Blue vervain was once a familiar plant to ancient herbalists but its popularity has declined over the centuries, although it remains an exceptional garden plant. Because the herb was an ingredient in love potions and worn as a charm to encourage the return of love lost, it is a traditional flower in bridal wreaths.
Blue vervain is a member of the verbena family with a history of use that dates to ancient Egypt. Historically, the herb has been used to ease congestion and cough. In fact, blue vervain was used to prevent medieval peasants from becoming victims of plague. To the Iroquois, a cold infusion of the leaf was a sure-fire way to make an obnoxious person go away. But to eastern European pagans, the same would draw true love near. Historically various Native American tribes used blue vervain internally to increase urine output and externally to counter skin eruptions and to assist the healing of wounds. Military surgeons adopted the latter practice during the American Revolution.
The effects of blue vervain are due to a number of active constituents, most notably an iridoid glycoside called aucubin.* Collectively, iridoid agents serve plants by providing a line of chemical defense from pathogens.* Aucubin is one of two of the most common iridoids that occur in plants; the other is catalpol.*
The dried herb is edible but bitter, and may be added to teas, salads and soups. It can also be infused in oil or tinctured and added to lotions, creams, soaps, ointments, facial toners and perfumes.
Blue Vervain gets its name from the Celtic word ferfaen, which means “to drive away” (fer) and “stone” (faen). Also called Herb of Grace, Herb of the Cross and Swamp Verbena, this water-loving perennial reputedly invokes protection from snakes and other misfortune if worn or carried as a charm. Unlike some other Verbena species, blue Vervain lacks any scent, but does produce similar flower stalks that support multiple small, pale blue blossoms. The leaves yield a reddish stain when macerated, which remains on the skin if applied as a poultice. Blue Vervain leaves and flowers, together, are tinctured for topical use.