Dreamy, soft, relaxing; flowering herb valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is every bit as beautiful as it is useful. The botanical name of this medicinal herb comes from the Latin word ‘valere’, meaning to be well. Since the fourth century —and perhaps even earlier— valerian has been used as a medicinal herb to treat a variety of ailments; from anxiety and insomnia to hypertension, eczema and migraine headaches*. Recently, tablets made from the rhizomes and roots of this herb have regained popularity as a natural sedative and anxiolytic (read more here). Oil, extracted from the flowers, has long been used as a food flavoring and fragrance in perfumes…
One of the most fragrant of all garden perennials, Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a graceful, tall (4-6′), flowering plant (USDA zones 4-9), which can be grown as an herb, ornamental, or both. Stately yet ethereal, Valerian blooms from July through August, and can be used in mass plantings to create a light, summery screen between garden rooms; an effect I love. Beloved by many bees and butterflies (particularly Tiger Swallowtails), lacy, white valerian flowers have a sweet, musky smell; similar to fragrant heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), but with woodsier, mossier notes. It’s one of those fragrances you either love or hate, and I happen to like it very much. I enjoy filling my home with valerian during the summertime; cutting armfuls for mixed bouquets or solo arrangements, like the one featured in the photo at top.
I have grown Valeriana officinalis in my herb garden for as many years as I’ve been gardening. However, when planting this species, it’s important to exercise caution, as it does self-sow (however, unlike mint, I find it isn’t aggressive, and volunteers can be easily pulled from the ground). It should also be noted that this plant is listed as potentially invasive by a few U.S. states. Normally, I avoid all free-seeding, non-native plants, but I have mixed feelings about the inclusion of this medicinal herb (and other non-native herbs, like mint) on the invasive plant watch list. I have not observed herb valerian crowding out native species in the natural areas where I live. Much like domesticated apple trees (Malus domestica), most earthworms and those delightful, domesticated honeybees (Apis mellifera), herbal valerian (Valeriana officinalis) was introduced to North America by European settlers —themselves invasive, by the way— when they arrived. Three hundred years is long enough, in my humble opinion, to prove that this plant is no Kudzu (Pueraria montana). Many introduced species have benefits that far outweigh their risks, and until proven to be harmful to native species, I will continue to grow herb valerian in my garden.
*Always Check With Your Doctor Before Consuming Any Medicinal Plant or Herbal Medicine!
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