Plant of the Month – August 2012

Verbena rigida, or Slender vervain

Excellent herbs had our fathers of old -
Excellent herbs to ease their pain -
Alexanders and Marigold,
Eyebright, Orris, and Elecampane -
Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue,
(Almost singing themselves they run)
Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you-
Cowslip, Melitot, Rose of the Sun,
Anything green that grew out of the mould
Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.

Rudyard Kipling.

As the Summer warms things up, frost-tender species reach their full glory. A great example of such a species is Verbena rigida which, in early summer, produces neat, compact perennial bearing heads of pale violet flowers from mid summer onwards. This verbena slowly spreads and intermingles with other plants, where it forms small drifts. It can be used to as a colourful accompaniment amongst other herbaceous perennials or in containers.

Verbena rigida otherwise known as Slender Vervain also has lance shaped, rough, mid green leaves borne on flower stems, grows to a height of 45 to 60 cm and has a spread of 30 cm. This species comes from southern Brazil and Argentina.

As a half-hardy perennial this plant is ideal for providing late summer colour at a medium height in formal and informal garden settings.

Verbena rigida can be located at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens opposite My Lady’s Border.


Common name - Slender vervain

Family - Verbeneaceae

Height & spread  45-60cm (18-24in) x 40cm (16in)

Form - Tuberous perennial

Soil - Moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil

Aspect - Full sun

Hardiness - Frost hardy to -5oC (23oF) 

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.


Grow in moist but well-drained. moderately fertile soil in full sun.

Areas that are prone to extended frosts should be mulched in winter for protection.
Slugs, aphids, thrips and leafhoppers may be a problem.


Sow seed in autumn or early spring. Alternatively, take stem-tip cuttings in late summer.
Divide perennials in spring.

Old Medicinal Uses

Warning! This information is presented for historical and entertainment purposes only. The remedies presented here are taken from old texts, and folklore and must be treated as dangerous. Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens will not accept any responsibility for any consequences resulting from self-medication by the use of this blog entry.

Verbena has longstanding use in herbalism and folk medicine, usually as an herbal tea. Nicholas Culpeper's 1652 The English Physitian discusses folk uses:-

“This is an herb of Venus, and excellent for the womb to strengthen and remedy all the cold griefs of it, as Plantain doth the hot. Vervain is hot and dry, opening obstructions, cleansing and healing. It helps the yellow jaundice, the dropsy and the gout; it kills and expels worms in the belly, and causes a good colour in the face and body, strengthens as well as corrects the diseases of the stomach, liver, and spleen; helps the cough, wheezings, and shortness of breath, and all the defects of the reins and bladder, expelling the gravel and stone. 

It is held to be good against the biting of serpents, and other venomous beasts, against the plague, and both tertian and quartan agues. It consolidates and heals also all wounds, both inward and outward, stays bleedings, and used with some honey, heals all old ulcers and fistulas in the legs or other parts of the body; as also those ulcers that happen in the mouth; or used with hog's grease, it helps the swellings and pains in the secret parts in man or woman, also for the piles or hæmorrhoids; applied with some oil of roses and vinegar unto the forehead and temples, it eases the inveterate pains and ache of the head, and is good for those that are frantic. 

The leaves bruised, or the juice of them mixed with some vinegar, doth wonderfully cleanse the skin, and takes away morphew, freckles, fistulas, and other such like inflammations and deformities of the skin in any parts of the body. The distilled water of the herb when it is in full strength, dropped into the eyes, cleanses them from films, clouds, or mists, that darken the sight, and wonderfully strengthens the optic nerves. The said water is very powerful in all the diseases aforesaid, either inward or outward, whether they be old corroding sores, or green wounds. The dried root, and peeled, is known to be excellently good against all scrophulous and scorbutic habits of body, by being tied to the pit of the stomach, by a piece of white ribband round the neck.”


A sacred herb used to cleanse the table of Zeus before a feast in ancient Greece. In Rome it was also strewn on the altars of Jupiter, and water containing vervain was also sprinkled in houses to cast out evil spirits.

Among the Druids particularly it was employed in connection with many forms of superstition. They gathered it at daybreak, before the sun had risen. Later sorcerers followed the same usage, and demonologists believed that in order to evoke demons it was necessary to be crowned with vervain.

During the Crusades it was believed that when the nails were driven into the hands of Christ, vervain sprang upon Calvary.

The generic name is the Latin term for a plant sacred to the ancient Romans. Pliny the Elder describes verbena presented on Jupiter altars; it is not entirely clear if this referred to a verbena rather than the general term for prime sacrificial herbs.

In the series of young adult novels The Vampire Diaries, author L. J. Smith uses vervain to protect humans from vampires, in an extension of vervain's fabled magic-suppression powers against witches. In The Struggle, Volume II, the vampire Stefan instructs the human Elena that vervain can "protect you against bewitchment, and it can keep your mind clear if vampire or an other supernatural that is using Powers against you." He tells her how it is prepared and used, "Once I've extracted the oil from the seeds, you can rub it into your skin, or add it to a bath. And you can make the dried leaves into a sachet and carry it with you, or put it under your pillow at night", but gives her an unprepared sprig for protection in the meantime.

So yet another small plant with a big history to visit at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens! Come and visit it today!

Thanks to

Gordon Sammons
Royal Horticultural Society
The Kipling Society

Creative Commons Licence
The photographs taken by Graham High in this work are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

1 comment:

  1. Another fascinating and really interesting post Graham and lovely photos. Thanks so much for this series of wonderful posts :)