What Is Vervain?

Vervain tincture, powder, capsules, tea, and dried herb

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Vervain (Verbena officinalis) is a flowering plant in the verbena herb family. While there are well over 250 species of verbena, vervain refers to the types used for medicinal purposes.

In addition to V. officinalis, less common varietals include blue vervain (V. hastata) and white vervain (V. urticifolia).


Vervain is a perennial plant. It has delicate, jagged leaves and tiny, five-petaled blossoms and no scent.

Alternative practitioners believe that vervain has healing properties, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • Antispasmodic
  • Analgesic (pain-relieving)

Also Known As

Vervain is also called:

  • American blue verbena
  • Simpler's joy
  • Holy herb
  • Mosquito plant
  • Wild hyssop

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is called mǎ biān cǎo.

Vervain should not be confused with lemon verbena, a garden herb used for cooking that also has medicinal properties.

This article explains the uses, side effects, and preparation of vervain.

History of Vervain

The medicinal use of vervain can be traced back to the 18th-century book "Sauer's Herbal Cure," which described its use for treating kidney stones. In fact, early name origins come from the Celtic word ferfaen, meaning "to drive away stones."

Vervain regained popularly in the 1930s as one of the 38 flowering plants used in a homeopathic tincture called Bach Flower Remedy, variations of which are still sold today. Among its purported benefits, people use vervain to treat:

As with many homeopathic remedies, some of the health claims are better supported by research than others.

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This video has been medically reviewed by Meredith Bull, ND.

Inflammation and Pain Relief

Several studies have looked into vervain's anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, both in topical and oral formulations. Results have been largely mixed.

A 2006 study from Spain found that an extract of vervain applied topically in rats effectively relieved edema (swelling) as traditional anti-inflammatory drugs. However, it was far less able to relieve pain.

Anxiety and Insomnia

For a long time, some people have believed that verbena tea has a calming effect that can help relieve stress and promote sleep. The 1652 book, "The English Physician,"  first described how vervain tea treated "over-enthusiasm."

Although there have been few studies investigating these effects in humans, there is evidence that vervain may reduce anxiety and insomnia and prevent the occurrence of epileptic seizures.

These calming effects may result from a sugar molecule in vervain, known as verbenalin, which some believe has psychoactive properties.

Researchers reported in a 2016 study published in the Frontiers of Pharmacology that when they gave mice a 100 to 500 milligrams per kilogram dose of an extract of vervain, the following occurred:

  • Reduction in the frequency and duration of tonic-clonic seizures
  • Increased sleeping time than those injected with a placebo
  • Improved anxiety, measured by movement through a maze

Recap

Studies in mice suggest that vervain may positively affect the central nervous system and adrenal glands (which produce stress hormones). However, it is unclear if humans would experience the same effect.

Infections

Treating infectious diseases has become increasingly challenging because of growing antibiotic resistance. Vervain has long been used to treat upper respiratory and urinary tract infections. It may have antimicrobial effects that could help overcome these challenges.

In a 2016 study, different parts of vervain were able to eradicate 24 strains of disease-causing bacteria. According to the research:

  • Extracts derived from the stem of V. officinalis killed bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the test tube more effectively than the antibiotic amoxicillin.
  • Similarly, the leaves of the plant showed considerable activity against the bacterium Citrobacter freundii.
  • The root turned out to be highly effective against the bacterium Bacillus subtilis.

Recap

Test tube research provides evidence that vervain could be effective in treating minor cuts and skin infections. However, it is unclear whether the same results would be seen outside of the test tube.

Kidney Stones

Of all the conditions people claim vervain treats, preventing kidney stones is one of the least supported by research—mainly because it is difficult to measure how effective a treatment is in not causing a medical condition. To date, there is little evidence to suggest it has any effect.

One study from China found that mice treated with verbenalin injections experienced no changes in the structure or function of their kidneys compared to mice provided a placebo.

What vervain does appear to do is increase urine output. Increased urination may help prevent the formation of kidney stones. But rather than increasing the amount of water and sodium in the urinary tract the way most diuretics work, vervain increases urine output by irritating the kidneys. This irritation can hurt the kidneys more than help, especially over the long term.

Colorectal Cancer

One of the bolder claims herbalists make is that vervain may aid in treating colorectal cancer. These claims were fostered mainly by test tube research which showed that polysaccharides (a type of long-chain carbohydrate) in vervain altered the activity of colorectal cancer cells.

A 2017 study from China reported that an extract of V. officinalis polysaccharides stopped the spread of colorectal cells by preventing them from attaching to healthy cells.

