I have been a neglectful blogmother this month. I haven’t even done a Goals post, and I probably won’t, because I’ve been too busy doing stuff to sit down and write about what stuff I’m going to do. This weekend I sat down with some of my excellent Grove friends (grovemates? grove siblings? fellow grovesters? there has to be a word for this concept) and we hammered out a nice nondenominational Druid Alban Hefan ritual. Vervain figures in the ceremony, and since I volunteered for the role of doing the herbal blessing, I thought I’d do a little write-up on Vervain.
Vervain at Midsummer
Vervain (Verbena officianalis) and its American cousin, blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is one of the herbs that is at the height of its power at Midsummer. Vervain is a useful medicinal plant; the name comes from the Celtic fer faen, meaning “to drive away the stone,” referring to its traditional use in ridding the body of bladder stones*. Vervain is also used to bring on menses and in labor to bring on uterine contractions – for this reason it should not be used internally while pregnant.
Vervain is said to be sacred to Venus and is used magically as a protective and visionary herb. Many religions named Vervain as a sacred herb. The Romans would sweep their altars with bundles of it; in Christian tradition, it grew on Calvary and was used to staunch Christ’s wounds.. It is traditionally associated with Midsummer, as it is ready to be harvested at this time, and all that is left over from the previous year should be thrown on the Solstice bonfire. According to Alexei Kondratiev, Vervain was one of the twenty-six sacred herbs of the Breton herbalists, associated with the head.
Vervain has associations with seeing outside of the ordinary. Vervain tea is conducive to visions, and the smell of burning vervain has been said to please the fairies. It makes a wonderful offering herb, and to work closely with Vervain opens you up to the Otherworld. It is associated with Cerridwen, and is said by some to be one of the ingredients of her cauldron’s brew**. Nicholas Culpeper, in 1652, wrote, “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.” I haven’t found this type of use referred to in other, more modern texts – I think Culpeper may have heard of vervain being used magically, for the Sight, and got it mixed up with more mundane concepts of vision. Vervain opens up the eyes and brings wisdom and inspiration.
*Forgive me for referring to “Celtic language” – I found this information in a variety of sources, always worded just this way, and I do not know which Celtic language is being referenced – all the references seem to be quoting the same source. I think Ellen Evert Hopman got it from Maud Greive, and everyone else got it from Hopman. I don’t know where Greive got it from. I tried to follow this trail further but it isn’t an important enough point for my purposes for me to take the time.
**I have not found a reliable cite for this – I don’t know if this is an old association or a new one. I got it from Merlin Stone. I don’t consider Stone a reliable source, but the association makes sense to me. If anyone knows a non-Stone reference for this, I would like to know about it.