Monday, November 11, 2013

"Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will.”

In my research of vervain, I have discovered various assertions for this ancient herb that disagree with each other. This is not unusual as different cultures didn’t always agree in their lore, but some herbs vary more than others. I can but report my findings, not having grown vervain myself. Some say it is powerfully fragrant, while other sources say it has no fragrance. This might be due to confusion over the particular variety of vervain under discussion, or the conditions under which it is grown. For the purposes of this post, we are discussing common vervain, verbena Officinalis, also known as Herb of Grace. And  it is seriously, not a pretty plant. But looks can be deceiving. (Image of a medieval pharmacy)

From Mother Earth Living: “Compared with its flashy garden verbena cousins, common vervain (Verbena ­officinalis) is an unprepossessing plain Jane. Yet according to Henry Beston, writing in Herbs and the Earth (1935), "To those interested in magic and religion, there is no herb in the garden more worthy of attention, for this simple plant without fragrance, without an outer look of power, without a flower of significance, was singled out from among all other plants and herbs as the most sacred of the growing things of earth between the Pillars of Hercules and the roots of the Caucasus."
Vervain is one of some 250 species of annuals, herbaceous perennials, and subshrubs in the genus ­Verbena. Although most members of the genus are native to tropical and subtropical America, vervain is native to southern Europe; it probably came to North America with the early English settlers.”

From Rodale’s’ Illustrated Encyclopedia
“Description: A spiky-looking plant, vervain should not be confused with blue vervain (Verbena bastata), although it probably will be since even botanists disagree about vervain identification. Flowers: Tiny, purplish white; tubular with five spreading lobes; four stamens; in rings on tall spikes at top of plant. Leaves: Opposite, oblong to lanceolate, deeply divided; upper leaves attached, lower on leafstalks. Fruit: nutlets. Height: 1-3 ft. Flowering: Throughout summer. Range: Native to Europe; naturalized in North America.

Vervain is a very old companion of the human race.
Even the Egyptians considered it ancient, originating from the tears of the goddess Isis as she wept for the dead god Osiris. Vervain was sacred to the Romans; the Latin name of the genus comes from the classical name for ‘sacred boughs.’ It is associated with the crucifixion: Reportedly the herb was pressed on Christ’s wounds to stop the bleeding. It was sacred, too, to the Persians and the Druids.

Vervain appeared in medieval medicine. The court physician to Theodosius 1, for example, described how vervain cures tumors of the throat. Cut the root in two pieces, he said. Tie one around the patient’s throat and hang the other over a fire. As the heat and smoke dry out one part of the root, the tumor will shrivel, too. To get rid of pimples the medieval way, stand outside with a handful of vervain in a handkerchief. When a shooting star is streaking by, rub the vervain over the pimple, and the blemish will disappear. Don’t use your bare hands, or you’ll simply transfer the pimple to your hand. (Image of medieval pharmacist)

Vervain was still valued in the seventeenth century when London herbalist Nicholas Culpepper praised it. Among vervain’s many virtues, Culpepper reported that ‘used with lard it helps pain in the secret parts.’
Uses: Medicinal: Vervain has been reported to have healing powers: astringent, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, and for dozens more. There does not seem to be any modern scientific evidence to support the claims, however.

***Toxicity: Vervain is certainly not sacred to modern scientists. They report that a glycoside in vervain causes vomiting, even in moderate doses.

Cosmetic: A bath prepared from vervain is said to be quite soothing.
Cultivation:  Grows easily from seed.
Harvesting and storage: According to the Druids, who used a lot of vervain and were entitled to an opinion, the plant should be collected when neither the sun nor the moon is in the sky. And in exchange for removing such a valuable plant from the earth, honey combs should be left on the ground.”

                                             (English country garden because it's pretty.)

From A Modern Herbal by M. Grieve:
“Description---In England the Common Vervain is found growing by roadsides and in sunny pastures. It is a perennial bearing many small, pale-lilac flowers. The leaves are opposite, and cut into toothed lobes. The plant has no perfume, and is slightly bitter and astringent in taste.
The name Vervain is derived from the Celtic ferfaen, from fer (to drive away) and faen (a stone), as the plant was much used for affections of the bladder, especially calculus. Another derivation is given by some authors from Herba veneris, because of the aphrodisiac qualities attributed to it by the Ancients. Priests used it for sacrifices, and hence the name Herba Sacra. The name Verbena was the classical Roman name for 'altar-plants' in general, and for this species in particular. The druids included it in their lustral water, and magicians and sorcerers employed it largely. It was used in various rites and incantations, and by ambassadors in making leagues. Bruised, it was worn round the neck as a charm against headaches, and also against snake and other venomous bites as well as for general good luck. It was thought to be good for the sight. Its virtues in all these directions may be due to the legend of its discovery on the Mount of Calvary, where it staunched the wounds of the crucified Savior. Hence, it is crossed and blessed with a commemorative verse when it is gathered. It must be picked before flowering, and dried promptly.

Constituents---The plant appears to contain a peculiar tannin, but it has not yet been properly analyzed.

Medicinal Action and Uses---It is recommended in upwards of thirty complaints, being astringent, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, etc. It is said to be useful in intermittent fevers, ulcers, ophthalmia, pleurisy, etc., and to be a good galactogogue. It is still used as a febrifuge in autumn fevers.
As a poultice it is good in headache, ear neuralgia, rheumatism, etc. In this form it colours the skin a fine red, giving rise to the idea that it had the power of drawing the blood outside. A decoction of 2 OZ. to a quart, taken in the course of one day, is said to be a good medicine in purgings, easing pain in the bowels. It is often applied externally for piles. It is used in homoeopathy.”

From a very interesting link about vervain:

Vervain and the Vampire Diaries:

Regarding vervain lore in the Vampire Diaries,  “Vervain (or verbena) is a potent herb, and also a vampire's most common weakness. Vervain if touched by a vampire can cause burning to the skin. If a person is drinking vervain and a vampire bites them, the vampire is affected straight away and weakened by this, the same goes for a person wearing jewelry containing vervain it stops them from being compelled by any vampire.”
For more on the medical side effects and uses of vervain visit: WebMD

Hazlitt's Faiths and Folklore (1905) quotes Aubrey's Miscellanies (1721), to wit:
"Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will.”

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