Valerian – characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effects

Valerian white flowers
Valerian white flowers

Valerian is probably like no other herb associated with calming and stress management. In fact, the roots of this herb contain many effective ingredients that can be a gentle alternative to synthetic drugs in case of nervousness, sleep disorders or general restlessness. But valerian does not just look good as a medicinal herb. Also as an ornamental plant or bee hive in the garden, the herb is often planted.

Profile of Valerian:

Scientific name: Valeriana officinalis

Plant family: honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae)

Other names: garden valerian, common valerian

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April

Flowering period: May – August

Harvest time: all year round (only from the second year on)

Location: sunny to partially shaded locations

Soil quality: well-drained and rather nutrient-rich soils

Use as a medicinal herb: sleep disorders, nervousness, anxiety, stress, migraine, stomach problems

Use as spice herb: in Indian cuisine as a spice for soups

Plant characteristics and classification of valerian

Origin and distribution of valerian

Valerian is a native plant throughout Europe to Russia. The famous medicinal herb can be found in many other countries in the world due to the quite adaptable way of life. So the plant has been cultivated and spread in America, Australia as well as in many parts of Asia. Wild valerian is often found in moist forest clearings and forest borders as well as in wet and nutrient-rich meadows.

Plant order of valerian

Valeriana (Valeriana officinalis) belongs to the family of honeysuckle plants (Caprifoliaceae), which in its entirety contains many other medicinal plants. In the closer relationship, the plant belongs to the genus valeriana, which is relatively rich in species with more than 400 species. Known relatives of valerian are the wild teasel or the lamb’s lettuce/corn salad, which represents a subfamily.

Look and characteristics of valerian


Valerian is a perennial plant that can reach stature heights between 90 cm and 2.00 m (35 and 80 in), depending on site conditions and nutrient availability. In the soil the plant forms bright, mostly yellow to almost white roots, which are multiply branched and have a striking strong smell. The roots are usually not very deep in the ground. Since the plant is reduced to its roots during winter time, these are referred to as rhizomes.


Valerian forms light green to mint green leaves that have a lanceolate shape with pinnate and slightly serrated margins. In most cases, the size of leaves decreases from bottom to top. The leaves are arranged opposite to the green, sometimes brown to reddish-brown stems and slightly to moderately hairy.


The flowers have a white to pink color and lift a pleasant, aromatic scent. The flowering of valerian usually takes place between May and mid-August. The individual flowers are arranged in inflorescences, visually reminiscent of an umbel. In the botanical sense, however, it is a panicle.


To ripeness, the valerian forms about 3 to 5mm (0.12 to 0.2 in) long nut fruits. Each nut fruit contains only one seed.

Valerian with pink blossoms
Valerian with pink blossoms

Cultivation and care of valerian

Valerian plants are ideal garden shrubs that are relatively easy to grow and do not require much care. The plant is not only pretty to look at, it also enriches fragrant gardens and is popular with many beneficial insects such as butterflies and bees.


In the garden, the herb is quite undemanding. Valerian prefers sunny locations, but also tolerates half shady spots. The soil should be rich in humus, slightly permeable, nutrient-rich and always slightly moist. Very loamy soil should be mixed with some sand to improve the aeration and water conductivity. For gardeners who tend to have sandy soils, the soil should be treated with appropriate aggregates such as bentonite, zeolite and compost. If only small areas are to be planted with valerian, then commercially available potting soil is usually perfectly adequate.


The best time to sow valerian is from March to April. The seeds can be sprinkled directly on the garden beds or buckets. Since the plant is a light germinator, the seeds should only be slightly pressed and then moistened a little bit. A preculture on the windowsill or in the greenhouse is possible, but usually not required. Sowing in pots on the balcony or terrace is also possible. The pots, however, should be somewhat wider, as the roots of the plant grow more in width than in depth.

When choosing the seeds, care should be taken that they are fresh. Valerian seeds, which are more than one to two years old, germinate relatively rarely.


In terms of nutrient supply, the plant is also quite undemanding. If valerian grows in the garden bed, it is sufficient to pre-fertilize the soil with organic fertilizer or compost before planting. If the soil is not too sandy, usually no additional fertilizer is needed. In the following year, the soil should then be fertilized again in the spring. If it grows in the pot or in the tub, it should be fertilized every 4 to 6 weeks with a herb fertilizer.


The most important part is watering. Valerian likes a rather humid environment to grow optimally. Short-term dryness usually survives the plant without problems, however, longer hot days without additional water supply can be problematic and lead to the death of the plant. Valerian does not have a very deep root system, making it difficult for the herb to obtain water from deeper layers. It is best to keep the earth slightly moist around the plant.


Valerian is hardy. Leaves and flowers fall off towards autumn. The rhizomes outlast the soil and bring forth new leaves in the spring. For overwintering no special measures are required.


Anyone who grows the plant to harvest valerian root for healing needs to grow the plant for a full year. Only in the second year is it worth taking the roots for teas and other purposes. Valerian flowers, which fulfill similar purposes as the roots, can also be harvested.

Diseases and pests

Valerian is considered a very robust plant. Relatively frequent troublemakers are green and black aphids, which often attack the leaf axils. Since the stems of the plant are quite robust, the lice can usually showered off or removed with a transparent adhesive tape. Rarely, valerian plants can be infested with mildew. Mildew usually occurs when the plants grow very densely and grow in too nutrient-rich substrate.

