If you’ve ever had trouble sleeping, as I have, then there’s a good chance you’ve heard of valerian.
Valerian is a well-known herbal sleep aid that has, in recent years, popped up more and more in the vitamin and supplement section of drug stores. It’s become more popular because it can be just as effective as many pharmaceutical products, but has none of the side effects.
The plant is a native of temperate Europe, and while it has naturalized in North America, it’s probably not something that you’ll find amongst the dandelions in your yard. I’ve never seen wild valerian around here, but I’ve planted some and it has adapted just fine.
How to Grow It
Valerian grows easily from seed or runners from existing plants, if you can get your hands on any. It likes a rich, loamy soil and prefers things on the moist side, but will grow in a variety of conditions. It will grow well in the damp margins on the edge of a stream, but if you can’t manage that, it should thrive in a regular old flower bed.
The leaves are somewhat ferny in nature, as each leaf is large and divided into a number of coarsely toothed, roughly opposite segments. In spring (although not usually on first-year plants), a flower stalk emerges and rises well above the rest of the foliage (the stalks on my plants were taller than me, so well over 6 feet).
The flat cluster of white flowers reminds me of yarrow, and the flowers have a strong but rather enjoyable fragrance.
What’s Valerian Good For?
First and foremost, valerian is recommended for sleep support. It has been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years for that purpose, particularly if you have trouble calming your mind and falling asleep, but also if you can’t stay asleep. Several studies have demonstrated positive effects on sleep latency (how quickly you fall asleep), frequency of waking, and sleep quality.
It has gentle sedative effects, and while these properties make it useful for helping to sleep, it can also be used as a general calming agent, especially useful in times of high stress or anxiety.
Valerian can also be used as a muscle relaxant and mild pain reliever.
How To Use It
The root is the part that you use, and it can be used in a variety of forms. The simplest is to cut the root into small chunks, dry it, and steep to make a tea. The taste isn’t what I’d consider overly pleasant, but if you add a little licorice root or honey, it’s more tolerable. You can also buy an encapsulated powder form if you want to skip the taste altogether. But sometimes the burps after taking the capsules are just as bad…
You can also make a tincture by steeping in vodka for several weeks, then straining.
Valerian is considered very safe with minimal or no side effects, so as long as you’re not consuming huge amounts of it, there should be no issues.
For more healing plants, check out the rest of the Backyard Medicine Cabinet series:
- Lemon Balm
- St. John’s Wort
- Red Clover
- Stinging Nettles
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be one. I don’t think any of my statements have been evaluated by the FDA, which is probably a good thing considering some of the stuff they approve… Do your own research before trusting the word of a random blogger. While I certainly encourage you to try some herbal remedies, I’m not suggesting you ditch all your prescriptions. I think modern medicine is awesome; I also think the natural world is pretty awesome too, and can offer a lot for minor ailments.