Cultivate Valerian in Your Herb Garden for its Medicinal Benefits
Native to Europe and parts of Asia, Valerian is a perennial flowing plant with straight, hollow stems topped by an umbrella-shaped fringe of delicate pink or white flowers.
Despite its elegant look, its roots, when dry, can give off an unpleasant odor.
Ever since the time of ancient Greece and Rome, valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, such as insomnia, anxiety, nervousness and heart palpitations.
Its popularity as a sleeping aid gradually decreased with the advent of modern sleep prescription medication. In 17th century Europe, it was popularly used as a perfume extract.
Scientists are unsure how this herbs works, but believe it to be responsible for the increased production of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, which regulates nerve cells and alleviates anxiety. While this plant of many names – Setwall, Capon’s Tail, Setewale etc. – has its medicinal uses, nowadays it is also used widely as ornamentation.
Cultivation of Valerian
Valerian, or All-Heal or Amantilla as it is sometimes known, blooms abundantly throughout the summer months, prolifically popping out flowers that smell like vanilla and cherry – or perhaps aged cheese.
Its leaves are a moderate green that brings out the light white and pink of the petals nicely, perfect for decoration.
Valerian likes its light, and while it seems to require plenty of water during its infant stage, it does well on dry soil as an adult.
This sedate herb with its trumpet-shaped cluster of airy pink and white flowers is notoriously hard to grow from seed.
- The germination rates of valerian seeds are unpredictable (in fact, the plant does not bloom its first year from seed), so get root divisions or rooted runners of an established plant from your local nursery if possible.
- Plant the roots firmly in fertile soil in a place where it gets plenty of sunlight. Water frequently enough so that the roots don’t dry out: a growing valerian needs its moisture.
- The roots are the medicinal part of the plant. Harvest in fall before the frost starts biting.
Tips on Growing Valerian
- Valerian has been known to attract dogs and cats (it acts like a catnip for the latter, in fact), so in order to avoid having your valerian dug out by the pesky feline addicts, wedge in some rocks in the root around the soil.
- Add mulch to your valerian during both spring and fall.
- If you really want to try growing valerian from seeds, purchase fresh seeds and plant them in moist, well-worked soil. Start planting in the spring, but beware of birds. Valerian seeds germinate close to the ground since they need light – as such, they’re very prone to predation. By keeping the seeds more or less moist, you should have germinating seeds on your hands in about 10 days.
Medicinal Uses of Valerian
In medieval Sweden, this hardy, aromatic herb was tucked in the pockets of bridegrooms in order to ward off the evil eye of elves, and it is rumored that the Pied Piper used valerian to entice the rats into following him to the river.
Such superstitious and fantastical applications are well and all, but it is perhaps more important to note that valerian has been long dubbed as “the poor man’s Valium” for its sedative effects.
And that should come as no surprise because ever since the time of ancient Rome and Greece, valerian has been used as a treatment for insomnia.
Today, valerian ranks as the most used non-prescription sedative in Europe. Here are a few ways in which valerian can be used for medicinal purposes:
Sleep like a log – One of the most effective ways to battle insomnia is to use valerian, which does not leave a “hangover” effect (characterized by fatigue or drowsiness) unlike some other sleeps aids. Try our valerian tea recipe now for a good night’s sleep.
Although not all studies show a positive correlation between valerian intake and quality or longevity of sleep, positive results can be achieved if valerian is consumed daily over a period of 2-4 weeks along with a combination of hops (Humulus lupulus), lemon balm (Melissa officianalis) and other herbs that induce drowsiness.
Ease your anxiety – Although no concrete evidence for its effectiveness in curing anxiety yet exists, valerian has long been used as a treatment for illness related to anxiety and psychological stress, including nervous asthma, headaches, migraine, hypochondria (the irrational fear or illness), and stomach upsets.
Say goodbye to pain – For muscles pains and joint aches, valerian is ideal. Some women take valerian as to ward off menstrual cramps and other symptoms, for example, hot flushes, associated with menopause.
And so much more – The uses of valerian are many and varied.
This perennial herb can be used to battle against epilepsy, neuralgia, multiple sclerosis, vertigo, chronic skin diseases and sciatica. Like spearmint, valerian has a calming and relaxing effect on the body.Share with friends!