Parts used: Dried leaves
TCM category: Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity
TCM nature: Cool
TCM taste(s): Bitter
Meridian affinity: Spleen Liver
Scientific name: Verbena officinalis
Other names: European verbena, Common vervain or Common verbena
Use of verbena leaves (Ma Bian Cao) in TCM
Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.
Preparation: Remove impurities, wash, soak in water, cut and dry.
Dosage: 4-30 grams
Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moves Blood and unblocks Stasis. Encourages urination and lessens edema.
Primary conditions or symptoms for which verbena leaves may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Edema Jaundice Fever Dysentery Diphtheria Strangury Amenorrhea Carbuncles
Contraindications*: Not recommended for use during pregnancy.
Common TCM formulas in which verbena leaves are used*:
For Blood-Heat and Damp-Heat with swelling, dark urine and edema combine verbena leaves with achyranthes roots (Niu Xi), flowering quince (Mu Gua) and plantain seeds (Che Qian Zi).
Key TCM concepts behind verbena leaves (Ma Bian Cao)'s properties
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), verbena leaves are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity' category. Herbs in this category are used to clear inflammatory and infectious conditions, referred to as 'Internal Heat' in TCM. This is why most of the herbs in this category will have both antibacterial and antiviral properties. In TCM one has too much 'Heat' in their body as a result of a deficiency of 'Yin' (which is Cold in nature, see our explanation on Yin and Yang) or, more commonly, an excess of Yang (Hot in nature). Herbs that clear Heat and relieve Toxicity treat the latter while, at the same time, removing infectious toxins from the body. As such they tend to be Cold or Neutral in nature.
As suggested by its category verbena leaves are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that verbena leaves tend to help people who have too much "heat" in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much heat in their body are said to either have a Yang excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition verbena leaves can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.
Verbena leaves also taste Bitter. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like verbena leaves tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.
The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such verbena leaves are thought to target the Spleen and the Liver. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, blood coagulation and fluid metabolism in the body. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.
Use of verbena leaves (Ma Bian Cao) as food
Verbena leaves are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Huckleberry lemon verbena tea cake or Basil lemon verbena pesto.