I love to share my extensive gardening knowledge with readers so that they, too, can enjoy the wonders of all kinds of verdant plant life.
Sweetly Scented Flowers With Foul-Smelling Roots
Also known as garden heliotrope, valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are big plants with striking architectural leaves that can certainly make them stand out in any flower border. They can be grown from seed, although germination rates are uneven and poor.
Though often grown as medicinal herbs, they also produce sweetly scented flowers that can be used as decorative cut flowers for the home. Unfortunately, their leaves and roots emit a foul odour, making them not everyone's choice of garden flower to grow.
I love highly scented plants, however, and valerian is among one of the most powerful, with the sweet scent of cloves or, as has sometimes been described, cherry pie.
This guide will break down how to grow this beautiful and versatile plant and also take a closer look at its potential medicinal benefits.
Where Does Valerian Grow Best?
Valerian grows best in USDA zones 5–9 or equivalent. They require a weed-free environment because, they are slow-growing and are easily out-competed by fast-growing weeds.
They hate acidic soil. So if your garden has a pH of less than 7, you may wish to consider growing valerian in neutral compost-filled pots. Nitrogen-hungry always, your garden heliotrope will need regular feeding in order for it to give its best.
Seed germination is slow and erratic. But you can help by making sure the compost in which they lie is always moist, as valerian loves water. If you live in an area of high rainfall and can provide good garden drainage, valerian plants will love growing in your garden.
Tips for Growing Valerian
Valeriana officinalis are big plants that grow to 5' high and need space to grow and reach their maximum potential.
They can become invasive where they find ideal growing conditions, however. To stop them from self-seeding, cut off all flowers before they can set seed.
Once you have a healthy plant growing, it reproduces itself through seed and through its underground root system. Daughter plants appear around the parent plant with unfailing regularity and should be dug up and re-planted elsewhere as soon as they are spotted, preferably in spring or autumn.
Note: Cats are as fond of valerian as they are of catmint. So if you are trying to deter cats from your garden, you may wish to give this plant a miss.
How to Dry and Store Valerian Root
- Place a clothes-peg over your nose and dig up a valerian plant.
- Tease the roots apart, wash well, and place in a warm, dry place (out of reach of cats who will scratch it to pieces) until it is completely dried out.
- Chop it into small enough pieces to fit into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid that you can store in a dark place—a kitchen cupboard is ideal.
- When required, take out a piece and finely chop it up any way you can.
- If it's for your dog, give them about a teaspoon, mixed in their food. If it is for yourself, to aid sleep perhaps, mix it with something pleasant, like jam, to disguise the taste. (Note: See cautions below and talk to a veterinarian or doctor before giving valerian to your animals or ingesting it on your own.)
Read More From Dengarden
Normally, valerian is available in health food stores as a tincture, which is much easier to take.
Potential Medicinal Uses and Benefits of Valerian
Valerian is one of those plants that has been used since time immemorial as a sedative agent with calming effects—though how it achieves those sedative qualities in humans has yet to be scientifically concluded. In fact, many parts of modern day medicine are built around plants such as valerian.
Valerian may also help reduce some symptoms related to the following conditions:
Though valerian has also been used to help those experiencing anxiety and convulsions, studies on the efficacy of the herb to "treat" these conditions has been inconclusive.
Precautions to Consider When Taking Valerian
- Surgeries: Since valerian can slow down the central nervous system, those who are planning to undergo surgery with anesthesia should stop taking valerian at least two weeks prior to that surgery.
- Other Medications: If you are taking anti-depressants, anxiolytics, dietary supplements, or other medications that affect liver function, then consult a physician before taking valerian.
- Pregnancy and Breast-feeding: Since reliable information about how valerian affects people involved in these processes, it is recommended to avoid use if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- Side Effects: Some of the possible side effects of taking valerian include: drowsiness, sleeplessness, headache, dizziness, upset stomach, and mental dullness. Consult with a physician before ingestion.
Be Mindful of Dosage
I would caution that if you are planning on using home-grown valerian root for self-administration, then you read up all you can about dosage and the safe amount to take.
When you buy valerian preparations in the shops, there is normally very little of the active ingredients present, otherwise it would not be available to buy over the counter.
Can Valerian Be Given to Dogs?
Said to help induce sleep, valerian has the potential to be effective on dogs, simply by adding a little chopped up root to their meals.
If your beloved pet is hyperactive with an underlying anxiety problem, a teaspoon of valerian root added to its food may have a positive effect—though one should be careful and consult a veterinarian beforehand, especially if your dog is already on anti-epileptic or anti-fungal medications.
As the root smells and tastes vile, it can be mixed with a little peanut butter to make it more palatable.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on July 05, 2012:
If you like scented flowers, you can enjoy the scent while the cats enjoy the leaves and roots. Fair all round, don't you think?
Gulf Coast Sun from Gulf of Mexico on July 05, 2012:
Love the look of the plant, especially in zone 9. Will grow extra for the feral cats in the neighborhood. Thank you for this informative article. Kathleen
GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on July 05, 2012:
Ahh.. not a plant for folks with cat problems, but I love highly scented plants so could forgive it this. Strange plant where the flowers are beautifully scented, but the leaves and roots are horrible.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on July 04, 2012:
Very interesting. I have some OTC but have never taken it yet. Would love to grow it but glad to know about the cat thing since I have problems with that already. Thanks for all the info. ^
GardenExpert999 (author) from Scotland on July 04, 2012:
I bet it does! Cats LOVE Valerian, even if it does smell like sweaty socks that have been steeped in rotted cheese!
Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on July 04, 2012:
May be it is not picturesque enough but my cat likes to eat a piece of root if I dry it and cut into small particles.