Common Vervain (Verbena Officinalis) (pictured left) is a perennial plant. It has a long history of use across Europe and into North Africa and western Asia. The ancient Druids of Ireland considered Vervain to have supernatural powers and held it in high esteem, as did the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and British.
Blue Vervain, (pictured right) is also a perennial plant. Other names are simpler’s joy or wild hyssop. The plant’s Latin name is Verbena hastata, which means “sacred herb” and “halberd-shaped,” referring to the shape of the basal leaves. The herb is a member of the family Verbenaceae, also known as the Verbena family, which contains numerous aromatic herbs that produce spikes or clusters of flowers.
Blue Vervain is commonly found growing in small colonies in meadows, fields, marshes, drainage ditches and along streams or creeks. Each plant can reach up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) in height, and produces long, stalked leaves that are rough to the touch and tapered toward the tip. The square stem branches out above the foliage and bears 12 or more flower stalks per plant in summer through fall.
Starting by Seed – If starting your seeds indoors be sure to stratify the seeds for 1-2 weeks before planting into pots. See: http://www.canadiangardening.com/how-to/seeds/how-to-stratify-seeds/a/1972/2 for tips on stratification. Small seeds are light dependant germinators with naturally low germination rates. Moisten starting medium and lightly tamp into soil, and keep moist until seeds start to germinate, typically 3-4 weeks.
Light-dependent germination: Some seeds, especially certain flowers and herbs require light in order to germinate. For light dependent germinators, light is required to destroy the germination inhibitors in the seed. Generally, the seeds of light-dependent germinators are quite small. Small seeds can be sprinkled on the surface of moist soil by sowing them from a saltshaker or by mixing them with fine sand and sowing by hand. The seed is then pressed lightly into the soil using just enough pressure to ensure good contact of the seed with the soil. When watering, water from below allowing the water to move upwards by capillary action, or water from above using a misting nozzle or spray bottle. It is important not to allow the surface of the soil to dry out.
Starting by Field Grown or Nursery Plants – Both Common and Blue Vervain are known to grow wild in North America and Canada. Many varieties can be had at a local nursery. Either way, be sure when you transplant your Vervain that you attempt to replicate its original growing conditions as closely as possible.
Should you find it growing wild be sure to take care in transporting and have a pot or bag on hand so that not too much of the original soil is lost.
Soil – Blue Vervain prefers a well drained soil high in organic matter. While, Common Vervain prefers drier soil conditions. In either case it is best to observe the conditions where the plant was found and try to replicate those conditions as closely as possible. One method is to combine two parts planting mix with one part sand.
Container – Be sure to choose a deep pot or container. Vervain can have a long root system.
Light Requirements – Vervain does well in a full sun to partial shade location. The plant can grow from 2-4 ft. tall so be sure you leave lots of room for its height in your chosen location.
Watering – Vervain does not like soggy roots. Place its pot in a dish/pie pan on a bed of pebbles. Rather than water from the top, pour the water into the pie pan and allow the plant to “wick up” the water it desires.
Lore – Vervain/Verbena has long been associated with divine and other supernatural forces. It was called "tears of Isis" in ancient Egypt, and later on "Juno’s tears". it was thought to have sprung from the tears of the goddess Isis as she mourned the death of the god Osiris.
In ancient Greece it was dedicated to Eos Erigineia Goddess of the Dawn (pictured right). In the early Christian era, folk legend stated that V. officinalis was used to staunch Jesus’ wounds after his removal from the cross. It was consequently called "holy herb" or "Devil’s bane".
The Druids gathered Vervain when the Dog Star, Sirius, was on the rise, in the dark of the Moon. They utilized Vervain in divination, consecration, and the ritual cleansing of sacred spaces. They made a magical drink called the Cauldron of Cerridwen (a shapeshifter) that some say included rowan berries, sea water, lesser celandine, flixweed, and vervain, which brought the drinker creative energy for bardic song and prophecy.
A lustral water (holy water) can be made from Vervain for purifying ritual tools, and a bath with Vervain can help the bather prepare for ritual work. In the British Isles, people held Vervain over the Beltane fire to protect their livestock and strewed it over their fields at Summer Solstice to make sure they would be fertile. Nowadays, Pagans strew it over their gardens for the same reason.