By Lauren Stauber, Certified Clinical Herbalist

Valerian Valerian

(All Heal, Garden Valerian, Setwall, Great Wild Valerian)

Latin Name
Valeriana officinalis and other spp.


Parts Used
Root, dried and fresh; Leaf and Flower (less common)

Medicinal Properties
Valerian's medicinal uses trace back to ancient Greece and Rome. It is valued in Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Western Herbalism, and many folk traditions around the world. The pinkish white flowers have a pleasant aroma that has been used in perfumes. The fresh roots smell mild, but as they dry a stronger odor emerges that some find offensively reminiscent of dirty socks, while others don't mind it at all. One's response to this scent can sometimes reflect whether or not Valerian will be right for that person or situation.

Warming, spicy, slightly bitter, and very aromatic, Valerian is a complex herb with both relaxing and stimulating properties. It is famous as a sleep aid, but not suited for everyone. A person tending toward cold, contracted states might find Valerian deeply relaxing and restful. But someone with a hotter constitution might find it agitating and even stimulating. In this case, one might blend it with a cooling sedative herb like Hops or Skullcap. They might also adjust the dosage, form, or plant part used (Susan Weed finds the flower more relaxing than the root), however, sometimes Valerian just isn't the herb of choice.

Traditionally Valerian has been praised for a broad range of uses. Besides its benefits for insomnia, it has been observed to ease anxiety and fear, relieve rheumatic pains and headaches, relax uterine cramps, calm tremors, enhance digestion, expel gas, heal wounds and infections, soothe coughs, clear toxins, draw out splinters, reduce blood pressure, cleanse the eyes, and focus the mind. It was also used in Medieval Sweden to discourage the "envy of elves" during weddings. Cats are drawn to it in a similar way as to Catnip.

In Germany, Valerian is currently being explored for children with ADHD. Herbalist Matthew Wood talks about using 1 - 3 drops of tincture to improve mental focus. I'm taking two drops now. It tastes bitter and spicy on my tongue. I feel the warming aromatic oils dispersing a layer of tension, a softening in my throat and belly, and more space in my lungs and skull. My thinking is clearer, less cluttered. With just two drops, I feel more present, grounded, and open.

Cautions and Contraindications
When used appropriately, side effects are rare. There have been cases of nausea, dizziness, gastric discomfort and allergic reactions. Some herbalists believe Valerian shouldn't be used for more than a few weeks without a break. Safety during pregnancy and lactation is not well researched.

Preparations and Recipes
Valerian can be used in many forms, including as a tea, tincture, flower essence, liniment, poultice, oil, salve, and bath. In tincture, the fresh plant is preferred. Cold or hot infusions are preferred over decoctions to preserve the volatile oils.

Simple Valerian Tea
1 tsp. Valerian Root per 1 cup hot water. Cover and steep 10-15 minutes. or Cold Infusion: 1 tsp per 1 cup cold water. Let sit 1 - 8 hours.

A Pleasant Tasting Valerian Blend
This can be used as a nighttime sedative tea or a daytime tea to calm the nerves and support digestion (take small sips throughout the day).
  • Lemon Balm 2 parts
  • Valerian 1 part
  • Rose Petals 1/2 part
  • Anise Seed (bruised) 1/4 part
1 Tbsp. tea blend per 1 cup hot water. Cover and steep 10 - 15 minutes.

Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition by David E. Allen & Gabrielle Hatfield
The Earthwise Herbal (Old World Plants) by Matthew Wood
Culpeper's Complete Herbal & English Physician by Nicholas Culpeper
The Physiomedical Dispensatory by William Cook, M.D., 1869 — Susun Weed