Scientific Name(s): Verbena officinalis (L.) Wettst.
Common Name(s): Enchanter's plant, Erba croce, Erba dei tagli, Herb of grace, Herb of the cross, Juno's tears, Pigeon's grass, Pigeonweed, Prostrate verbena, Verbena, Vervain, Yerba de Santa Ana
Vervain is a slender perennial plant with small, pale lilac flowers borne on leafless spikes. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean region but has been widely cultivated throughout eastern Europe, North Africa, China, and Japan.1, 2
A different species in the verbena family, Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena or lemon beebrush), is used to produce the essential oil of verbena known as vervaine.1
The name verbenae was originally used in ancient Roman times to describe all plants used on altars for their aromatic qualities. Legend has it that Jesus' wounds were attended to with vervain after his removal from the cross. Vervain is listed in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia and The Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China.2, 3 The aerial parts have been used traditionally for many conditions, including stimulation of lactation and treatment of dysmenorrhea, jaundice, gout, kidney stones, headache, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.3, 4, 5 Vervain is also considered an astringent, a bitter digestive tonic, and a diuretic.5 Traditionally it has been used in Spain as a topical hemostatic and antirheumatic, and it has been mixed with other herbs for thyroid dysfunction.2
The most characteristic chemical constituents of vervain are the iridoid glycosides verbenalin6 and hastatoside.7 Also prominent is the caffeic acid glycoside verbascoside, which is found in a number of other medicinal plants.8 Flavonoids, such as luteolin 7-diglucuronide have been isolated in vervain9 as have rsolic acid, sterols, and several related triterpenes.3, 10 Other iridoid glycosides, sterols, and littorachalcone have been found in related verbena species (Verbena litoralis and brasiliensis).11, 12, 13
The biosynthesis of the iridoid glycosides has been studied in detail.14 Several methods have been published for the analysis of vervain constituents. High pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) with postcolumn derivatization was used to quantify iridoids, flavonoids, and phenolics.15 An HPLC separation with diode array detection was used to assay the same compounds in another study.16 Micellar electrokinetic capillary chromatography with mass spectrometry was used to achieve a separation and characterization of several iridoids, including verbenalin.17
Uses and Pharmacology
The differentiation of a human adenocarcinoma cell line was induced by verbascoside, reducing the malignant phenotype.18 Verbascoside affected telomerase activity and telomere length, as well as inducing apoptosis in a gastric cancer cell line.19 A further experiment found that verbascoside counteracted muscle fatigue in an isolated tissue preparation.20 In vitro proapoptotic activity of the essential oil and of the constituent citral has been described.21 In mice, anti-tumor effects have been demonstrated for a Verbena officinalis extract.22
Research reveals no use of Verbena officinalis extracts in cancer.
Anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, and sedative properties of Verbena officinalis have been demonstrated in rodents.23
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of verbena in CNS conditions.
An aqueous extract of verbena prevented extracellular accumulation of beta-amyloid peptide, a factor considered to trigger neuronal death in Alzheimer disease. Decreased destruction of neurites and decreased neuronal apoptosis were also observed.(2)
Anti-inflammatory activity of a vervain extract and several fractions in a carrageenan paw edema model was reported; however, specific triterpenes, iridoids, and phenolics isolated were not bioassayed to identify which were active.24 Other reports have shown verbenalin to be active in blocking 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol acetate-induced mouse ear edema and carrageenan-induced paw edema.25 In comparison with piroxicam gel, a 3% preparation of 50% methanolic verbena extract produced better anti-inflammatory results, while the same preparation had less analgesic activity than methyl salicylate ointment.3
In the isolated rat heart, verbascoside increased heart rate, force, and coronary perfusion, with a marked increase in cyclic AMP levels.26 A later study found an increase in prostacyclin levels, which may be responsible for the observed effects.27
Antioxidant effects of verbascoside have been demonstrated in several models, including radical scavenging28 and pulse radiolysis methods.29 Vervain essential oil was active in an antioxidant screen, although the oil is not expected to contain verbascoside.30
Modest antiviral activity against vesicular stomatitis virus, but not herpes simplex, at a high dose of verbascoside was observed.31 Antibiotic activity caused by an effect on protein synthesis and leucine incorporation was also found with verbascoside.32 Vervain flavonoids have been studied infrequently; however, a flavonoid fraction of vervain inhibited growth of several bacterial species at relatively high concentrations.33 The efficacy of a verbena extract in reducing gingivitis was compared with placebo in a clinical trial (n=260), with reductions in plaque and gingival indices reported.34
There is no recent clinical evidence to support specific dose recommendations for vervain. Traditional use for its astringent properties required 2 to 4 g daily in an infusion.35
Pregnancy / Lactation
Documented adverse reactions. Avoid use.36
In an in vitro model of an infant's GI system, infusions of vervain reduced the absorption of iron, especially at a high pH.37
Verbenone, a constituent of vervain, was demonstrated to be converted via CYP-450 2A6 to 10-hydroxyverbenone. It is unclear if the metabolite is active, inactive, or toxic.38
Research reveals little or no information regarding adverse reactions with the use of vervain. No adverse reactions were noted in infants ingesting a tea of vervain and other herbs, but the trial sample size was too small to observe anything other than major events.3
No toxicology studies have been reported on vervain.
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