Verbenaceae Vervain (Ma Bian Cao) Verbena officinalis Botanical description Part used




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Verbenaceae

Vervain (Ma Bian Cao)

Verbena officinalis

Botanical description

Part used: The aerial parts and flowering spikes.

Habitat, cultivation and harvesting: Grows throughout Europe, North Africa , China and Japan. It is not certain whether it is native to Ireland and the British Isles or whether it is an early introduction. May be propagated from seed sown in the spring/autumn or by division of mature plants. If allowed to produce seeds it will self seed readily. It prefers well-drained soil and a sunny site. Some authors state that the plant should be gathered before flowering, others state that it should be gathered during flowering, but in the early stages. The root is also sometimes used.

A related species Verbena domingensis is used in the Caribbean, as is blue vervain (Verbena hastata) in the USA.



History/folklore/taste/energetics Verbena is from the Latin for the foliage of ceremonial and medicinal plants. Although it is related to Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphphylla) the properties of the two are significantly different. Known as ferfaen or llysiau’r hudol (wizard’s herb). It has a long history or use in China and Europe and was described as the sacred herb by Dioscorides in 1st century AD. It was regarded as a sacred plant by the Celts, Druids Greeks, Romans and Germanic people; used in purification ceremonies and regarded as a panacea. Traditionally regarded as a herb of peace, love, diplomacy and protection. It has a reputation as an anti-tumour herb, but this has not been substantiated, although it definitely is good for the immune system

Constituents: Bitter iridoids (verbenin, verbenalin that are glycosides; the latter breaks down easily), Volatile oil containing citral, terpenes and alcohols, Alkaloids, Mucilage, Tannins, Verbenalol (a bitter compound)

Actions: Nervine, Tonic, Sedative, Choleretic, Bitter, Uterine stimulant, Parasympathetic tonic, Purgative at high doses, Mild anti-depressant, Mild diaphoretic, Galactogogue, Emmenagogue, Hepatic
Traditional/current uses

  • Helps improve absorption of food

  • Restorative to nervous system, for nervous tension, stress. Anxiety and nervous exhaustion

  • Great for convalescense due to its ability to restore the digestion and the nervous system

  • Used in European herbal medicine for headaches and in Chinese for migraine especially related to menstrual cycle

  • Used for PMS and nervous symptoms related to menopause

  • Flus

  • Insomnia

  • To facilitate labour (do not use in pregnancy

  • Increases breast milk production

  • Powdered herb used as a toothpaste

  • Melancholy, depressive states, nervousness and debility

  • Spasm in biliary tract

  • Kidney stones


Due to its bitter taste it is not used as a culinary herb. However, it is used for smudging and clearing spaces as a dried herb. It becomes less stimulating if boiled.


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