This particular post is a bit more personal for me than usual. Those who read my last entry heard me discuss the importance of building ally-ship with the plants, and a good foundational process to start building those relationships. This month’s offering, while about one plant in particular, is really my attempt to share my own experience in ally-ship and to pay homage to a plant that has played a massive role in my life.
Life has certainly had its share of curveballs lately. And that’s ok – sometimes our job is to listen to what the cosmos, creator or spirit is trying to tell us and then let that message guide us to the next step in our journey. That next step could be action, acceptance or reflection, but whatever the case, my own personal feeling is that we are not alone when trying to seek the answer. And the plants are pretty good about reminding me of that. I met blue vervain about ten years ago. I don’t remember when and I don’t remember where, but I remember knowing it was a special meeting. I remember feeling seen, heard and protected. I remember instantly feeling like I was home. I remember knowing I wasn’t alone.
Let’s take a closer look:
Blue Vervain (verbena hastata)
-energetics: cold, dry
-tastes: bitter, acrid
-actions: relaxant, stimulating, emetic, emmenagogue
-organ tropisms: nerves, GI tract, organs of elimination (including skin), uterus
It should first be noted that blue vervain is incredibly bitter and incredibly acrid, and as we know, the way a plant tastes can usually tell us a lot about its energetics (for those wondering what the heck “acrid” means, its that “shocks your nose” sensation that you would also get from a very aged cheese – it is also known as “pungent”). Blue vervain hits you hard: it is not a gentle, sweet or mild-mannered plant. It sort of punches you in the face when you taste it. Like most bitter plants, its energetics are coldand dry, but like most acrid plants, its primary action is one is stimulation:it sort of zings through you. Note that unlike other stimulating plants like ginger or garlic that stimulate and warm, blue vervain stimulates and cools. Ohhhh what a super awesome and fortuitous combination!
Blue vervain, when it enters the body, zips over to the nerves. Some of the nerves it finds are ones over which we do not have any control (those that make up the sympathetic nervous system, our “fight or flight” system), and others it reaches are ones we have some say over, most notably the ones in our neck and upper spinal cord. When someone is dealing with chronic stress or burnout, these tends to be the spots hardest hit, and the “hit” usually comes in the form of tension. The nerves, and the muscles they feed, become stuck in one place. Anyone who has ever had a back spasm knows exactly what I mean. There is pain, and when it happens over long periods of time, the muscles and nerves eventually atrophy just from being tired and stuck. They usually become undernourished as well, since it’s hard for oxygen and nutrients to reach them when they have blocked the path with spasm. Tension feeds congestion. Furthermore, in the case of our bellies, kidneys, uteruses and livers, when the “fight or flight” is turned on, blood is generally diverted from these areas. Over time, that also forces weakness, atrophy and starvation in these areas.
Blue vervain opens the pathways. The acrid zing stimulates the circulation to bring fresh blood and nutrients to our “underworld”– the earthy, dark places in our bodies that suffer and struggle when we get too caught up in the airy, intellectual “heaven” of our humanly forms, namely, our hearts, lungs and brains. When these “lower” areas are nourished, they relax. When they relax, they can return to function. Because vervain is also a bitter, digestive enzymes, bile and hydrochloric acid are increased and help to bring appetite and digestion back to those suffering from “stress belly”. The nerves in the spinal cord and neck are positively affected as well, with blue vervain helping to release skeletal muscle tension and pain. It is a fabulous pain-relieving herb for the neck, especially when combined with St. John’s Wort. Because blue vervain is cooling, it also helps to counteract the inflammatory heat inherent in nerve tension. It will not aggravate heat the way some “anti-inflammatory” herbs like ginger or cayenne can when taken internally.
So who is suited to taking this herb?
That’s the big question with this plant. The folks it chooses to connect with are very specific. It is a very particular little plant, and blue vervain is the truly the kind of herb that chooses you. And if it is right for you, you’ll know. It will tell you. It’s not a shy plant.
There’s this thing called the Doctrine of Signatures. It’s the idea that plants look like what they are used for, and blue vervain is a good example of this doctrine. The plant grows from a single stalk which holds up huge “prongs” of flowers into the air. There are several such prongs growing up from one stem, and they are heavy. Sometimes blue vervain plants fall over under their own weight. This scenario is what herbalist Matthew Wood refers to as “strong above, weak below”. We can compare this to a clinical picture in the person: the lower earth centers (GI, metabolic organs and organs of elimination) are weak, being continually ignored, forgotten and starved. The upper air centers (lungs, heart and brain) are strong but heavy from being overworked, overexcited and completely lacking a strong foundation. And good lord are they tense. These folks are the constant overthinkers, the perpetual list makers, the obsessive and the over ambitious, the judgmental and the perfectionists, the “I am my harshest critic and yours too” types. Usually this is a personality type that presents chronically, over a lifetime. Unlike the “worry wart” type that tends to be flighty, the blue vervain personality is hot, fiery, strong and hits you like a rock. These are high intensity people who, on the inside, are just really tired of being intense all the time.
So what happens? They topple. They most often present with chronic neck pain as their stems struggle to support the weight of their flowers. They often present with GI distress, constipation, urinary disfunction, scanty periods and/or liver congestion. And they often feel trapped by their own minds, and have difficulty getting out of that cycle.
I am definitely guilty of all of this. I definitely have the archetypal “blue vervain” personality, and this plant has saved my ass on more than one occasion. Fields and roadsides with blue vervain patches are not overwhelmingly common: it’s one of our lovely native plants that fights for space with invasive species like goldenrod and purple loosestrife this time of year. But it tends to find me when I need it to. More than any other plant, vervain speaks to me when I sit with it, reminding me that whatever is happening, I can figure it out if I can manage to set boundaries with my own mind and the minds of others. In this way, blue vervain is a fantastic herb for selfcare. Not superficial selfcare like taking bubble baths, but the true, deep kind that comes from allowing one’s self a minute’s peace from the endless harassment and demands of the mind, the self and the environment. It helps us say “no”, most notably to our own calls for constant self-criticism. And when we can manage to set those boundaries, we find we have more time, energy and desire for productive, positive endeavors. Counseling and support groups can be great practices as well when we are trying to change these mental patterns.
I want to make one last point here. It should be noted that while vervain is a nervine, it is not a sedative: it is actually quite stimulating, and will not suppress the need that fiery, ambitious people have to move, grow, learn and create. You are never going to get a blue vervain person to meditate or take up basket weaving, and that’s ok. The goal is never suppression of energy, but just a grounding and re-routing of it. There is nothing wrong with showy flowers if our stems are strong. There is also no shame in needing to lighten the load from time to time, when we feel we might topple under the tension. And If we can learn to bend a little, it may keep us from breaking.
Thanks for stopping by everyone! May your hearts be light, your minds be clear and your stems be strong <3