Recap

Without the means to bind to healthy cells, a tumor cannot metastasize and invade organs. This limited research suggests that vervain polysaccharides could help isolate and control tumors in people with colorectal cancer, potentially improving survival. However, more research demonstrating this effect is needed.

Possible Side Effects

As an herb, vervain is considered safe for consumption. Most people who take it experience few side effects, including:

  • Indigestion and gas
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Localized rash and redness

Before Using

Before using a vervain tincture, always apply a little to the skin and wait an hour to see if a rash develops. Severe anaphylactic reactions are rare.

Vervain may interact with other drugs. So, talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you are taking to avoid possible interactions.

Certain People Should Avoid Vervain

Little is known about the long-term safety of vervain supplements. Therefore, the following people should avoid using vervain:

  • Those with kidney disease
  • Children
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • To treat serious medical conditions

Supplements are not a replacement for standard medical care. Always get input from a qualified healthcare provider before trying an at-home remedy.

Vervain dried herb
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection and Preparation

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs, there are no guidelines for the appropriate use of vervain in treating medical conditions.

Supplements are available in many forms, including:

  • Capsules 
  • Tinctures
  • Extracts
  • Astringents
  • Teas
  • Powders
  • Dried herbs

Capsule doses range from 150 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams. In this range, they are generally considered safe. However, people should only use vervain supplements short term.

Dietary supplements in the United States are not regulated in the same way as pharmaceutical drugs. Therefore, they are not required to undergo rigorous testing or research and, as such, can vary in quality.

Variation in quality is especially true for traditional Chinese herbs and other folk remedies. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, some Chinese herbal products are safe, but others are not.

For instance, some products do not contain the listed ingredients. In addition, some have reported that products were contaminated with things including:

  • Undeclared plant or animal materials
  • Drugs
  • Pesticides
  • Heavy metals
  • Incorrect herbs

To ensure quality and safety, only buy supplements from trusted manufacturers. Ideally, buy from those who voluntarily submit their products for testing by an independent certifying body like the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or ConsumerLab.

Recap

The FDA does not regulate herbal supplements, so quality and safety vary. Beware of claims that a supplement can treat or cure specific health conditions. Under the law, it is illegal for supplements manufacturers to make such claims.

Summary

Vervain is an herb that is sometimes used medicinally to treat headaches, insomnia, digestive and respiratory issues, UTIs, and depression. Even so, evidence to support the health benefits of vervain is limited and more research is needed to conclude whether it is safe and effective as complementary medicine.

As an herbal supplement, the FDA does not regulate vervain. So, quality and safety vary. Also, remember that vervain is not a replacement for standard medical care. Always discuss any OTC medicine, including herbal supplements, with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is vervain used for?

    The herbal supplement vervain is used to aid the following conditions: 

    • Aches and pains
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Headaches
    • Insomnia
    • Kidney stones
    • Upper respiratory infections
    • Urinary tract infections

    However, there is limited evidence to support vervain's use for preventing or treating any condition.

  • What are the side effects of vervain supplements?

    Vervain supplements are generally regarded as safe and have few side effects. The most common side effects of vervain are indigestion and gas. In addition, in some people, touching the vervain plant can cause a skin rash. 

  • Who should not take vervain?

    People with kidney disease should not take vervain because chemical compounds in the herb can irritate kidneys and cause inflammation. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children should also not take vervain supplements as little is known about its long-term safety.

  • Can you grow your own vervain?

    Vervain can indeed be grown in home gardens, but be sure to buy V. officinalis seeds rather than ornamental varietals, like V. bonariensis. The plant grows well in full to partial sunlight and well-drained soil.


    V. officinalis will grow between 12 and 36 inches in height and develop clusters of tiny white or purple flowers. The growing season is from mid-summer to early fall.


    If used for tea, avoid spraying the herbs with pesticides or using chemical fertilizers. Once harvested, you can use the herb fresh or dry it in a dehydrator for future use.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Ahmed D, Qasim K, Ashraf C, et al. Verbena officinalis a herb with promising broad-spectrum antimicrobial potential. Cogent Chem. 2017;3:1. doi:10.1080/23312009.2017.1363342.

  3. Miao, M.; Guo, L.; Yan, X. et al. Effects of verbenalin on prostatitis mouse model. Saudi J Biol Sci. 2016;23(1):S148-S157. doi:10.1016/j.sjbs.2015.10.006.

  4. Jin C, Liu X, Ma D, et al. Optimization of polysaccharides extracted from Verbena officinalis L and their inhibitory effects on invasion and metastasis of colorectal cancer cells. Trop J Pharm Res. 2017;16 (10):2387-94. doi:10.4314/tjpr.v16i10.11.

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