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The Power of Verbena: Discovering Van Van

Updated: Jul 5

Van Van oil with verbena stems

Verbena, also called vervain or verveine (French), is a genus in the Verbenaceae family. It includes approximately 150 species of herbaceous or semi-woody flowering plants, both annual and perennial.

Verbena has been highly esteemed for its believed magical properties since ancient civilizations. It was known by various names such as the magician plant, pigeon grass, cross plant, and plant of mercy. The Druids, Persians, ancient Greeks and Romans, and worshipers of Thor in Scandinavia are said to have attributed healing powers to it.

Verbena has long been associated with divine and supernatural forces. It was known as the Tears of Isis in ancient Egypt and later called Hera's Tears. In ancient Greece, it was dedicated to Eos. The name verbena comes from a Latin word that meant Altar Plant to the ancient Romans. Pliny the Elder mentions verbena being offered on Jupiter's altars.

Blue Vervain Blossoms

During the early Christian era, there was a legend that verbena was used to heal Jesus' wounds after he was taken down from the cross. It became known as Holy Herb or Devil's Bane.

According to writer Doreen Valiente, Vervain flowers symbolize the goddess Diana and are often found on cimaruta, traditional Italian amulets. In the book "The History and Practice of Magic" by Paul Christian (aka Jean-Baptiste Pitois), vervain is mentioned as an ingredient in a mandragora charm. The book also highlights verbena's antiseptic properties and use as a protection against spells. The Romani people have used vervain for love and good luck for generations.

In the Victorian language of flowers, verbena symbolized enchantment and sensibility. It was regarded as a captivating bloom that evoked a sense of wonder and charm while representing the virtue of being practical and sensitive. This delicate flower, with its vibrant colors and sweet fragrance, held a special place in the hearts of those who embraced the romanticism of the Victorian era.

Verbena's intriguing and enchanting presence extends to modern popular culture. In the TV show Vampire Diaries, verbena plays a significant role. It is depicted as the sole plant that can weaken and disable vampires, a crucial characteristic within their supernatural world. This portrayal adds to the allure and mystique surrounding this extraordinary herb.

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Lemon Verbena Arrives In The West

French and Spanish botanists introduced the Aloysia Citrodora species, known commonly as fragrant verbena or lemon verbena, to Europe from Buenos Aires in the late 18th century. Although French herbalists were already aware of Verbena's medicinal properties, this South American variety quickly gained popularity in European gardens and perfumes.

Lemon Verbena leaves and blossoms

Lemon verbena was widely used in Victorian England for its fragrance and flavor. It was introduced from South America by Spanish explorers and quickly gained popularity as an air freshener. People added it to baths, potpourri, soaps, and oils. English socialites loved the delicate lemon scent and would stuff the leaves into herb sachets for a refreshing aroma on hot days. Lemon verbena was also used to add a fresh fragrance to finger bowl water at social events. Additionally, it was commonly steeped as a soothing tea and used to subtly flavor desserts.

In the 19th century, Lemon verbena and its essential oil became vital in producing various formulas of the renowned Eau de Cologne in Grasse. Lemon verbena added its delicate and refreshing scent to some of the day's most popular and expensive perfumes.

In the mid-nineteenth century, just before the American Civil War, Verbena gained popularity among wealthy individuals in the United States. Caswell Massey, a renowned American perfumer from the American Revolution, created their famous Verbena Cologne. Although it was produced until 2023, it has recently been discontinued. However, the fragrance can still be enjoyed in a luxurious bar soap I have used almost daily for years. Hopefully, it will remain available for a long time!

Hoodoo, Witches, Verbena, and Van Van

An old bottle of New Orleans Van Van
Rendering of a 19th-century bottle of New Orleans Van Van

In continental Europe and the British Isles, vervain was closely associated with witches who used its power for protection and love spells, taking advantage of its reputation as a powerful magical ingredient. When European and British witches migrated to the United States, they brought their cherished folk practices.

In the world of hoodoo—an African American spiritual tradition from the American South—verbena is still known as Van Van perfume, a conjure ingredient famed for dispelling evil, offering protection, and unlocking new opportunities.

The name "Van Van" possibly stems from efforts to mimic the Louisiana French accent when saying "Verveine." The original New Orleans Van Van recreated the luxurious verbena scents of its time.

