The Storied Uses of Verbena

By Kathleen Hale, Member, The Herb Society of America

verbenaVerbena, or vervain, is a plant with a very large family of about 250 species, and a long, rich history in its interactions with humans. It has been our companion in pagan sacrifice, in battle, in feasting, in comforting the wounded and in fostering visions.

In fact, vervain is usually highly venerated.  In pre-Christian times it was called “Isis’ Tears” and “Hera’s Tears.” In Christian legend it was used to staunch the wound in Christ’s side at the crucifixion.  The name, “verbena,” comes from the Latin for a plant sacred to the gods, and it was one of the plants customarily burnt in the worship of Jove.

In the Middle Ages, magical attributes of vervain –generally the repelling of evil — were legendary. Carrying leaves of vervain into battle could protect the wearer from his enemies.

Then again, vervain just wants to have fun: four leaves and four roots of vervain, soaked in wine, produced a potion that, when sprinkled around a feasting place, would ensure all would be merry.

In the Shawnee tradition, vervain is one of the herbs used to foster beneficial visions. The Iroquois tradition has a more pragmatic use: Giving the mashed leaves steeped in cold water to an obnoxious son-in-law or daughter-in-law to induce them to leave.

Historic herbalist Hildegard of Bingen advised that water in which vervain has been stewed may be used on linen cloths to draw out infection, and even worms, from wounds. There have been claims, too, that vervain might be useful in treatments to remove lice.

North American native verbena, often called blue or purple verbena, is hardy in zones 3 to 8, and common in the eastern United States. Glandularia canadensis, or “rose verbena,” like most of the American native varieties, is happy in damp places.

20180621_082536 (1)In contrast European verbena varieties insist on good drainage. Authorities differ on whether European verbena is, in fact, a verbena. But it is a splendid perennial, good in zones 5 to 8, mingling happily with silvery companions, and requiring very little attention.

Medical disclaimer

Yet another variety, lemon verbena is grown widely today for its use in teas or for its essential oils. It is believed to have a calming effect on the digestion, and to be useful in fostering weight loss, perhaps because it may act as a diuretic. Proving these claims in controlled trials has been elusive, but lemon verbena is certainly refreshing and its scent is uplifting.





Hitchhiking Sprout is Beautiful Vitex Tree

By Mary Nell Jackson, HSA member

VitexWho knew this hitchhiker would grow into a beautiful tree. My first vitex came tucked in the soil of a plant I purchased long ago. I wasn’t sure of the little sprout that appeared and let it grow. It turned out to be Vitex agnus-castus, my lucky day!

This herbal tree is also called Abraham’s balm, Indian spice, chaste tree, and monks’ pepper. The common name of monks’ pepper refers to the medieval belief that potions made from the black berries that form after bloom time helped monks maintain their vow of chastity.  It is also used medicinally to help with female PMS.

Its name “vitex,” is derived from the Latin word “vieo meaning to weave or tie up.  Indeed, the flexible limbs of some species of vitex are used for basketweaving.

Bees and butterflies love this small tree which makes it a great choice to plant near a butterfly garden. Vitex is a Texas Superstar Plant and comes in lavender/blue, pink and white blossom colors. Vitex agnus-castus is native to the Mediterranean area and is hardy to Zone 6. Even if it dies back to the ground, it will return and bloom on new wood.  It easily reseeds in the right growing conditions.

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Many gardeners refer to this tree as Texas lilac… I call it my Hitchhiker.


Medicinal Disclaimer – This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.

The Immortal House Leek

By Kathleen Hale, Member, The Herb Society of America

Everybody loves the story of someone ordinary, much like ourselves perhaps, who becomes a princess, a rock star, a famous and sought after celebrity. With apologies to Meghan Markle, the House Leek did it first.

Its botanical name Sempervivuns, “always alive,” hints at this dual nature.  What could be more magical?  But, at the same time, what could make it more appealing to the timid gardener?  It is something that even the most forgetful caregiver cannot kill.

But the House Leek (also known as Hen and Chicks, Saint Patrick’s Cabbage and Welcome-Home-Husband-Though Never-So Drunk) promises so much more.

Other names link Sempervivuns with divinity, like Jupiter’s Beard (Jovibarba), and Thor’s Beard (Donnerbart). This might be the link with its more domestic names and uses: the House Leek was believed to protect the home from lightning.  If you could establish a colony on your roof, it was wise to do so.

Modern brides have embraced the Sempervivuns as part of their wedding planning.  Real plants are very dependable additions to table decorations, and lend a pretty, silvery, blue green backdrop for pretty much any color scheme.  Artificial plants are astonishingly lifelike.  And wedding cakes are now frequently topped with sprays of Hens and Chicks, modeled in fondant and frosting.

