIC 0.6–9 mg/mL, MBC of 0.6–18 mg/mL). The biomass extract from liquid stationary culture showed the strongest antibacterial activity, while the extract from soil-grown herb had the lowest.
Article
Full-text available
Callus, suspension and bioreactor cultures of Verbena officinalis were established, and optimized for biomass growth and production of phenylpropanoid glycosides, phenolic acids, flavonoids and iridoids. All types of cultures were maintained on/in the Murashige and Skoog (MS) media with 1 mg/L BAP and 1 mg/L NAA. The inoculum sizes were optimized in callus and suspension cultures. Moreover, the growth of the culture in two different types of bioreactors—a balloon bioreactor (BB) and a stirred-tank bioreactor (STB) was tested. In methanolic extracts from biomass of all types of in vitro cultures the presence of the same metabolites—verbascoside, isoverbascoside, and six phenolic acids: protocatechuic, chlorogenic, vanillic, caffeic, ferulic and rosmarinic acids was confirmed and quantified by the HPLC-DAD method. In the extracts from lyophilized culture media, no metabolites were found. The main metabolites in biomass extracts were verbascoside and isoverbascoside. Their maximum amounts in g/100 g DW (dry weight) in the tested types of cultures were as follow: 7.25 and 0.61 (callus), 7.06 and 0.48 (suspension), 7.69 and 0.31 (BB), 9.18 and 0.34 (STB). The amounts of phenolic acids were many times lower, max. total content reached of 26.90, 50.72, 19.88, and 36.78 mg/100 g DW, respectively. The highest content of verbascoside and also a high content of isoverbascoside obtained in STB (stirred-tank bioreactor) were 5.3 and 7.8 times higher than in extracts from overground parts of the parent plant. In the extracts from parent plant two iridoids—verbenalin and hastatoside, were also abundant. All investigated biomass extracts and the extracts from parent plant showed the antiproliferative, antioxidant and antibacterial activities. The strongest activities were documented for the cultures maintained in STB. We propose extracts from in vitro cultured biomass of vervain, especially from STB, as a rich source of bioactive metabolites with antiproliferative, antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Article
The inhibitive action of verbena essential oil (VEO) on the corrosion of mild Steel in 1 M HCl solutions in the temperature range 298 to 328 K was measured by use of the weight-loss method, potentiodynamic polarization, and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. Results showed that VEO inhibited corrosion of C38 steel in 1 M HCl solution and that inhibition efficiency increased with increasing concentration of inhibitor but decreased proportionally with temperature. Potentiodynamic polarization studies suggested VEO is a mixed-type inhibitor, with the anodic type predominating. Nyquist plots were depressed semicircles with their centre below the real axis. Adsorption of VEO by the C38 steel surface followed the Langmuir adsorption isotherm. Kinetic data for dissolution were investigated.
Book
The authoritative and comprehensive modern textbook on western herbal medicine - now in its second edition This long-awaited second edition of Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy covers all major aspects of herbal medicine from fundamental concepts, traditional use and scientific research through to safety, effective dosage and clinical applications. Written by herbal practitioners with active experience in clinical practice, education, manufacturing and research, the textbook is both practical and evidence based. The focus, always, is on the importance of tailoring the treatment to the individual case. New insights are given into the herbal management of approxiately 100 modern ailments, including some of the most challenging medical conditions, such as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and other complex autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, and there is vibrant discussion around the contribution of phytotherapy in general to modern health issues, including health ageing. Fully referenced throughout, with more than 10, 000 citations, the book is a core resource for students and practitioners of phytotherapy and naturopathy and will be of value to all healthcare professionals - pharmacists, doctors, nurses - with an interest in herbal therapeutics.
Article
To explore machanism of Verbena offcinalis L. and mefepristone with anti-early pregnancy activity on cell level and to investigate the active portion in the Verbena of offcinalis on anti-early pregnancy activity. In this experiment, A, B, C and D were extrated by different ways respectively. By means of cell culture technique, the effect of Verbena of offcinalis L and mefepristone on the morphology and viability, proliferation, apoptosis and cellcycle proliferation was greatly changed and the viability was significantly inhibited when the decidual cells were preincubated with A, B, C( > 12.5mg/ml) and mefepristone (80 μg/ml). The higher the concentration of A, B, C was the more significant inhibition was. A, B, C(25 mg/ml) and Mifeprestone (80 μ g/ml) could enhence apotosis in decidual cell, but had no significant effect on cellcycle. D had no obvious effect in above aspects. In conclusion, Verbena offcinalis L and mefepristone can terminate early pregnancy by inhibiting proliferation and enhancing apoptosis of decidual stromal cells.