Verbena Hydrosol
Verbena Spray

Van Van Recipes

Van Van formulas, the oldest and most authentic, capture the pure essence of verbena essential oil. In the 19th century, verbena perfumes were expensive, so Van Van formulas were created to provide an affordable alternative. These formulas attempted to replicate the refreshing scent of natural lemon verbena using cost-effective ingredients.

Some modern formulas incorporate nontraditional fragrance notes like vanilla, almond, or even pineapple, deviating from the essence of pure verbena. If you appreciate these newer formulas, feel free to incorporate them. However, to truly relish the authentic Van Van experience, it is recommended to either use pure verbena essential oil or use a formula that accurately simulates the refreshing scent of lemon verbena.

Here is a formula I have used for a long time that is simple and cost-effective. While natural essential oils are preferred, high-quality synthetic alternatives also yield favorable results.

An Early Van Van Formula

Mix the essential oils and dilute them with an oil or alcohol carrier. The total dilution should consist of approximately 5% essential oils and 95% carrier.

Ways to dilute your Van Van:

Oil: Dilute with an oil such as grapeseed or avocado for a Van Van anointing oil.

Cologne: To create a Van Van spray cologne, dilute it in pure ethanol, such as Everclear or Perfumers Alcohol. This method ensures the mixture remains well-blended and won't separate. 

While vodka is not as good as ethanol, it can be a suitable alternative when ethanol is inaccessible. Remember to shake the mixture thoroughly before using it, as separation will occur.

Some individuals opt to dilute it in witch hazel, but the scent of witch hazel is only for some. Also, it will separate, so be sure to shake it well before using it.

Water: Add a few drops to a spray bottle filled with distilled water. Shake well before spraying. 

Other Van Van Products:

Verbena Hydrosol: Distilled verbena water (hydrosol) is a simple and pure way to use a Van Van spray. It is sometimes found in sources that sell herbs and essential oils.

Floor Wash: Mix a few drops of the undiluted Van Van essential oil blend with a few drops of liquid soap into a clean bottle. Add distilled water and store it tightly sealed. Add a small amount to your mop water or cleaning products when cleaning your house.

Incorporating Van Van Into Your Daily Practice

Van Van sprays, such as colognes and hydrosols, have various uses for cleansing and blessing. Use them as a personal cologne for aura cleansing and protection. Spray them in the air to purify a space or directly on an object to bless it with positive energy. These sprays are convenient and practical for enhancing spiritual practices, providing a pleasant aroma, and promoting harmony and well-being in your surroundings.

Van Van oil is versatile for anointing purposes. Use it to anoint candles. Cleanse your aura by applying it to pulse and chakra points. It can also be used to anoint door knobs, magical tools, and altars to bring blessings, protection, and positive energies. Its enchanting aroma and sacred properties make it an excellent choice for invoking divine favor and adding mystical allure anywhere it is applied.

In my practice, I have two versions of Van Van. One is pure verbena essential oil, and the other is the Van Van formula mentioned earlier. I use a van van spray more often than an oil. It's versatile and can be sprayed in the air, on talismans and magical tools, or added directly to wash water and other potions. Both options are beneficial to have.

Aside from my homemade Van Van sprays, I also love using commercial verbena perfumes like L'occitane Verbena, which are readily available in the market.

It's important to note that dried leaves of any vervain species, including lemon verbena, have a wide range of magical uses. They are considered a versatile herb, with a captivating aroma and vibrant energy. These leaves can be used to create magical powders, incense, and potpourri, as well as in sachets and charm bags for infusing intentions with mystical properties. From protection to love and abundance, verbena leaves are a vital ingredient in the world of magic. If you have Van Van, you may find that you don't need as large of a cupboard full of other herbs and perfumes, unless you want them.

Van Van is a powerful and versatile tool in magical traditions. Its ability to purify and bless spaces and objects is highly valued by practitioners. Whether using verbena essential oil, traditional Van Van formulas, or the herb itself, verbena enhances magical practices, deepening your connection to the spiritual realm. By incorporating Van Van into your spiritual journey, you embrace ancient sacred practices rooted in the mystical plant genus verbena.

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I made the your Van Van oil and OMG 2hrs after spraying my house still smells divine, feels fresh and no stagnant feeling. Thank you Ariel, blessed be🌸


I just love your information, am so grateful to have found your channel. Blessed Be 🌻

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Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comment. I really appreciate it. Blessed be.

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