is a perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer. Valerian flower extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century. Native to Europe and parts of Asia, valerian has been introduced into North America. The flowers are frequently visited by many fly species, especially hoverflies of the genus Eristalis. It is consumed as food by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including the Grey Pug.
Rough extract of valerian root is sold as a dietary supplement in the form of capsules. Valerian root may have sedative and anxiolytic effects and has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the “envy” of the elves. In the 16th century, the Anabaptist reformer Pilgram Marpeck prescribed valerian tea for a sick woman.
John Gerard’s Herball states that his contemporaries found Valerian “excellent for those burdened and for such as be troubled with croup and other like convulsions, and also for those that are bruised with falls.” He says that the dried root was valued as a medicine by the poor in the north of England and the south of Scotland, so that “no broth or pottage or physical meats be worth anything if Setewale [Valerian] be not there.”
The seventeenth-century astrological botanist Nicholas Culpeper thought the plant was “under the influence of Mercury, and therefore hath a warming faculty.” He recommended both herb and root and said that “the root boiled with liquorice, raisins, and aniseed is good for those troubled with a cough. Also, it is of special value against the plague, the decoction thereof being drunk and the root smelled. The green herb being bruised and applied to the head taketh away pain and pricking thereof.”