Medicinal valerian, Catgrass

Valerian, or Valeriana officinalis

Medicinal valerian is a very fragrant herbaceous perennial known for its cat-attracting properties.

Medicinal valerian fact sheet

Name – Valeriana officinalis
Family – Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle family), into which the Valerianaceae family was merged
Type – perennial

 – 24 to 32 inches (60 to 80 cm)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary

Flowering – May to September

Its beautiful blooming also attracts other animals to your garden: bees.

Planting medicinal valerian

Fall is the recommended planting season for medicinal valerian. Plant them at a distance of 12 inches (30 cm) from each other.

You may also plant in spring specimens purchased in containers or nursery pots as long as you water a bit more at the beginning.

  • No need to add soil mix because valerian only has very limited needs.
  • Propagate through crown division in fall

Pruning and caring for medicinal valerian

Tall flower scape of valerian with white umbelsCut wilting flowers off as they die off. The plant propagates very easily through seeds, so if you want to limit its spread, diligently remove wilted flowers before seeds mature.

  • Cut back as short as you can in fall, once leaves have dried.

Valerian won’t turn into a woody shrub, so there’s no pruning as such to consider. Every spring, new shoots will appear from either the root crown or the base of the plant.

The different varieties of valerian

There are about 200 species of valerian.

Here are a few valerian species of notable interest:

  • Greater valerian, also called phu valerian or Valeriana phu – sometimes grown in gardens. Its roots are more extensive than those of medicinal valerian. Its fragrance isn’t as strong. It isn’t used in medicine anymore.
  • Red centranthus or Centranthus ruber – this valerian is grown for ornamental purposes under the name red valerian. This plant is also used in medicine, it contains high levels of valepotriates and its therapeutic effects are identical to those of medicinal valerian.

> Still more varieties are Valeriana dioica, Valeriana tuberosa, Valeriana montana

All there is to know about medicinal valerian

Not to be mistaken for the garden valerian, Centranthus ruber, medicinal valerian is a herbaceous plant that is also called catgrass.

  • Its peculiar smell tends to indeed attract cats.

Medicinal valerian is remarkably easy to grow and it adapts amazingly to any type of soil.

On top of this, it doesn’t require any watering.

Its flowers range in hue from pink to red and will match rocky backgrounds, flower beds as well as pot arrangements or garden boxes.

It is definitely one of the “herbs of old” that our grandmothers knew of, and is a great component of wild gardens.

Using medicinal valerian

The roots of medicinal valerian are used in many pharmaceutical preparations.

Medicinal valerian roots seem to have sedative properties. They soothe nervous contractures and insomnia, neurosis or hysteria.

Important note: Valerian is the type species of the Valeriana family. A compound present in all of these plants, valproic acid, acts as a soothing agent.

Valerian blooming in front of a lake or riverIngesting it during pregnancy (especially the first trimester) resulted in more birth defects (from 1 to 2% more) in the children. Symptoms include spina bifida, polydactyly (extra fingers/toes), atrial septal defect (hole in the heart), hypospadias (an abnormality in the urethra in boys), craniosynostosis and cleft palate. Do not use this herb if pregnant or if you might soon be!

Smart tip about valerian

For a nice ornamental impact, mix the colors.

Image credits (edits Gaspard Lorthiois):
Pixabay: J. Henning, Albrecht Fietz, Petra Fischer