By Faye Sakellaridis
Valerian root is a pungent herb best known for its potent sedative effects — and its powers don’t end there.
Herbal Academy of New England’s Jackie Johnson writes in detail about Valerian in this article, from its geographic qualities to its rich lore and how to use it. Johnson writes that Valerian was believed to possess powers of "love, sleep, purification, and protection." Apparently, this tall plant can even stimulate the growth of neighboring plants by "stimulating phosphorus and earthworm activity."
Both the mythic tales and modern day usages of Valerian reveal an herb with many faces:
Most of us have heard the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, Germany who played his flute and led the rats out of town forever. Many feel the Pied Piper must have been familiar with valerian and put it in his pockets or rubbed himself with it. Rats love the smell, and it may have been the valerian, not the music, that enticed the rats to follow him!
The Nordic goddess Hertha is said to have used valerian as a whip to encourage the stag she rode to greater speeds! (The stag’s bridle was said to be made of hops.)
In magic, it was used in love potions, and in sleep pillows. If worn by a woman, it is said that men would “follow like children.”
Some people claimed that if valerian was thrown where people (especially a couple) were fighting, they would cease immediately! It is also claimed to tame the wildest of beasts.
The ancients Greeks would hang bundles of valerian in their homes, especially in their windows, to keep evil entities from entering. The Celts believed hanging it their homes would keep lightening from striking.
In the wizard world of Harry Potter, valerian was believed to have soporific qualities and was given in teas to encourage sleep.
It was generally regarded as a feminine element. Its powers were believed to be love, sleep, purification, and protection.
Where do the magic sleep potions end and the tincturing begin?
In Germany, valerian is used in more than 100 over-the-counter tranquilizers and is the number one nonprescription sedative in Europe.
When most people think of valerian, the first thing they often think of is sleep – for falling asleep, a good night’s sleep, and for waking without the usual grogginess of other sleep aids. It is one of the best gentlest ways to find sleep when used properly.
But it has also described as a nervine, hypnotic, antispasmodic, emmenagogue, nervous system tonic, sedative, stomachic, expectorant, mild anodyne, and a smooth muscle relaxant.
A long time ago, someone told me a good herbalist not only knows twenty herbs, but also knows twenty uses for one herb. Valerian would an herb with many uses.