Horticulture Magazine

Valeriana Officinalis ‘Valerian’ Plant Care & Growing Tips

white flowers of Valeriana officinalis growing in a forest

Valerian Overview

Official Plant NameValeriana Officinalis
Common Name(s)Valerian, St George’s Herb, All-Heal, Cat’s Valerian
Plant TypeHerbaceous Perennial
Native AreaEurasia
Hardiness RatingH4
ToxicityMedicinal applications
FoliageDeciduous
FlowersSmall white or pink flowers
When To Sow IndoorsMarch
Plant OutApril, May
Flowering MonthsJune, July, August
When To PruneFebruary, March
Deadheading MonthsJuly, August
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun or Dappled Shade

Exposure
Sheltered or Exposed

Size

Height
1 – 1.5M

Spread
0.5 – 1M

Bloom Time
June – August

Soil

Preferred
Most soil types

Moisture
Moist but well-drained

pH
Any

Common Valerian can be a great perennial to grow in a UK garden.

But what exactly is Valerian, why should you grow it, and where? And how can you care for it and grow it successfully where you live?

Read on to learn the answers to these questions and find out whether this is a good plant choice for you.

What is Valerian?

Common Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is a herbaceous perennial native to Eurasia.

common valerian flowers in whitish-pink
Common Valerian

It forms upright plants around 1.5m tall, and bears round clusters of small white or pink flowers in summer.

This plant is also known as ‘All-Heal’, ‘St. George’s Herb’, and ‘Cat’s Valerian’ – as well as by a range of other local names.

This plant should not be confused with another wildflower and garden plant, called Red Valerian. Though it shares the name Valerian, Red Valerian is not closely related to common valerian at all – this plant is Centranthus ruber.

While this can also be a useful garden plant, it is not the subject of this article.

Common valerian is commonly grown as an ornamental plant, but is also well known as a medicinal herb. The name derives from the Latin verb ‘valere’, which means strong and healthy.

Valerian has been used in herbal medicine since ancient times. The ancient Greeks and the Romans prescribed it for a range of ailments.

The root has long been used medicinally across the British Isles, and in many parts of the world, it is still used in herbal medicine today and has been proven efficacious in a range of settings.

Why Grow Valerian in Your Garden?

We do not recommend medicinal use of any plant unless you know about herbal medicine or consult a professional in this field.

valerian tea in a glass mug, surrounded by flowers

However, with care and with certain caveats, Valerian can be a useful herb to grow in your garden for medicinal purposes. It is often used to encourage sleep, improve sleep quality and reduce blood pressure, amongst other things.

The active ingredients in valerian – valepotriates – have been confirmed by research to have a calming effect on those who are agitated. And yet also to serve as a stimulant when people are fatigued.

It is valerian root which is most commonly used.

Valerian essential oil is also used as a flavouring – considered especially important in apple flavours. The leaves are occasionally used as a condiment.

People also use the plant in moderation in herbal teas.

But even if you do not plan to make use of valerian as a medicinal herb or to obtain a yield, it can still be a very useful plant to grow in your garden.

Valerian can be useful to add height and structure in perennial garden borders. It can also be useful for filling space, since it can self-seed readily if given the chance in the right conditions.

Valerian is an attractive plant – but it is not just attractive to us. It also attracts beneficial wildlife to your garden.

It will attract a range of pollinators, and also predatory insects which help keep pest numbers down. This makes it a very useful companion plant in a range of settings.

It is also worth noting that cats are attracted to Valerian (in much the same way as they are to catnip) so it can be a good idea to plant this in a certain area to keep cats out of other productive areas of your garden where you do not want them to be.

Another reason that Valerian can be a useful companion plant is that it is a pretty good dynamic accumulator.

The leaves of the plant are rich in phosphorus, in addition to other plant nutrients. They can be added to your compost heap, where they can aid microbial life and speed decomposition.

