Botanical Name: Valeriana officinalis

Family: Valerianaceae (Valerian Family)

Common Names: All-Heal, Great Wild Valerian, Garden Heliotrope, Bloody Butcher, Cat’s Valerian, Sete Wale (Set Well), Sumbul-ul-tib (Farsi)

Identification: Valerian is a highly variable species with 3 subspecies. It is a stately perennial growing to 1.5m with opposite, odd-pinnate leaves, each with 1-12 leaflets. Dense pink flower heads in umbel-like structures appear June-August.

Distribution: Valerian grows almost throughout Europe and parts of Asia and thrives in damp, shady woodlands, along water courses, ditches and wet grasslands. It also grows in dry habitats to less height.

Parts Used: Rhizome & Root

Edibility & Nutrition: Seeds and leaves are edible in moderation and were used as a condiment in the past. Today the medicinal qualities of the plant are more commonly used.

Growing & Harvesting: Harvest roots September – October. Valerian grows well in ordinary soils, but prefers rich, heavy loam, well supplied with moisture. It self seeds and spreads by rhizome readily so if you are to plant this in your garden you will need to keep it in check.

Medicinal Actions: Sedative, Anxiolytic, Anti-spasmodic, Mild Analgesic, Hypotensive, Mild Bitter, Hypnotic

Qualities: Warming & Relaxing


  • Valerian has been used as a sleep aid for hundreds of years and is still the most widely recognised herbal sedative used today, helping the body relax in the presence of pain. It is safe, non-addictive and aids sleep with no morning hang over or interaction with alcohol. It’s complex action gives an almost stimulating effect to the anxiolytic properties which is why it is such a valued medicine.
  • Herbalist Julian Barker describes Valerian as:‘Unquestionably the supreme remedy in all cases of nervous trouble either on it’s own or combined with other plants.’
  • Valerian relaxes the nervous system and smooth muscle groups
  • Use Valerian for restless and nervous states including palpitations, nervous headache and nervous exhaustion, insomnia, anxiety and an inability to relax.
  • To relieve muscle pain and tension in menstrual cramps, rheumatic aches and IBS

History & Folklore: It’s name is thought to be derived from the Latin ‘Valere’ meaning ‘to be well’. Attractive to cats, rats and a few other animals, legend says that the Pied Piper of Hamelin used Valerian root attract rats to lure them out of the city.

Preparations: Best taken in small frequent doses throughout the day. The strange pungent odour of the root is an indicator of the strength of the medicine.

Recommended Doses:

Tea by decoction: Half to 1 tsp, three times daily

Tincture: 1:5 fresh extract, 25% alcohol.

Effective dose is variable therefore start at 0.5ml and increase up to 15ml.

Valerian Bath: To promote sleep after nervous exhaustion. 2 handfuls of crushed root in a muslin bag. Infuse for 30 mins in 2 pints of boiling water, strain and add to bath water or use the bag as a sponge.

Active Constituents: Volatile Oil, Terpenes, Valerianol, Alkaloids

A very complex herb with over 120 chemical components, though used in moderation it has been found to have no negative side effects.

Cautions: Occasionally Valerian can cause drowsiness in some (eg. when driving) and stimulation in others, so start with a low dose and increase if you find no side effects.


Barker, Julian (2001) The Medicinal Flora of Britain & Northwest Europe, Winter Press

Mrs Grieve’s Modern Herbal Online:

Rose, Frances (2006) The Wild Flower Key (2nd Edition)

Chevallier, A. (2007) Herbal Remedies, Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Breverton, T. (2011) Breverton’s Complete Herbal, Quercus Publishing.


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