Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Magnificent, Magical, and Versatile Verbena

Sunday was a perfect Day... spring arrived! For anyone who has access to a baby born last spring or summer the joy of introducing a little one to the great out doors is immeasurable. Sockless tiny toes placed on the first soft green grass... crinkling, curling, footie-feeling fun.

As we begin deciding what we will add to the garden this year, consider an old fashioned Verbena. Blooming in sweet flowering clusters of pink, blue, lavender, Verbena has all of the charm of its cousin Lantana, but none of the poisonous properties. Growing fuss-free in dry sunny spots, it requires only a weekly watering and will send tendrils over the edge of a planter or spread nicely while tucked in a crevice of the rock garden. Although not highly scented, Verbena attracts a host of bees and butterflies as it blooms from Summer through Fall.

Verbena has stood the test of time and is mentioned in ancient texts which speak of her medicinal, mytological, and symbolic properties. Verbena is mentioned in Eyptian text which write the flower sprang from a tear of Isis, the goddess of Fertility ,and with that connection it was been used since that time to treat women's issues. The Greek Hippocrates wrote a decoction of Verbena acts as an antiseptic and cures gum disease. *A decoction is made when a plant or herb are boiled in water to release its chemical properties. A decoction may also be prepared by placing the herb in oil, allowing it to steep (set) for several days... Verbena becomes vervain when decocted in oil. Vervain is used today in perfume, hand creams, lip balm and flavors the famous green liqueur from the region of Le Puy-en-Velay, France. Scientists are currently researching it as an ingredient in new medicinal compounds as well.

Perhaps because of its hallucinogenic properties, Verbena has long been associated with magic. Native American tribes have used it to induce visions to 'the other side'... which I do not recommend. It has been popular for centuries as a charm against evil and was used an offering on Roman altars. It is one of the herbs engraved on Italian folk charms which were traditionally hung above a baby's cradle. According to writer John Aubrey in 1721, 'Vervain and Dill / Hinder witches from their will' and by 1870 Jean-Baptiste Pitois was using it to make a charm against evil spells.

Most recently, it has emerged in popular culture through the series of novels 'The Vampire Diaries' where vervain is used to protect humans from vampires. In Volume II, The Struggle', Stefan tells Elena to rub the oil from the seeds on her skin, bathe in them, and sleep with a sprig of Verbena under her pillow to keep her mind clear from vampire induced visions or enchantment.

Symbolically Verbena given as a gift is an expression of love and often they were planted asking for prayer. It is a magical, marvelous plant; perhaps one needs to plant it by the garden gate... just in case