Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is a medicinal herb with sedative, antispasmodic and nervine properties. It is recommended for people who are in a “cold” condition, which means they might look pale, have cold hands and/or feet. It is not the ideal herb for those experiencing a “hot” condition as it is a warming nervine.


Valerinaceae (valerian family)


Garden valerian, all-heal, cut-finger, valeriana, baldrian (German), xie cao (TCM)




Native to Europe and parts of Asia, valerian has been introduced into North America.


Valerian is an herbaceous flowering perennial.

Height: 1.50 meters (5 feet)
Width: 30 cm (about 1 foot)
Flowers: Pinkish white with sweet fragrance
Leaves: Opposite and compound with 7 to 10 leaflet pairs.
Blooms: May to July


Hardiness: Zones 4 to 9
Space: About 80 centimeters (about 30 inches)
Soil: Moist, between 15 and 21 Celsius (60-70 F)
pH: 55. To 7.0
Exposure: Sun or partial shade
Propagation: Root division in spring or fall and seeds
Germination: About 3 weeks; self-seeds easily but can be difficult to germinate.
Garden Design: Valerian looks great in the back of the border, especially near a passage. This way one can enjoy the flower aroma as one walks by. If you dislike the smell of the flower, plant it in the back of the garden away from passages and buildings.
Companion planting: Valerian stimulates earthworm activity which helps the plants in the vicinity.
Note: Deadhead flowers in the summer to increase root production. Cats love the smell of the roots.


Best done on a warm fall day or in the spring. Harvest the root and the rhizomes of plants that are at least two years old. The roots contain essential oils, so be careful not to damage them while harvesting. Don’t rub, scrub, scrape or scratch the roots. Rinse the roots off with a garden hose. Use immediately.


Although valerian root is best used fresh, it can also be dried. After rinsing off the roots, cut the lengthwise and let them dry on flat surface in a well ventilated room. Alternatively, you can use a dehydrator set at 40 Celsius (104 F). The roots smell very pungent so consider which room is best to dry them. Store protected from light and moisture.


0.3-0.7 % essential oil (valeranone, cryptofauronol, valerenal, camphene, bornyl acetate and bornyl isovalerianate), iridoids, glycosides, lignan, traces of alkaloids.


Sedative, nervine, antispasmodic, nervous system tonic, muscle relaxant, stomachic


Warming, drying


Acrid, pungent, slightly bitter


The roots of valerian have a pungent smell often compared to dirty socks.


When taken in the evening, valerian helps you prepare for sleep. It doesn’t necessarily help you fall asleep, but it improves the quality of sleep while reducing the amount of sleep needed. When taken during the day, valerian has a calming effect. It relaxes the mind and body, improves concentration and performance, and helps the body and mind better cope with stress.

Children with learning difficulties caused by nervousness and fear are greatly benefited by valerian.

Valerian is recommended for people who have poor blood circulation in general, but especially poor blood circulation in the brain and nervous systems.

For valerian to be effective, a high dosage is necessary. Often paradoxical reactions occur when the dosage is too low. Under 200 mg extract, valerian works as a stimulant. For the sedative effects, 900 mg extract is necessary.

Take internally for:

  • insomnia, especially when caused by nervousness
  • restlessness
  • anxiety
  • stage fright and stress before exams
  • sensitivity to changes in the weather
  • stomach and heart complaints caused by nervousness
  • tremors, especially caused by withdrawal syndrome

External application:

  • as a sleep aid (ointment on the soles of feet)
  • as a bath additive

Recommended daily dosage:

Per German Commission E: Tea: 10-15 g (2.5 g for children); Tincture: 1/2-1 teaspoon (2-3 ml or 40-60 drops) once or more per day.
Per herbalist Ursel Bühring: Tea: 1 cup, 3 times per day for 6 weeks. For acute situations, 2-3 cups 3 times per day

  • tinctures
  • infusion
  • powder
  • foot bath
  • ointments
  • liniment

Valerian is an edible plant and was regularly consumed in soups and stews in the middle ages. It fell into disuse, probably around the time Europeans started cultivating the potato.


Some people experience “paradoxical reactions”, which means that valerian stimulates them instead of sedating. This occurs more often when tablets are taken then infusions. For valerian to be effective, a high dose is necessary. Often paradoxical reactions occur when the dose is too low. Under 200 mg extract, Valerian works as a stimulant. For the sedative effects, 900 mg extract is necessary.




In the middle ages, people used valerian in perfume!


Bühring, U. 2015. Alles über Heilpflanzen. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Ulmer.
Bühring, U. Girsch, M. 2016. Praxis Heilpflanzenkunde. Stuttgart: Haug.
Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers.

Learn how to grow a gorgeous medicinal and culinary garden with Giovanna Becker

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