A perennial herb with a square, erect, stiff stem, loosely branched towards the top and sparsely leafy. The opposite, dull-green leaves are pinnately divided into oblong lobes, often with rounded teeth, the terminal lobe the largest; the upper leaves are smaller and less divided. The small, slightly two-lipped, pale-lilac flowers are arranged in long terminal spikes. The corolla tube is almost twice as long as the calyx. The fruit consists of four reddish-brown nutlets. All parts of the plant are roughly hairy.
The flowering stems are used medicinally. Their constituents include the glycoside verbenalin and verbenin, tannins, an essential oil, mucilage, saponins and mineral compounds. These substances give Vervain astringent, diuretic, stomachic, tonic, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, vulnerary, mild sedative and hypnotic properties. It is used internally in an infusion for various disorders associated with the stomach, liver and kidneys. It is also excellent for stimulating the metabolism, for treating general nervous exhaustion, insomnia and migraine. Externally Vervain is used in gargles and in compresses and bath preparations for skin disorders. A tincture prepared from the fresh plant is used in homeopathy.
Vervain grows wild in most parts of Europe in waste places and by waysides, always in a sheltered spot. It is uncommon in the British Isles, where it is native, and is mostly found only in England and Wales. Vervain has long been associated with magic and sorcery as well as with medicine. Roman soldiers carried it in their packs to protect them, and lovers used it in love potions. The common name, Vervain, is derived from verbena, which was the classical Roman term for altar plants used in religious ceremonies. Vervain was once believed to ward off plague and if worn round the head it would keep away headaches and prevent poisonous bites. It remains a popular herbal remedy for nervous complaints.
Flowering time: July to September