Verbena: fact sheet, uses and toxicity


I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

Between their medicinal properties and decorative qualities, verbena plants have many facets. Verbenas bloom all summer, adding colour to the garden while also benefiting bees and butterflies.

Purple verbena garden plant
Verbena is a popular ornamental plant in the garden [Photo: Flower_Garden/]

Verbenas (Verbena) are popular ornamental plants in the garden, and you can find them almost all over the world. Some verbena plants have properties that can be used in medicine. But there is more to find out about the genus, so read on.

Verbena: origin and characteristics

The Verbena genus is a group of plants in the Verbenaceae family. There are approximately 87 different verbena species around the world. Plus, there are quite a few hybrid cultivars from crossing the different species.

Verbenas can be both annuals and perennials, as well as herbaceous plants or woody shrubs. They range in size from around 30 cm to up to 2 m. Their stems are always square and the simple, serrated leaves grow alternately on them. You can identify the native common vervain (Verbena officinalis), also known as common verbena, by this leaf arrangement. Verbena flowers grow in dense spires or branched clusters. They have five petals that are normally joined at the base. While most verbena species bloom from summer to autumn, their flowering periods can vary in length. After flowering, the seed-carrying fruit develop. Verbena flowers come in pale and vibrant shades of purple. The flowers are rich in pollen and nectar and are valuable for pollinators.

Orange butterfly on verbena flower
Butterflies frequently visit verbena flowers [Photo: Flower_Garden/]

Good to know: Lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) is a close relative and also belongs to the verbena family. Just like common vervain, you can use it in the kitchen as well as medicinally.

Is verbena perennial?

Verbenas can be perennial, depending on the species and their habitat. You can grow species like common vervain and American blue vervain (Verbena hastata) as perennial verbenas in the UK. Both plants are hardy here, even in cold winters. Other verbenas, such as purple top (Verbena bonariensis), are only perennial in their native climate. Here, they are only able to survive the harsh winters with frost protection and are only annuals without it. Since verbenas are self-seeding, new plants will usually reappear in the same place.

Green verbena in a bed
Even though some verbena varieties are not hardy, they self-seed profusely [Photo: Martina Simonazzi/]

Is verbena bee-friendly?

Our native common vervain is very popular among insects, along with the other species. Verbena flowers attract bees and many other insects, such as bumblebees and butterflies, with their pollen and nectar.

How to harvest and use the herb

You can harvest verbena leaves and flowers all through the flowering period from May to October. Alternatively, cut off entire stems a hand’s width above ground. To dry them, tie up the stems into small bundles and hang them upside down in a dark, warm room.

Only common vervain is used as a medicinal herb, incense plant and culinary ingredient. All other garden verbenas are purely ornamental.

Verbena herb in a spoon
Verbena tea is often used for medicinal purposes as brewing it releases its medicinal benefits [Photo: Sarah Biesinger/]

And while common vervain is rarely used in the kitchen on account of its bitter taste, the plant is a well-known medicinal plant. To make an herbal verbena tea, pour 100 ml water over 1 g of dried verbena leaves. You may drink up to three cups of verbena tea per day, but not more.

Verbena: medicinal uses

Only common vervain has medicinal properties. It contains many beneficial ingredients, including essential oils, bitter compounds, tannins and mucilage as well as glycosides. Common vervain is used to treat fevers, inflammation and cramps. It is also said to help with mild depression, insomnia, stress and digestive problems.
Do not consume common vervain during pregnancy because it can induce labour.

Tip: Common vervain is not only beneficial for bodily aliments, but it has also been studied for its psychological effects, such as for treating anxiety.

Is verbena poisonous?

Although common vervain is not poisonous, only consume it in moderation to avoid side effects such as diarrhoea and vomiting. While the other verbenas are not poisonous, they are not suitable for consumption. Verbena plants are not poisonous to pets, such as dogs, cats and horses.

pale pink vervain flowers
Common vervain is the only edible verbena species [Photo: Doikanoy/]

Is verbena edible? Common vervain is the only edible verbena species, even if it does taste quite bitter.

Discover how to plant and care for common verbena in our feature article.

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