- Name also: Common Valerian, Garden Valerian, All-heal, Garden Heliotrope (although not related to Heliotropium)
- Family: Honeysuckle Family – Caprifoliaceae
(formerly Valerian Family – Valerianaceae)
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Lacking surface runners, sometimes with short subterraneous runners.
- Height: 80–150 cm (32–60 in.). Stem branching, bristly, glabrous (sometimes short-haired at top), hollow, often reddish.
- Flower: Corolla slightly unequal, light red–white, 2.5–5 mm (0.1–0.2 in.) long, fused, funnel-shaped, base slightly distended, 5-lobed. Calyx small, collar-like. Stamens 3. Gynoecium composed of 3 fused carpels. Inflorescence an umbellate compound cyme.
- Leaves: Opposite, stalked. Blade pinnate, with 6–11 pairs and terminal leaflet. Leaflets with toothed–entire margins, terminal leaflet not really broader than lateral leaflets.
- Fruit: Egg-shaped, often with spreading hairs, with flying hairs, 2–3 mm (0.08–0.12 in.) long achene.
- Habitat: Shore meadows, river banks, stream banks, broad-leaved forests, forest margins, banks, fallow fields, abandoned lawns.
- Flowering time: June–July.
Valerian is most common on the Åland Islands and south-western Finland, but its habitat reaches to central Finland. Valerian’s native habitats are shore meadows and river banks, but it is clearly more common where people have been digging the earth in wetlands and loamy meadows.
Valerian gives off a dreadful pong (especially when it’s dried), and walking past large stands can really make people feel sick. The blame rests with valerianic acid, which is also a component of foot sweat. Tom cats can’t resist it, and it sends them into ecstasy when they are in heat at the end of winter: it can dig the root from the ground, roll around with the plant and even eat it. The ancient Egyptians, whose sacred animal could be so entranced by the plant, honoured it greatly. The root affects people too, by calming them down. This is exploited to treat a restless mind, over-active heart or to ease digestive troubles. Over the years valerian has been used to treat just about every malady under the sun, and the Finnish name of the plant is a reference to epilepsy. Its scientific name comes from the Latin word valere, meaning ’to be strong’, which is a reflection of the faith that was shown in the plant. Valerian is still an active ingredient in pharmaceutical products, and the plant is a subject of active research.
Valerian is difficult to differentiate from its close relative Valeriana sambucifolia (which like V officinalis in English is called valerian), whose habitat stretches to Lapland. Compared to valerian of this page, V. sambucifolia has less leaflet pairs (3–8) and the terminal leaflet is larger than the lateral leaflets. Additionally, its flowers are generally larger (corolla 4–8 mm long), and it smells less.