Spotlight on Valerian

Origins | Description | Qualities | History | Cultivation | Harvesting
Culinary Uses | Magical Uses | Other Uses | Quotes

"They that will have their heale,
Must put Setwall in their keale."

Gerard 1597



Latin name(s) -   Valeriana officinalis
aka - All-heal, Amantilla, Arden heliotrope, Capon's Tail, Heliotrope, Phu (Galen), Setwell, Setewale, Tagara, Tobacco root, Vandal root
Family - Valerianaceae
Parts used - Root
Purported actions - nervine, stimulant, carminative, antispasmodic
Methods of use - Tincture, Oil, Expressed Juice

Origins - Valerian is native to Europe and Northern Asia.

Description - The plants are generally herbaceous and grow between 2 and 4 feet tall. It is cultivated but also grows wild in damp grasslands. There is only one straight, hollow stem from each root, the stems are topped by umbrella-like heads with small, sweet-smelling white, light purple or pink trumpet shaped flowers. It blooms from June to September.
It has dark green leaves, pointed at the tip and hairy underneath.
The root is light grayish brown and has little odor when fresh but when dried it has the smell of old, wet socks!

Attributed medicinal qualities - The roots are used medicinally. Although the fresh root is relatively odourless, the dried root has a strong odour that many find unpleasant.

The expressed juice of the root, which contains a volatile oil and two alkaloids Chatarine and Valerianine, has been used for insomnia, and as an anticonvulsant in epilepsy, although no modern research has been done (It was first brought to notice as a cure for epilepsy by Fabius Calumna in 1592, after he cured himself of epilepsy with it. - "There is no doubt but it possesses antispasmodic virtues in a very eminent degree." ) It has also been used as an alternative to benzodiazepine drugs, and as a sedative. It is also good for intestinal colic or cramps.

In China it is prescribed for influenza, rheumatism, insomnia, apprehension and traumatic injuries.

History -  The name Valerian was first seen in the tenth century and is of Latin origin -valere which means ‘ to be healthy’.

Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia.

There is evidence it was widely used in many Anglo-Saxon home remedies.

In the Middel Ages it was carried in clothing as a moth repellent.

Nicholas Culpepper, the famous 17th century herbalist joins with many old writers to recommend the use both of herb and root, reminding us that it is 'under the influence of Mercury, and therefore hath a warming faculty’.

During World War II, air-raids caused many symptoms of nervous disability in the  civilian population and Valerian was prescribed and proved excellent, helping to prevent or minimize symptoms.

Oil of Valerian was employed to a considerable extent on the continent as a popular remedy for cholera.

You may be familiar with the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin: Modern versions of this legend suggest that the rats were charmed by his music, but earlier accounts suggest that his success primarily was due to many pieces of valerian root which were in his pockets. Cats are attracted to valerian, which can induce a state of ecstasy in them. Rats, too, are attracted by it, and it was used in the past as bait by rat-catchers.

In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves.

Cultivation - Valerian does well in all ordinary soils, but prefers rich, heavy loam, well supplied with moisture.
It is extensively cultivated in Europe.

Valerian can be propagated from seeds during spring. Sow them in shallow compost as they like good light to germinate in a cold frame or greenhouse. Prick them out and plant in summer. After transplanting the seedlings, leave them for two to three years before harvesting the roots if they are to be used medicinally.

You can also split the rhizome, when they are big enough, in spring or  autumn.

Valerian is able to survive in places receiving total sunlight as well as those that have partial shade in forest areas.

Usually valerian is grown in herb gardens and occasionally cultivated commercially as a therapeutic herb.

When growing valerian for therapeutic purposes do not let it flower. The flowers, as well as the dried root,  have a horrible smell but removing them encourages the root to grow and this is the part you want.

Harvesting, preparation and storage - The rhizome and roots should be collected in October and November and dried slowly in the shade.

Culinary Uses - Having used this herb myself very successfully, I have, unsurprisingly!, been unable to find any recipes! It really does taste horrid!

Magical Uses - It is used in spells for: protection, purification, harmony, peace, happiness, love, creative work, and to attract money and riches.

A sprig of the plant pinned to a woman's clothing is said to cause men to follow her like children, so naturally valerian Root is often added to love sachets.

Put under pillows it is said to help prevent nightmares.

Sachets placed around the home help are said to protect the home from lightening strikes.

A few leaves placed in the shoes protect against colds and flu.

Other Uses - Valerian root is used in many commercial "sleepy time" tea blends and is often safely blended with chamomile. Sweeten with honey if you like, and a touch of lemon.

Valerian Quotes - 'The root boiled with liquorice, raisons and aniseed is good for those troubled with cough. Also, it is of special value against the plague, the decoction thereof being drunk and the root smelled. The green herb being bruised and applied to the head taketh away pain and pricking thereof.' - Culpepper