Valerian plant with flowers
Valerian plant with flowers

Use of valerian

Valerian in the kitchen

Valerian is not only a famous medicinal herb, it is also a coveted spice in some countries. For example, the ground root is used in India and Pakistan to flavor soups and stews. The taste is quite bitter with a slightly lovely undertone and is considered in European cuisine as not very popular.

Some raw food fans harvest the first fine valerian leaves after ripening and use them like lamb’s lettuce. The taste is quite similar, which is probably because valerian and lamb’s lettuce are related.

Valerian as a medicinal herb

Use of valerian in antiquity and the Middle Ages

As a medicinal herb valerian looks back on a long history. Above all, the roots of the plant were popular drugs even in antiquity. Many research has also shown that the plant is well known and widely used in many countries of modern Asia.

Interestingly it was then used for completely different purposes than it is today. From the herbal books of the early and late Middle Ages, there is no evidence that valerian root was used for sleep disorders or nervous restlessness. In herbal books the herb is used for flatulence, lateral groin, urinary complaints, cough, acne, headache and eye complaints. Frequently, the root was pulverized and mixed with wine, theriac or other herbs such as licorice root and anise.

Even to the herbalist Hildegard von Bingen valerian was well known, although the plant had not yet its current name. The medicinal plant then was used more in pleurisy and in a disease called Vich (Vicht). Vicht is a type of precancerous disease (precancerosis).

Since the 18th century valerian has been used more and more as a sedative and for the treatment of stress and nervousness. It is now considered one of the best and most widely used herbal sedatives. Almost exclusively the root is used.

Use of valerian today

Valerian is also used for a variety of other complaints. In Naturopathy it is used for:

  • anxiety
  • back pain
  • biliousness
  • bloating
  • cramps
  • eczema
  • gastritis
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • hyperthyroidism
  • intestinal cramps
  • irritable bladder
  • menopausal symptoms
  • migraine
  • nervousness
  • nervous heart problems
  • nervous stomach
  • sleep disorders
  • stomach cramps
  • stress
  • tension
  • test anxiety
  • unrest
  • urinary difficulties

The healing properties of Valerian are based on a variety of different substances that are contained in the root and sometimes in the flowers. There are more than 150 chemical agents known, many of which have specific physiological properties. The main active ingredients are the essential oils valenol, valeric acid, valeric acid, other substances from the group of valepotriate and a few alkaloids. Valeric acid, for example, has a spasmolytic, anxiolytic and muscle relaxant effect and acts directly on the central nervous system.

When valerian is used to treat sleep disorders or sleep difficulties, studies suggest an optimal dose of 450 mg valerian extract. At the same time it was found that a higher dose does not lead to a better effect.

Valerian is taken in the following form:

  • tea (dried and crushed root as well as flowers)
  • tablets
  • capsules
  • dragees
  • tinctures

In case of insomnia, it is advisable to take a cup of valerian, hops, mugwort and lemon balm before going to bed, which is slowly drunk in small sips.

Since valerian does not to tire, it can also be used for test anxiety. There are now products in supermarket available. You can replace many psychotropic drugs, because it is not only harmless but also not be addictive.

Preparation of Valerian tea (roots)

  • it is best to use valerian tea as a cold extract.
  • dash one to two teaspoons of valerian root with a cup of water
  • let the tea allowed to steep for about 12 hours
  • then filter and heat the tea to drinking temperature
  • drink in small sips
  • in a hurry or as tea blends you can also prepare the valerian root as an infusion and then let the tea steep for 10 to 15 minutes
  • do not consume more than three cups a day

Valerian flowers as a tea

If you like, you can also use the flowers of valerian as tea. The flowers are significantly milder than the root and smell more pleasant. They are usually not available in the trade, so you have to harvest them yourself. You can either prepare a cold extract or an infusion and drink as a tea.

  • use 1-2 teaspoons of flowers on 1 cup of water
  • dash with hot (no more boiling) water
  • let steep for 3 minutes
  • do not consume more than three cups a day

In addition, capsules, tinctures and tablets are also used. Capsules and tablets are usually taken in acute conditions, for example, high stress (e.g. test anxiety, interviewing) is pending.

Indications and side effects:

Valerian should not be taken by children under 12 years. There is little medical evidence to show how its supplements effect toddlers. The use of valerian should not last more than four weeks. There should be at least a four weeks break using it again.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Valerian – What is there to pay attention to?

Fresh plants are usually not available. If you want to plant valerian at home or in the garden, you can easily get fresh seeds. Most manufacturers of seeds have those in their assortments. Pay attention to the date of manufacture. Older seeds, which are a year and older, usually germinate significantly worse than fresh seeds.

Anyone who wants to use valerian as a medicinal plant for teas, can either buy ready-made medicinal mixtures or buy powdered or crushed roots. Which application one chooses depends very much on which type of preparation is chosen. For cold water extracts, which usually work better, powdered roots should be purchased, which can be filled even in tea filters. Finished mixtures usually contain other herbs such as lemon balm or hops.

If the teas are too expensive or not tasty enough, you can also fall back on capsules and dragees. Here almost all manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines offer products. It should be noted that in fact powdered valerian root is included in the corresponding products and not just extracts of individual active ingredients.

In addition to teas and dragees, drops or tinctures can also be purchased. The tinctures usually contain alcohol in the form of ethanol. The alcohol used is necessary to extract the ingredients from the valerian root. If you want to do without alcoholic extracts, only tea or capsules are left.

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