The plant can also be chopped and dropped as a mulch around plants which will benefit, or used to make an excellent liquid plant feed by simply adding the plant material to water.

The thick tap roots of valerian can also help to break up compacted soil and improve drainage in heavier soils.

Where To Grow Valerian

A red admiral butterfly sat on the white flowers of Valeriana officinalis
A Red Admiral butterfly enjoying Valeriana officinalis

Common valerian is H4 hardy, and can grow well in full sun or in partial or dappled shade.

It will thrive in most typical garden soil types, though it prefers reasonably moist conditions. It is unfussy with regard to soil pH. Bearing these factors in mind, it can be a good choice for many different gardens across the UK.

Valerian can work well to provide height towards the back of a perennial border. It can work particularly well in more informal planting schemes, and wild, wildlife gardens.

Since it likes moist conditions, it can be a good choice for the edge of a pond or stream in your garden.

Since valerian attracts beneficial wildlife, including bees, butterflies and hoverflies, and thrives in dappled shade, it can also work well in a woodland garden, fruit tree, fruit bush or cane fruit guild, or forest garden design.

It will be a good companion plant for fruiting trees and plants.

One thing to note, however, is that you may not wish to grow valerian directly adjacent to a seating area, or a window or door of your home, since the smell of the flowers can be rather unpleasant up close.

Companion Planting

To maximise production in an orchard or garden, valerian is an excellent choice for guilds and companion planting. By drawing in pollinators and other beneficial insects, it can help to keep fruiting plants productive and healthy.

Valerian will grow well alongside other herbs which can thrive in light, dappled shade, such as Alexanders, Angelica, Mints and Comfrey, for example. And these are all also useful in a guild or forest garden design.

Good companions for valerian in a cottage garden scheme include many traditional cottage garden plants, such as Roses, Achillea, Daisies, Foxgloves, Hollyhocks, Geums and Hardy Geraniums, for example.

Since valerian can also grow in full sun in moist conditions, it can also work well alongside other many other useful culinary or medicinal herbs, perhaps around the edges of a vegetable garden, or in a dedicated herb garden area.

Sowing and Planting Valerian

Valerian seeds can be sown in spring. Seeds can be down under cover in early spring,  and grown on to plant out in late spring or early summer. Or they can be direct sown where the Valerian is to grow in mid to late spring.

However, you can also choose another means of propagation. You can take softwood cuttings in spring. You can also, at the same time of year or in autumn, divide existing Valerian clumps to form new plants.

As a hardy plant, Valerian can be planted out in spring or in autumn.

If you purchase a plant, this can also be planted out over the summer, though it is best to wait until the shoulder seasons to reduce transplantation stress.

If you do plant out in summer, make sure that you keep your plants well-watered, especially during hot and dry periods.

Caring For Valerian

Once the plants are established, Valerian is a great low-maintenance plant. It will require little care.

Mostly, this will just involve watering if the weather is dry. Remember, these are plants that like moist conditions.

The only other thing to think about when it comes to Valerian care is cutting back.

If you do not want your Valerian to self-seed freely then you should be sure to cut off faded flowers before the seeds are able to form.

Some gardeners will also prefer (for neatness) to cut back all growth after it has died back in autumn. However, in a wildlife-friendly garden, it can be a good idea to allow dead herbaceous perennial foliage to remain in place over the winter months before cutting back in the spring.

Harvesting Valerian Root

If you would like to harvest Valerian root for medicinal use, this is something you can do when your plants are at least two years old and are established.

valerian roots in a small wooden bowl

In late autumn, dig up the whole of the root. Wash the root thoroughly, removing the little fibrous roots from around the outside. The root can be used fresh or dried.

To dry the root, place it undercover in an airy space. An outbuilding or shed is ideal, and you will likely not want to dry the root in your home, as, like the flowers (perhaps even worse) it gives off an unpleasant smell.

Another thing to note is that unfortunately, the dried root can attract rats, as well as cats. So this is definitely something to bear in mind.

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