Common valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is a hardy herbaceous perennial, typically used in herbal medicine but also an attractive garden plant. In summer it bears tall stems topped with white flowerheads made up of many tiny blooms, which are loved by pollinators. Common valerian goes by many names including all heal, garden heliotrope and St George’s herb. It's also known as cat’s valerian as the plant is extremely attractive to cats. Medicinally, valerian root has sedative and calming properties. Rather confusingly, a plant widely known as red valerian – a common sight on walls and banks, especially in coastal areas – is not a valerian at all but belongs to the genus Centranthus.
How to grow valerian
Plant valerian in an informal setting in moisture-retentive soil. After flowering in summer, cut back faded flower stems to avoid self seeding, then cut back all growth after it has died back in autumn. Propagate by seed, division, or cuttings.
Where to grow valerian
Grow valerian in a cottage garden, an informal border or wild garden, at the edge of a pond or streamside, ideally in moist soil. Site in sun or partial shade. The flower stems of valerian grow to 1-1.5m tall from a basal clump of foliage, so plant towards the middle or back of a border.
How to plant valerian
Valerian is hardy and can be planted in autumn or spring, as well as in mild spells during winter. Summer planting can be done as long as plants are kept watered for the remainder of the first growing season.
How to propagate valerian
Valerian can be grown from seed sown in spring, from softwood cuttings taken from new shoots in spring, or from established clumps divided in spring or autumn. Either sow seed directly where plants are to grow, in mid to late spring, or sow in containers under cover in early spring and grow on to plant outside in late spring to early summer. Valerian will also self seed, so you may find new plants turn up from one single plant growing in your garden.
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How to care for valerian
Once established, valerian needs little care. Plants are liable to self-seed freely, so unless this is desired, cut off the faded flowers before seed forms, cutting the stems back to the ground.
How to harvest and use valerian
The medicinal part of common valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is its root. Wait until the plant is well established (at least two years old), and then dig up whole roots in late autumn. Wash the rots thoroughly, removing the tiny fibrous roots around the outside, then dry in an airy place such as an outhouse or under cover outdoors, as the roots give off an unpleasant smell.
Valerian should not be taken in large amounts or for a long period. Always consult a doctor, pharmacist, or a qualified herbalist before self-medicating.
Growing valerian: problem solving
Valerian is a trouble-free plant once established.