Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Verbena hastata

Sometimes, spotting a plant is easy, as was the case with this one. The blueish-purple flowers stood out against the straw coloured grass, a gorgeous brushstroke on the canvas of summer. It caught my eye, from my bike, about 100 feet away.

I instantly dismissed my first thought that it might be purple loosestrife. Purple loosestrife almost always grows in large stands, the flowers are much fuller on the stem and are a pink-purple in colour. That's when my heart started to beat a little faster. Could it be...? I had to take a closer look to be sure.
Slender, growing erect, 2-3+ feet: check.
Flowers arranged on numerous, spiked panicles: check.

Small, 5 petaled, blueish-purple, flowers in bloom from mid to late-summer: check.

Four angled stems with opposite, lanceolate leaves with coarsely serrate margins: check.
Oh yes! This is blue vervain, Verbena hastata, also known as Simpler's Joy, Herb of Grace and Swamp Verbena. It likes well-drained, but moist soil and can be found around wetlands and meadows near floodplains. It will also grow in open, sunny fields and along roadside ditches, fence rows and pastures.

It's a perennial plant, native to North America. The flowers provide pollen and nectar for many bees, wasps, and butterflies. Sparrows, cardinals and juncos will eat the seeds in winter. The seeds can be roasted and ground into a flour for human consumption too.

It was an important food and medicine plant to Native Americans and is still used in herbal medicine today as a nervine and anti-spasmodic. Large doses are emetic and it was used in this capacity to induce sweating to treat fevers, and vomiting for stomach issues. Modern herbal medicine rarely resorts to such harsh extremes these days, and the plant is more often used as a gentle relaxant and sleep aid, and a liver cleanser. It also helps to stimulate and increase milk production for new mothers.

I am so happy to have spotted this lovely plant and I look forward to getting to know it better and observing it through the seasons!


daltxguy said...

Nice find and interesting history and info about this plant. Edible, huh?
I'll be on the lookout for it, in case I spot it here at the farm I am staying at outside of Ottawa. There are lots of blue flowers about but I haven't explored them all.

Amber said...

Hi there! Yeah, have a look for it. It's a very pretty plant.

I plan to collect the seeds from this one and try to establish it in my garden. I have no idea how finicky the process is to turn the seeds into flower, but if I can get enough of it to grow, I plan to find out!

Amber said...

Oops! 'Flower' should be 'flour'. Though sometimes turning seeds into flowers is tricky too! :)