In the Middle Ages valerian was not only valued for its medicinal qualities but was used as a perfume and a flavouring herb, It is said that rats are attracted by the smell of valerian and that the Pied Piper of Hamelin made the rats follow him by putting valerian in his pockets.
Valerian, valeriana officinails, is a tall, single-stemmed perennial herb valued for its rootstock. The leaves are made up of numerous lance-shaped leaflets and grow in pairs up the stem. The tiny, almost white, flowers form small umbels and these cluster together on short stalks at the tops of the stem. The flowers bloom from June to September and the whole plant has a strong pungent smell, particularly when the leaves are crushed. Valerian can be found growing wild in damp ditches and on marshy ground.
Valerian can be grown in ordinary garden soil but the roots grow larger in rich moist soil. The herb can be grown from seed sown in April directly into its flowering position and, when he seedlings are large enough to handle, thin to about l2in (30cm) apart. Valerian needs to be well watered at all times and especially in a dry spell. To ensure good thick roots cut off the flowers as they appear.
The roots are harvested in the autumn from two- or three-year-old plants. When they are first dug the roots have very little smell but it becomes progressively stronger as they dry. They are scrubbed and grated or chopped small, then dried in the dark and stored in the usual way.
Valerian is an excellent remedy for those who cannot sleep due to neuralgia, tension, headaches and overwrought nerves as a result of continuous strain. In some cases a single dose of valerian tea might be sufficient while with others it may take much longer for the herb to be effective. Valerian tea is soothing and relaxing but it must not be made too strong or taken over too long a period as it will bring on restlessness and a headache. It is always drunk cold.
* To make valerian tea: Use a level teaspoon of the dried grated root and pour on 1 cup of cold mineral water. Cover and leave overnight or for 24 hours if possible before straining. Make fresh valerian tea each time. The taste can be rather disagreeable but the tea can be sweetened with honey. It is most effective when drunk just before going to bed, and it should not be taken every night for longer than 2 weeks.
Use the tea in the form of a lotion to bathe swollen joints, bruises and contusions to soothe the pain.
* Small amounts of valerian can be added to a mixture of fragrant herbs in a herb cushion to relax and help those who cannot sleep.