Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article
Modern herbalists herald Blue Vervain, aka Verbena hastata or American Vervain, for its ability to ease the tension and stress that’s so rampant in our culture today.
Centuries ago, Blue Vervain was considered a pretty good troporestorative as well as a febrifuge and an antispasmodic, using it to ease a variety of pains associated with excess stress and tension. They connected Bue Vervain’s downward energetic flow and easing of tension with the nervous system as we do today, although they were far more likely to reach for Blue Vervain to treat seizure, epilepsy, muscle spasm, and fever than are we.
Modern herbalists have come to rely on other potent herbs for many of those older uses, such as Yarrow and Elder for fevered conditions and Lavender for easing tension and muscle spasms. Blue Vervain remains a tried and true friend among our nervous system support herbs for dealing with the rampant anxiety, depression, and other stress-related conditions we now face.
The Blue Vervain Type(s)
Matthew Wood connects the strong, upright stalk and character of Blue Vervain with the kind of tension it eases. A few decades ago, we would have called the Blue Vervain personality Type A, tense and often controlling, much given to stress over details, inflexible and unwilling to bend the rules under any conditions. The need for Blue Vervain’s Medicine today, though, seems to have spread well beyond that personality type. Folks struggling with exhaustion and an overly-demanding lifestyle also find support in Blue Vervain’s field.
Blue Vervain helps the nervous system let go. When tension prevents energy from flowing, Blue Vervain helps open the flow once again. It’s considered mildly cooling because it helps soothe agitated or overworked systems.
People who habitually carry stress in their neck and shoulders are well-suited to Blue Vervain’s charms as are those who are exhausted and thus lack the weight or resources needed to root their energy properly. Those folks may well be fairly relaxed and laid-back in their approach to life, but the demands they face have worn away the quiet zen from which they work.
Folks for whom Blue Vervain is particularly helpful to include those who struggle with irritability and tension, who snap easily, and who feel stuck in a frenzied energy of always doing without the capacity to just breathe and quiet down. In modern times, that can describe a whole lot of us!
Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Blue Vervain
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, Blue Vervain is mildly cooling and circulating. It’s energy is downward, although not necessarily draining, as it is suitable for Yin Deficiency conditions as a supporting herb.
As an Ayurvedic herb, vervain supports balance in Pitta while reducing Kapha and increasing Vata, according to Drs. Frawley and Lad. My own experience of Blue Vervain is that it helps settle aggravated Vata, such as over-thinking and tensions associated with a mind that won’t let go, while moving energy down into the lower half of the body, thus rebalancing Kapha and cooling Pitta.
I’ve used it in formulation to support Liver Yin and Yang, help rebuild Qi, and help cool Heart Fire and release pent-up heat conditions related to exhaustion, stress, and a too-demanding lifestyle. As a supporting herb, Blue Vervain can also be used to help direct the energy of the formula downward away from the neck, head, and shoulders.
Flower Essence Practice and Blue Vervain
Flower Essence practitioners work with commercially prepared Vervain Flower Essence, or they make their own flower essences using Verbena officinalis or V. hastata. In either case, the folks for whom they’re most likely to use Vervain are those who have an intense idealism that drives their lives. When that energy becomes unbalanced, it can lead to a host of problems like the ones we’ve already discussed. People around them will likely describe them as overbearing and zealous in their pursuit of their passions.
People who respond to Bue Vervain can become so driven in their pursuit of their ideals that they overlook the exhaustion and tension they’re creating not only in their own bodies but in their community and supporters. At the beginning, they may be described as too serious or perfectionist. As the imbalance deepens, they can become over-striving extremists or fanatics who never give it a rest.
