Wednesday, June 5, 2013

HieraBotane: Vervain (Verbena Officinalis)

“But among the Romans there is no plant that enjoys a more extended renown than hierabotane (holy plant), known to some persons as “peristereon,” (Pigeon Plant) and among us more generally as “verbenaca” (Vervain). It is this plant that we have already mentioned as being borne in the hands of envoys when treating with the enemy, with this that the table of Jupiter is cleansed (On the occasion of the Feasts of Jupiter in the Capitol, prepared by the Septemviri.*), with this that houses are purified and due expiation made. There are two varieties of it: the one that is thickly covered with leaves is thought to be the female plant; that with fewer leaves, the male. Both kinds have numerous thin branches, a cubit in length, and of an angular form. The leaves are smaller than those of the quercus, and narrower, with larger indentations. The flower is of a grey colour, and the root is long and thin. This plant is to be found growing everywhere, in level humid localities. Some persons make no distinction between these two varieties, and look upon them as identical, from the circumstance of their being productive of precisely similar effects.

The people in the Gallic provinces make use of them both for soothsaying purposes, and for the prediction of future events; but it is the magicians more particularly that give utterance to such ridiculous follies in reference to this plant. Persons, they tell us, if they rub themselves with it will be sure to gain the object of their desires; and they assure us that it keeps away fevers, conciliates friendship, and is a cure for every possible disease; they say, too, that it must be gathered about the rising of the Dog-star—but so as not to be shone upon by sun or moon—and that honey-combs and honey must be first presented to the earth by way of expiation. They tell us also that a circle must first be traced around it with iron; after which it must be taken up with the left hand, and raised aloft, care being taken to dry the leaves, stem, and root, separately in the shade. To these statements they add, that if the banqueting couch is sprinkled with water in which it has been steeped, merriment and hilarity will be greatly promoted thereby.”
- Pliny, The Natural History. (Book 25, Chapter 59.)

Peristereon Uptios, Iero Botane.
Suggested Names: Peristereon, Verbenaca, Vervain (Pliny), Verbena Supina [Fuchs], Verbena communis caerulo flore (Bauhin), Verbena Officinalis (Linnaeus) – Vervain, Pigeon's Grass, Holy Herb.

Hierabotane sends out angular stems of a foot (or rather more) around which are the leaves at distances – similar to the oak, yet narrower, smaller and cut-in all around, drawing to an azure (blue). The root is somewhat long and thin; the flowers purple and thin. The leaves and root (given to drink with wine or smeared on) are useful against snakes. A teaspoonful of a decoction of the leaves with thirty grains of frakincense in one half-pint of old wine is taken as a drink for jaundice by one fasting for forty days. The leaves (applied) lessen inflammation, and long-lasting oedema, and clean foul ulcers. The whole herb (boiled with wine) breaks crusts all around in the tonsils. Gargled, it stops erosive ulcers in the mouth. An infusion of it sprinkled in feasts is said to make the guests merrier (relaxant). The third joint from the earth (with all the leaves) is given to drink to those who have a paroxysm every third day. The fourth joint is given to those who have a paroxysm every fourth day. They call it sacra herba because it is suitable for use as amulets in purification. It is also called peristereon, phersephonion, Iovis colum, dichromon, callesis, hipparison, or demetrias; the Egyptians say pemphthephtha; Pythagoras calls it erysisceptron, and the Romans, cincinnalis.”
- Dioscorides, De Materia Medica. (Book 4, Chapter 61.)

Agrippa attributes to Vervain the ability to soothsay, which I take to mean that it aids in divination. (Book 3, Part 4. Chapter XLVI.) It most most definitely a type of purification materia, and is used as such in other magical literature.