Article
The aim of this work is the quantitative determinations of iridoids, flavonoids and verbascoside by HPLC in leaves of Verbena officinalis during three vegetative periods. The effects of plant age, date of harvest, type of soil, climate, as well as a comparision between two different locations, Ilundain and Lezaun, are been investigated in order to evaluate the development and content of major compounds in Verbena leaves, verbenalin mainly, because it is the active principle. The highest amount of iridoids and flavonoids was found in the leaves during the pre-flowering period. After flowering the total compound content in the leaves decreases, whereas verbascoside content increases. The amount of iridoids and phenolic components are increasing by the years. Verbenalin content is greater in Lezaun than in Ilundain every vegetative cycle.
Article
A pentacyclic triterpenoid, ursolic acid (1), two iridoid glucosides, verbenalin (2) and hastatoside (3), and a phenylpropanoid glycoside, verbascoside (4), were isolated from Verbena officinalis Linn. (Verbenaceae), a plant listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. A procedure for the optimised extraction of these constituents for quantitative estimations has been established. An HPTLC method was employed for the determination of 1 using Liebermann Burchard reagent. A reversed-phase HPLC system with photodiode array detector was used to resolve compounds 2, 3 and 4 in the methanol extracts of different parts of the plant. Tender parts of the plant were rich in all of these constituents (0.24–0.34%, w/w) while the roots, which are not official in the Pharmacopoeias, contained a maximum amount (0.32%, w/w) of the bioactive verbascoside (4). The assay methods described are simple, rapid and accurate, and may form part of future drug authentication protocols. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Article
A new triterpenoid, 3α,24-dihydroxy-urs-12-en-28-oic acid, has been isolated from the bioactive chloroform extract of aerial parts of Verbena officinalis along with 3α,24-dihydroxy-olean-12-en-28-oic acid and ursolic acid.
Article
A large number of plant species has wonderful citrus scent, or just a pleasant hint lemon fragrance. Leaves, flowers, needles, cones or wood can be the source of original material. Some plants are old favourites, such as lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), lemon thyme (Thymus×citriodorus), lemon mint (Monarda citriodora) and various Citrus species. This review gives a summary of both established and new species on the world market, with detailed description of five more unusual representatives of this group, including the chemicals responsible for the lemon scent.
Article
1 Controlled environment studies have demonstrated that absolute minimum winter temperature is critical for the geographical distribution of Verbena officinalis in the UK, with full survival if temperatures remain above -4 °C and full mortality if they fall below -17 °C. Flowering only occurs above a threshold temperature of 16 °C, and seed germination when the mean temperature is greater than 14 °C and the day temperature is greater than 19 °C. 2 Field observations on a population of Verbena indicated marked fluctuations in young and old plant numbers between 1980 and 1993. Population size was at a minimum in 1982, following extremely low temperatures in January 1982, and reached a maximum in 1984 following the very warm summer of 1983. 3 The northern limit to the distribution of Verbena in the UK cannot, however, be predicted correctly from these survival criteria and mean values. An improved prediction may be achieved on the basis of the frequency of warmer than average years suitable for flowering, allowing for a typical life span for Verbena of 5-10 years.
Article
The Swiss-Austrian-German surgeon-alchemist-mystic Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541)?also known as Theophrastus Bombastus Aureolus von Hohenheim, or simply Paracelsus?is best known to medical history as a lone revolutionary. Legend has him burning Avicenna's Canon of Medicine and other classical medical texts in the town square of Basel, Switzerland, in 1527. These texts elaborated on the balanced humors of Galen, while Paracelsus, a much-traveled mining physician-surgeon, promulgated a toxicological and ontological concept of disease. Diseases were poisonings. The poisons were counteracted by other chemical substances, often with their own toxic properties. Paracelsus was a proto-homeopath; often his remedies were only slightly different from the harmful substances from which they were derived.