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  • Valeriana officinalis L.
  • Valerianaceae
  • Valerian family

Common Names

herbsAmerican English valerian (grown in the US)
herbsBlessed herb
herbsCapon's tail
herbsEnglish Valerian
herbsGarden heliotrope
herbsGerman valerian
herbsGreat wild valerian
herbsTagara (Sanskrit name)
herbsVandal root
herbsVermont valerian
herbsWild valerian

Parts Usually Used

Dried root, rhizome

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Valerian is a tallish plant with clusters of pink or, less commonly, white flowers. A perennial grows to 4-5 feet. Leaves strongly divided, pinnate with lance-shaped leaflets; lower ones toothed. Tiny, pale pink to whitish, tubular flowers, grow in three-forked terminal heads in tight clusters; each flower has a small, inrolled calyx at the base; as the fruits form, calyces become feathery parachutes. Blooms June to July.

V. officinalis bears pinkish-lavender or pinkish-white flowers; V. rubra, red; V. cocinea, deep red. Partial shade. Zones 4-9.

Other varieties: Native Americans used 2 different herbs that were both called valerian. Valerian: tobacco root (V. edulis) the Nevada Paiutes called "Gwee-ya" and the Northern Paiutes called "Ku-ya." And valerian (V. septentrionalis) the Blackfeet used as a hot drink from the roots for stomach trouble.

Where Found

A native of damp woods, roadsides, and riversides. Quebec, Maine to New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio to Minnesota. Native of Europe.

Do not confuse valerian with Lady's Slipper which is often called American valerian, although both herbs are said to produce similar therapeutic action.

Medicinal Properties

Calmative, antispasmodic, nerve tonic, nervine, sedative, anodyne, and carminative, aromatic, emmenagogue

Biochemical Information

Active components are called valepotriates. Valerianic, formic and acetic acids, essential oils, resin, starch, a glucoside, and 2 alkaloids (chatrine and valerianine).

Legends, Myths and Stories

Like many botanicals, valerian has a long history. Named the "Valium of the 19th century," although chemically unrelated to Valium, is recognized worldwide for the relaxing effect it has on the body. Often, in Europe, it is prescribed to treat anxiety. Valerian does not taste very good, but it has few unpleasant side effects and is not addictive; unlike prescription drugs in the United States such as Valium and Xanax. When Valium is taken together with alcohol, the 2 drugs tend to greatly exaggerate each other's effect on the body. Valium is a synergistic drug in that respect and tends to exaggerate serious side effects as well. For centuries valerian has been the treatment of choice by herbalists when treating panic attacks or nervous tension.

Valerian has a curious effect on some animals. Cats become frisky on smelling it, and an oil prepared from valerian and aniseed is used by gypsies to quell unfriendly dogs. Horses, too, are known to like its scent, as are rats and mice, for whose benefit it was once used as a bait in traps.

The common name of valerian is heal-all, which comes from the Latin word valere, meaning to be well. It is believed valerian is the spikenard referred to in the Bible as a perfume brought from the East.

Valerian has a distinctive, rather unpleasant smell, and was aptly called phu by the Greek physician Galen. In recent years, it has been well researched, with chemicals called valepotriates developing in valerian extracts. These seem to depress the nervous system, and the fresh plant is more sedating.


Used for hypochondria, nervous headaches, irritability, mild spasmodic affections, diarrhea, epilepsy, migraine headaches, croup, hysteria, convulsions, vertigo, nervous cough, delirium, neuralgia, muscle cramps, gas pains, stomach cramps, spasms, palpitations, gas, colic, depression, panic attacks, emotional stress, PMS, menstrual cramps, despondency, insomnia.

Research has confirmed that teas, tinctures, and/or extracts of this plant are CNS-depressant (central nervous system), antispasmodic, and sedative when agitation is present, but also a stimulant in fatigue; antibacterial, antidiuretic, liver-protective. Valerian is a leading over-the-counter tranquilizer in Europe.

A nerve tonic has a relaxing effect and even euphoric effect on the system, although too much of it brings about the opposite result.

A marvelous remedy for fevers. Will often clear a cold overnight. Good for expelling phlegm from throat and chest. Will expel worms when everything else fails. Excellent for shortness of breath and wheezing. Tea can be used as an enema for pinworms and tape worms and externally as a wash for sores, wounds, chronic skin diseases, and pimples.

If taken too often or in excessive doses, however, it can cause headaches, spasmodic movements, or hallucinations.

Formulas or Dosages

Harvest in the fall. Do not boil the root.

To obtain the maximum benefit take 1 tbsp. of fresh juice daily. The latter is often prescribed as a cure for insomnia, where its great value is that it calms the mind without having a narcotic effect. Non-addictive.

Drying roots is different from drying leaves. Roots should be dried at a high temperature, such as 120 degrees F. until the roots are brittle. If they are rubber-like, they should be dried longer. Store roots after drying to keep free from moisture.

Infusion: steep 1 tsp. root in 1 pt. boiling water. Take cold, 1 cup per day, or when going to bed.

Cold extract: use 2 tsp. roots with 1 cup water; let stand for 24 hours and strain. Take 1/2 to 1 cup when going to bed.

Tincture: take 20 drops on sugar or in water, 3 times a day.

How Sold

Valerian roots are grown commercially and used in proprietary medicines in Europe. Other valerians are not generally used in herb medicine.

Capsules: take 1 or 2 a day.

Extract: mix 10 drops in liquid daily.

Tincture: take 1 to 2 tsp. in a glass of water.


Valerian should not be used for more than 2 to 3 weeks at a time, as it may then be harmful or become addictive. Large doses or extended use may produce symptoms of poisoning. In extremely high doses, it may cause paralysis and a weakening of the heart. Take the tea twice daily, for no more than 2-3 weeks at a time without a break, as continual use or high doses may lead to headaches and palpitations. Do not exceed the recommended dose. Use under medical supervision.

Valerian enhances the action of sleep-inducing drugs, so avoid if taking this type of medication.

Do not confuse with the garden plant, red "American" valerian (Centranthus ruber) which has no medicinal properties.

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