Garden valerian (Valeriana officinalis), or garden heliotrope (no relation to heliotrope) is native to Eastern Europe. It is a pretty plant with long, graceful leaf stalks topped with white or light-colored flower head sometimes tinged with pink or a fleshy color.
A single 3-4 foot tall stem emerges from the root and compound leaves clasp the stem. At the top of the stem one or two flower stalks topped with cymes will appear and bloom from mid to late summer.
The flowers smell sweet, sometimes cloyingly, and the rest of the plant, when crushed, gives off the smell of sweaty socks.
New plants will grow from shoots where they touch the ground.
all-heal, amantilla, capon’s tail, cat’s valerian, fu, garden heliotrope, garden valerian, genicularis, marinella, phu, setwall, St George’s Herb, terdina, theriacardia, van, vandal root, wenderot
History and Folklore
The Latin valere from whence the common name of this plant originated means “to be strong or healthy” and it may refer to the healing applications of the plant or it may refer to its strong odor. Indeed the ancient Greeks called this plant “Phu” (like phew!).
It was believed that this plant had the properties of turning anything bad into good.
Valerian is happy in most situations provided it has fertile, weed-free soil and enjoys partial sun. It is best grown from shoots or by division as seeds do not germinate reliably. You should not allow valerian to dry out.
If you are growing to harvest the root later, cutting off the flowers as they appear is best.
Harvesting & Storage
Harvest valerian roots in autumn of its second or third year after the leaves have died back. Wash them and then dry them quickly and put in the oven at 120 degrees until they are brittle. Store in an airtight container.
Cats love the smell of Valerian and find it quite intoxicating. It is useful stuffed inside cat toys.
Valerian has a sedative action useful against insomnia, anxiety, and stress. It is also used to treat gastrointestinal pain and irritable bowel.
However, valerian is reported to be a mutagen so it is not recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
Valerian root is associated with the planet Jupiter and the element of water. It is also useful in Samhain and Yule celebration rituals.
Valerian root is useful in spells related to ending guilt and negative self-talk and developing self-acceptance. It is also useful in animal magic, especially cat magic and evoking animal spirits.
Also, for turning bad situations around to one’s advantage and finding the positive in a seemingly negative situation.