Sempervivuns has been grown for its reputed healing properties, which are much like those of aloe, which is somewhat resembles.  Its mucilaginous, acidic sap has been used to soothe skin irritations and burns. When it produces its sprays of pink, or sometimes white, flowers it will attract pollinators.  When it produces its first, luscious regrowth in Spring, it will be nibbled by mammals, but will quickly recover. Some varieties are crowned with an intricate networks of delicate web-like threads.  Some have rosettes sheathed in velvet.

In the Language of Flowers, Sempervivuns is linked with “vivacity.” Historic herbalist  Hildegard of Bingen promises something rather more. “If a man eats house leek who was healthy in his genital nature, he would be on fire with desire.” She also advises that, properly administered, it also restores hearing to the deaf, and thus is known as “Earwart”.

Unlike most succulents, Sempervivuns are sturdily able to survive frost, and can be grown in USDA zones 3 to 11.   Where they have adequate root drainage, they can live up to their botanical name and propagate through side shoots into large, dense mats. Where they are very happy, they grow wild. And this has led to the wholesale theft of roadside, hillside colonies of free range Sempervivuns for resale to the Asian domestic market. California coastal highways are being denuded, and the plants smuggled to Japan, China and Korea, where they are a high-status houseplant.

Those of us who have painstakingly nestled baby Sempervivuns plants onto sopping wet sphagnum moss wreaths could tell these aspiring Asian home gardeners that they’re in for a challenge.  The paradox lies in how difficult it can be to get a plant that thrives on neglect to flourish indoors. It has a mind of its own, and that pretty much sums up the nature of something both domestic and divine.

Herb Oils & Tinctures Elevate Massage

Herb Oils & Tinctures Elevate Massage

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

IMG-4620When Lauren Palsa was eight-years- old she’d mix yard clippings from her Munson, Ohio, backyard into magic potions. The only child of two self-employed parents had a vivid imagination and used these potions to heal her neighbors’ pretend ailments. Twenty-plus years later Lauren is still doing the same thing. Well, not quite. As a massage therapist  the holistic healer has added herbs into her body work. She works with oils, tinctures, salves and more to elevate the massage experience.

For example, when I recently visited her in Willoughby, Ohio, she used an oil infused with St. John’s Wort as a hormone balancer and anti-inflammatory while pressuring tension from my trapezius and rhomboid muscles. Then, she worked oil infused with foraged Solomon’s seal into the skin of my arthritic big toes. Both were wonderful.

IMG-4616“The plant I use most often – Solomon’s seal — is a result of my body work,” she says.” It is an incredible musculoskeletal ally. Infused in oil and rubbed on the skin it helps people with aches, strains, pains. I also drop kava, chamomile, or passion flower tincture down the spine to sooth and restore the nervous system.”

While she doesn’t make medical claims, Lauren is a trained herbalist who discusses a client’s medical history and medications before suggesting herbs. An herbalist is defined as “an individual collaborating with plants to facilitate health and wellness.”

Lauren’s favorite herb is always changing, often following the season. “I was just on a dandelion kick,” she says. “I was drinking dandelion tea as I was making dandelion tincture as I was drying dandelion roots.” Dandelion is purportedly good as a skin toner, blood tonic, and digestive tonic and more.

To learn more about herbalist Lauren or subscribe to her newsletter, visit

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Master Herb Blending Creates Jaegermeister’s New Manifest Liqueur

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

jm_manifest_1259_hg15_front_extended_us.jpgAfter 80 years dominating the herbal liqueur market Jaegermeister has launched –Manifest. Like the original Jägermeister composition, the new herbal liqueur derives flavor from a mixture of herbs, blossoms, roots and fruits. However, master distillers added more plants to the original blend of 56 botanical ingredients. And, they’ve increased the number of macerates from four to five. (“Macerate” in this context means to “steep.”)

If you’re a crafty herb enthusiast just imagine the process. The Kräuterkellerei – like a wine cellar for herb blending — stocks the finest exotic herbs, blossoms, roots, and fruits, delivered in sacks from all over the world. Several dry mixtures are created and then time-consuming cold macerations follow.

These macerates rest in old oak barrels for an entire year. Meanwhile the base alcohol rests separately in small oak casks of American and German oak with a medium char. Aging in oak imparts wood notes for added flavors that contribute to the complex, smooth character of the new spirit.

If you want to try this at home, you can’t. Jaegermeister and Manifest formulas and processes are carefully guarded secrets of the original distiller’s great-grandchildren. Eleven of the botanicals aremanifest-neat-on-bar.jpg

  • Star anise
  • Ginger root
  • Sweet orange peel
  • Ceylon cinnamon
  • Green cardamom
  • Galangal root
  • Clove
  • Bitter orange peel
  • Licorice root
  • Chirette
  • Mace

The elaborate combination leads to a flavor profile described by the company as “a full-bodied, robust blend of flavors. Slightly sweet notes of anise and dried fruit give way to subtle spice and aromatic bitters, finishing in a marriage of vanilla and barrel oak.”

