Also known as vervain, vervein, blue-top, European verbein, and purpletop, verbena is native to North Africa, West Asia, and to Europe but is well naturalised in other countries including Australia and New Zealand. The herb can be found growing wild in such places as roadsides, waste places, river banks, open pastures, and paddocks.
Although verbena is a common plant and is rather plain it has been highly regarded since ancient times. It was consecrated by the Romans so they could purify their homes and temples. They also used it for medicinal purposes including the treatment of diarrhoea and snake bite and chewed the leaves and roots to help strengthen their teeth and gums.
In medieval times verbena was used as a charm against the evil spells of witches, which seems a little strange because it was also an ingredient in their love potions. One of the most sacred herbs of the Druid's, the herb even found its way in to Christianity as the plant that was used to stop the bleeding of Christ's wounds after he was crucified at Calvary.
In the early days of white settlement in Australia, the herb was used to treat consumption and strengthen the stomach; it was also used by the Aborigines to treat venereal disease.
Over time verbena gained a reputation for treating almost anything but was mainly used to treat skin infections, colds, nervous conditions, fevers, and gout. Today herbalists use the herb as a sedative, antispasmodic, tonic, diuretic, astringent, diaphoretic, and aphrodisiac. Pharmacologists have found evidence that the plant is effective as a diuretic and as a treatment for gout.
Verbena is a perennial herb that grows to a height of 30-60 centimetres and has erect, stiff, thin stems. It has opposite leaves with those lower on the stems being oblong and toothed while the upper leaves are lobed, slender, and lance-shaped. Small lilac flowers have five petals and are borne on a slender spike from spring to autumn.
Gather verbena at or just before flowering. Make an infusion of 2-4 grams of the herb and take three times a day.