Valerian can be an incredibly helpful herb, though rather on the smelly side. There’s some growing in our neighborhood right near the sidewalk in someone’s yard, and at certain times of the year we literally hold our breath as we pass by. But it’s a plant well worth knowing for its useful properties, and in my opinion, nice to look at!
Found: Roadsides, especially in the Northeast U.S. and parts of Canada. Often in damp places with good soil, although it can be found in drier, more elevated areas as well. Native to Europe, this plant escaped from gardens and is now growing wild.
Identifying: Grows 4 to 5 feet tall with very divided leaves which are a little “ferny” in appearance. Lower leaves are toothed. Flowers are small and pink to whitish, and grow in clusters similar to Queen Anne’s Lace. They flower throughout the summer and often into early fall.
Parts Used: Root
Medical Use: Commonly used as a sedative and as a nerve tonic; pain reliever. Calmative, antispasmodic. Also used for hypochondria, nervous headaches, headaches that take place in the temporal lobe, irritability, depression, and feelings of despondency. Good also for nervous restlessness. Bronchial spasms, asthma. Colds, fevers, measles, scarlet fever. Stomach ulcers, flatulence, spasms and convulsions coming from nervous tension. Nervous heart palpitations, high blood pressure from emotional stress. Menstrual spasms, pains after giving birth, low libido. Lower back spasm, arthritis and gout, incoordination, paralysis. Counters alcohol effects.
Preparation: Can be made as a tea from the dried root, but it’s best as a tincture made from fresh root.
Allergic Reactions/Warnings: Small doses often cause a relaxing result, while larger doses can actually stimulate. However, some people react differently to valerian and even a small dose will wire them. If using tea from the dried herb, and if it’s used regularly over an extended period of time, one may find themselves getting symptoms of depression. Using tincture from fresh root helps avoid this issue.
Allergic Reactions/Warnings: Although it’s sometimes referred to as “Indian toilet paper”, some people are sensitive to the hairs on the leaves. WILDCRAFTER’S WARNING: This plant grows in similar conditions to hemlock, and it looks similar as well. Do NOT harvest on your own unless you’re absolutely certain you know the plant well.
Video: Herbalist Michael Moore collected video footage of numerous herbs, and they’re all on theSWSBM site. Take a look at this valerian video to get a better idea of how it looks. Videos can be quite helpful in learning to identify plants.
Note: These posts are not meant to be a medical guide but an overview. Consulting an herbal specialist is always recommended.