The limited release of Jägermeister Manifest is available in select on-premise accounts throughout the United States.

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Peppermint Fiber Yarn Debuts in U.S.

Peppermint Fiber Yarn Debuts in U.S.

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

menta swatchThinking of Christmas presents yet? Pick up some colorful peppermint yarn and start knitting or crocheting this year’s gifts. Peppermint fiber has been kicking around textile circles for a bit, but only entered the United States yarn market in June 2017. It’s a novelty to some and a must-have for vegan fiber addicts who eschew animal fibers, but want all-natural options.

The yarn is made from the peppermint plant. But, it doesn’t smell like peppermint. That’s because the pulp is the “scrap” remaining from peppermint distillation. It could be consider upcycling what could have been a waste product. And, the yarn is organic by default. Peppermint, as herbies know, requires little cultivation and is easily renewable. (Read: Prolific!)

What might sound exotic becomes a mainstream when you consider plant fibers – cotton, flax, even bamboo – have historically been part of the fiber industry. It just took Chinese silk experts to develop a process for turning the hard, short fibers into yarn.

menta colors 2Dale Washburn, a Washington state-based entrepreneur and knitter, brought the yarn to the United States. He describes it as a product that feels good to work with, has a nice drape and takes well to bright colors.

“As a yarn it’s just awesome. It’s super soft, has a little sheen and a crepe-like feel,” he says. While it currently comes in jewel tones, he’s expanding the color palette this year.

Washburn’s company, Bellatrista, also sells yarn made from milk proteins and soy fibers. He is paying close attention to technology that may use green tea for fiber.

20180526_155201Peppermint yarns are currently available in 75 stores in the United States, but NOT online. However, some of the stores will sell the yarn online or mail order. Find a retailer near you.

Tea Time is the New Happy Hour

Tea Time is the New Happy Hour

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America


tea, cocktail.jpgTea Time has a new meaning. Mixologists are working with the ancient beverage to craft cool contemporary cocktails. These go beyond mom’s whiskey-spiked cold cure. They go further than the spiked Arnold Palmer, a tea-lemonade-vodka blend known as the “John Daly.” And, forget about the Long Island Iced T ea. That killer collection lacks suitable botanical origin.

Today’s bartenders are using the Camellia sinensis in its pure form and variations — matcha, chai — to prepare potent palate pleasers. Herbal blends are also popular.

Paula Hershman“In the United States we drink more iced tea than any other country, it makes sense to use it in our cocktails,” says Paula Hershman, owner of Storehouse Teas, a custom blender of organic, fair-trade tea in Cleveland, Ohio. “Tea can be used as the main flavor of the drink or a component.”

Any tea-spirit combination is fair game and she encourages mixologists to experiment. “You can choose to accent flavors from tea or use tea as a cocktail’s base. There are so many combinations we have yet to discover. Heartier teas like Earl Grey and Assam teamight be better with darker liquors. White rum goes well with peach white tea or vodka with a citron jasmine herbal blend.”

Elderberry Tea Cocktail 2_8934Like wine, tannin is a flavor component of tea. A cold brew minimizes the tannic harshness. Meanwhile adding simple syrup to a drink softens them. “The secret is adding the simple syrup to smooth and infuse the flavors. Garnishes add a lot of color, flavor and texture,” says Hershman.

Eric Ho and his partners are totaling tea’s potential at LBM, a contemporary cocktail bar in Lakewood, Ohio. Drink creators from there roam tea aisles at local organic markets for inspiration.

“We make a punch-style cocktail with tea in it,” says Ho. “It’s a super-traditional punch that follows the 1800s rhyme — one sour, two sweet, three strong, and four weak.” The numbers refer to parts or fractions of the total punch. The “weak” component in the punch recipe is hot brewed tea.

Yet another drink, the Mask of Sanity, mixes tea with rum, brandy, citrus, passionfruit and bitters. And, the creative minds from LBM continue to pioneer new drinks. They often start with a seasonal ingredient, then consult The Flavor Bible by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen A. Page to identify complimentary flavors. One flavor ties to another and soon a web of flavor comes together, says Ho.


Test one of Storehouse Tea’s recipes at home.

Mint Mojito Tea Cocktail

  • 1 shot white rum
  • 3 to 4 ounces Storehouse Amazon Mint Yerba Mate / Guayusa Tea   or other mint tea
  • dash of simple syrup
  • splash of soda
  • 2 peppermint leaves
  • 2 lime wedges

Fill a 6 to 8-ounce glass with ice cubes. Add rum, tea and simple syrup. Stir. Splash in soda. Garnish with mint leaves and lime wedges.