Vervain Flower Essence can help such individuals find a more grounded-in-the-physical path to walk, a middle-way so to speak, where they can inspire and lead others from a place of moderation, allowing their supporters to make their own connection to the cause and add their own energies or resources to its support. According to Patricia Kaminsky and Richard Katz, “Vervain is particularly an embodiment remendy, helping the soul to center and ground its tremendous enthusiasm.” Blue Vervain works in much the same manner, perhaps for some individuals with a more potent emphasis on helping them change the story they’re telling with their life’s work.
What to Look For: Blue Vervain Stories
Anxiety, depression, exhaustion, and fatigue are all part of the symptom complex Blue Verain treats. When I’m working with a client, I listen for one of two stories.
Classic Blue Vervain: Story 1
The first is that of a perfectionist who never seems to quite reach his or her aspired goals. They’re often lofty goals that depend on cooperation from others or from the world in general, and often the client in question feels frustrated, angry, or worried about them.
While some folks may describe them as control-freaks who explode when the slightest detail doesn’t go their way, I see them as folks who want to see the story unfold exactly according to how they’ve imagined it. They have a hard time letting go of the details and trusting that it’ll all work out perfectly…even if the details aren’t quite what the client has imagined. Often, these folks are strong, in both mind and character, and they may not understand why others around them cannot rise to the levels of perfection or self-discipline to which they can.
These folks are telling the Classic Vervain Story through the medium of their lives, and it’s giving them headaches, neck and shoulder pain, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, mood swings, and most likely digestive and sleep problems. If this is the story my client is telling, I call on Blue Vervain as a central part of their formula, often pairing it with herbs like Chamomile, Motherwort, or Tulsi to help them relax and let the flow happen once again.
Exhausted Blue Vervain: Story 2
The second story I listen for is the tale of not enough time in the day to get it all done…in other words, sheer exhaustion. The details of the pattern can differ wildly from one story to another, but the underlying patterns are the same.
These folks have spent lengthy amounts of time, often years or even decades, pursuing the dream of contentment only to find that the carrot they’ve chased keeps getting snatched away. They may well achieve the material goals they desire, but in they can’t quite seem to arrive at the fabled place of contentment that would allow them to sit back and enjoy life. Phrases like “put one foot in front of the other” and “pick ones self up by the bootstraps and get on with it” come to mind when listening to these clients tell their tale.
Despite setbacks, these folks tend to keep trudging along…even when continuing to do what they’ve been doing is clearly causing strain on their health. Insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, depression, anxiety, weight problems, and moodiness are often among their symptom picture. Heat signs, like hot flashes, night sweats, a red complexion, and a red tongue can also be part of the picture.
These folks often have a hard time unplugging, feeling anxious that if they turn the cellphone or computer off someone in their life won’t be able to reach them and disaster will follow. Resentment, anger, hostility, sorrow, hopelessness, and despondency can all arise from the ultra-dependent relationship(s) they’ve established, but fear of what will happen prevents them from changing the underlying contract that’s so adversely taxing their health. In some cases, an initial trauma may have set them on a path to exhaustion for which Blue Vervain is particularly well equipped to help them recover.
Other people may describe them as somewhat stubborn and inflexible, though they would more likely describe themselves as strong and able to persevere despite hardship or as survivors. These folks need to rebuild their systems. Blue Vervain is a wonderful supporter for them as they learn how to give themselves the much-needed care they’ve lavished on the others in their lives.
Blue Vervain + the Gut-Brain: Formula for Digestion, Nerves
Many folks in the Healthcare field are beginning to recognize the power of the gut microbiome and the nervous system within the digestive system to govern our moods, thinking, and daily choices. This formula for nervous exhaustion, excessive tension, anxiety, and depression capitalizes on that connection to get around the thought processes that often compound those conditions. Here, Blue Vervain serves to direct the energy flow back into the gut while the other players offer nutritional and general support to the system, allowing the whole of the nervous system to release tension and return to a more natural and healthy flow. You can use this formula as-is or add further herbs to address specific symptoms. Skullcap for overthinking, or Lavender for muscle spasm, or Tulsi to calm the spirit may be good additions, for instance.