Blue vervain is an American plant and it shouldn't be confused with its relative the European vervain (or the common vervain), which is also known as blue vervain. Blue vervain is found on the North American continent, while the common vervain grows in Europe.
Just like the European vervain, it has a number of common names like wild hyssop, vervain or simpler's joy. It is also named traveler's joy, American vervain, Indian hyssop or swamp verbena. Despite these names, it is not a relative of either lemon verbena or hyssop. It is a sensitive species and requires specific conditions, it will die without direct sunlight and needs wet soil, with good drainage.
It is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows very erect and can reach up to 5 feet in height. It can sometimes divide into branches in the top half, but not always. It is a rhizomatous herb with a fibrous network of roots. Rhizomes can spawn several plants, in clusters that resemble small bushes.
The stems are usually covered with white tight hairs and have a square shape, with a color that varies from green to red. Leaves grow in opposite fashion and can have a length of up to 6 inches and a width of 1 inch. They have short petioles and very visible veins, while the edges are rough and serrated. The general shape of the leaves resembles a lance.
The flowers are grouped on the top of the stems, on panicles with a length of 1 foot and a width of up to 0.5 foot. Flowers grow on spikes that can be 5 inches long and are very closely grouped on them, with many small flowers with a color that can be from lavender-blue to violet.
Single flowers are small, with a diameter of about ¼ inch. Every flower has a similar structure and consists of a corolla of five small lobes, a cylindrical calyx that also has 5 small teeth, as well as a pistil and stamens. The calyx is only half as long as the corolla and has a different color, it can be dark green or even dark red.
Flowers blossom in the middle of the summer and resist for one or one and a half months, until late summer or early autumn. The flowers are very attractive but don't have any kind of perfume. Every flower develops four small nutlets, no longer than 2 mm. These are oval in shape and have a red or light brown color.
Flowers, leaves, roots.
The Native American Indians were aware of blue vervain's properties and used it as both medicine and a source of food. For culinary purposes, they roasted the mature seeds and crushed them to prepare some sort of flour named picole.
This herb is well-known in other traditions as well. According to the Christian faith, blue vervain was used by Jesus to heal his wounds and reduce bleeding during the Calvary. For this reason, the plant is also known as "the herb of the cross".
The ancient Romans considered this herb as sacred and believed that its presence could cleanse homes and temples. During medieval times, people thought it was an ingredient used by witches to brew potions of love. Any person who put the potion on its hand could touch someone else in order to make them fall in love.
In traditional medicine, the plant was used to treat many diseases. Its astringent nature was useful in emergency situations, to stop bleeding and heal wounds faster. It can also prevent fevers, especially the return of periodic ones such as malaria. Because it speeds up healing, it is also recommended in the treatment of ulcers.
A cataplasm made from blue vervain can relieve headache but also rheumatic pain, when applied directly on the affected spot. Infusions are good for women in general, as an energizer and tonic, but also in specific cases. These can be pain or obstructions, another valuable effect is increased lactation.
During labor, the plant can speed up the process by increasing the number and intensity of contractions. It has a number of other hormonal effects, according to traditional practitioners: it regulates the cycle, starts menstruation, reduces the pain and the menstrual cramps, decreases the severity of premenstrual symptoms and boosts female sexual appetite in general.
Blue vervain infusions are not only good for females, they are easy to prepare and have numerous benefits. It has antiseptic properties and can heal flu or cough. It is also good for urinary or bladder infections and can remove kidney stones. It can heal common cold and help in cases of fever, by eliminating the excess mucus from the throat and the lungs.
It also promotes sweating, which has a cooling effect on the body. It is also a great choice as a general detoxifying agent, since it is both a diuretic and has a sweating effect.
Because of the astringent effect caused by the rich amount of tannins, blue vervain infusions can be used as a mouthwash. It heals ulcers and strengthens the gums, a property known since ancient times when the root was chewed in several cultures for more durable teeth and gums.
Blue vervain contains numerous bioactive organic compounds, which can treat many diseases. It has a positive effect on digestion, healing diarrhea and ulcers as well as killing intestinal worms. It also protects the liver, reduces arthritis pain, removes stones in the kidney or the bladder and prevents migraines.
It is also very useful in respiratory problems, it clears the airways and relieves any source of swelling or irritation. This helps in many conditions like respiratory inflammation, chronic bronchitis, sore throats, common cold or chest pain caused by smoking. The cure is best administered as a tea.
The plant has tonic properties and boosts energy levels while reducing tension and calming the nerves. It can reduce depression, increase the quality of sleep and relieve anxiety. The sedative and calming effects of the tea are well-known and it can be used as a general soothing drink. It is a valuable tool in the very stressful world we live in, preventing insomnia, bad dreams and nervous breakdowns.
Besides calming the nerves, blue vervain tea balances the level of hormones, which also has a positive impact of the quality of sleep. Hormone imbalance is very common in the body, in time this can cause serious problems, affect rest and even lead to chronic diseases.
While the relaxing effect of blue vervain has not been properly investigated by scientists yet, it has been known for a long time to help people suffering from depression. It can relax the mind, prevent violent mood changes and in general clear negative thoughts. This is probably caused by increased levels of serotonin or dopamine in the brain.
Blue vervain was a lot more important in the past for its ability to fight intestinal worms and other parasites. These are not common any more, since our food is usually fresh, clean and properly prepared. However, parasites are still a threat in some wild areas so the effect continues to be useful for local tribes.
Blue vervain is a natural anti-parasite, it eliminates the current infestation and prevents the birth of new parasites. These can have a devastating effect inside the intestines, hurting digestion and causing severe diseases.
The herb had a special purpose in Native American traditional medicine, as a very effective relief for women during difficult menstruation periods. Some women can experience severe inflammation and pain, as well as violent mood swings or depression. Blue vervain tea acts in several ways to fight these symptoms: it balances the hormones, reduces cramps and calms the nerves.
Another ancient use of this herb that has been validated by the test of time is as a diuretic. It boosts the urinary activity and triggers a quick release of urine, thus relieving the pressure in the area and eliminating toxins.
These toxins are a by-product of metabolism and digestion and build up in the kidneys and liver, with very bad consequences if not eliminated. Urine is also a natural way to get rid of the excess water or salt in the body. The diuretic effect is very useful in bladder inflammation or infections.
The sedative effect of the herb can be very strong, it has even been used as a substitute anesthetic or tranquilizer in some parts of the Americas. It can also kill viruses and it's especially powerful against infections of the respiratory tract.
Blue vervain needs at least partial sunlight but likes to grow in full sun, it will die in the shade. It prefers wet soils, the best being fertile, well-drained and moist ground. It can grow in marshes and even survives for a time in water. The ideal locations are close to water and in full sun, like near a lake or river.
It can be found in many locations in the wild: in floodplains, near rivers, lakes or ponds, on prairies and river bottom but also in marshes, ditches, fence rows, pastures or soggy locations. It is quite resilient and can grow in polluted or dirty wet areas and other types of bad quality wetlands unsuited for other plants.
The blue vervain tea is easily prepared at home. Add a spoon of dried herb in a pint of boiling water and leave it for ten minutes. The dosage is one spoon, maximum six times per day, or a slightly larger amount to battle insomnia just before going to bed.
The plant is best harvested just before it blooms and the whole herb can be cut and dried. Since the bloom is from June to September, it should be harvested in early summer, or in late autumn if you need the seeds in order to roast them.