Friday, December 2, 2011

Valerian on Photo Friday

Valeriana officinalis growing
on a volcano in Central France

Today's Photo Friday is one of my favorite plants, the notorious valerian. 

I rely on valerian often in my life to help with muscle pain and spasms in my back, for menstrual cramping and for relaxation and sleep. I am a valerian girl. 

While valerian is a relaxing nervine, sedative and anti-spasmodic to the majority of people, a significant amount of people react in the opposite way to valerian. Instead of settling in for a deep sleep they find themselves agitated and very awake. 

I recommend starting out with low doses of valerian to figure out which category you're in. 

I use valerian tincture in fairly large doses for myself. Two dropperfuls at night will konk me out almost immediately. 

I also use it as a fomentation for back pain and muscle spasms. I generally combine it with ginger. 

One of the best uses of valerian is for those dry spastic coughs that often accompany the end stages of a cold or flu. You know those annoying coughs that often become worse when lying down, preventing sleep. 

To address these debilitating coughs I do two things. I take marshmallow root and/or linden leaf/flower infusions during the day to address the dryness. Then valerian root tincture at night to stop any residual coughing. For myself,  I just keep dosing the tincture until I pass out. This generally means two dropperfuls initially and then a dropperful as necessary. 

Various species of valerian can be used with similar results. I'd love to hear what species of valerian you're using. 
Valeriana sitchensis growing on Mt. Hood
in Oregon. 

Valerian sitchensis grows wild in the mountains above my home, but since I also grow Valeriana officinalis in my garden, I rely on that for most of my medicine. 

I planted this Valeriana officinalis a couple years ago. I purchased the sprout from Crimson-Sage Nursery and then planted it without really knowing what to expect. 

At the time it was about 12 inches tall. 

By the second year this valerian was easily 8 feet tall in my garden. 

The valerian is the tall green stuff at the
back of the planting box. 

Besides offering fragrant and beautiful blooms it also supported some great wildlife viewing opportunities. Here's a goldenrod spider having a little snack. 

The goldenrod spider can change it's color from yellow to white depending on it's
current flower home. (As you might imagine it is yellow when found on goldenrod flowers.)

I've tinctured the flowers of valerian but haven't had a chance to use them yet as medicine - have any of you? Please share in the comments below. 

Valeriana officinalis leaves

This fall I dug the roots of the valerian I had planted two years ago. It was easy to split the plant in two and then replant the second half. 

If you don't do this occasionally with the valerian in your garden the roots will become more woody and have less essential oils. 

Depending on who you ask, valerian roots can smell deeply earthy or like gym socks.   

When harvesting and preparing the roots for medicine  we want to process them minimally to avoid damaging the volatile oils in the plant. 

To make a tincture I put the roots in a bowl of coldish water and gently swished the roots around. This was to get most of the dirt from the roots. I didn't scrub the roots. 

The result was mostly clean roots. I chopped these finely and then tinctured at 1:2 at 75%. 

When this is done macerating I'll filter this really well to capture any stray pieces of dirt that made it to the batch. 

Valerian is easy to grow, can also be wildcrafted and provides effective relief for pain and sleeplessness for most people. I've relied on valerian so many times for aches and pains and periods of insomnia that I have a strong love affair with this potent smelling creature. 

Further resources: 
Mini-monograph on valerian (with a story about cats)
Another small monograph on valerian

Very thorough monograph on Valerian (by ABC) pdf