Posts Tagged ‘Verbena officinalis’

Friday, July 1, 2011

Holy Vervain

Verbena officinalis

The medieval vervain was identified with the “holy herb” known to the Greeks and Romans. Despite its unprepossessing appearance, common vervain is one of the great magico-medical plants of the Western tradition.

Many odde olde wives tales are written of Vervaine tending to witchcraft and sorcerie, which you may read elsewhere, for I am not willing to trouble your eares with supporting such trifles as honest eares abhorre to heare.

—John Gerard, The Herbal or Generall Historie of Plants, 1597

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Plants in Medieval Magic

Flower spikes of the beneficent vervain going to seed. Seed capsules of thornapple, Datura metel in the bed devoted to Plants Used in Medieval Magic

Left: The powerful but beneficent vervain (Verbena officinalis) growing in the bed devoted to Plants Used in Medieval Magic in Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden; Right: Seed capsules of the sinister and poisonous thornapple (Datura metel) growing nearby.

Trefoil, vervain, John’s-wort, dill,
Hinders witches of their will,
Weel is them, that weel may
Fast upon Saint Andrew’s day.

—Traditional rhyme, put into the mouth of the gypsy Meg Merrilies by Sir Walter Scott in Guy Mannering.

Medieval calendar practices, and the plants associated with them, were an amalgam of Greco-Roman and Celto-Germanic observances with Christian beliefs and traditions. Many folk rites performed at the thresholds between the seasons of the year were intended to avert storms, ward off diseases of cattle, and prevent the blighting of crops.  All these misfortunes were attributed to the activities of witches. Read more »