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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Valeriana officinalis | Valerian

Botanical Overview of Valerian

  • Scientific Name: Valeriana officinalis

  • Common Names: Valerian, Garden Heliotrope, All-Heal, Setwall

  • Family: Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle family)

  • Description: Valerian is a perennial herb that typically grows to a height of 1.5 meters (5 feet). It has a tall, hollow, and slightly ridged stem. The leaves are opposite, pinnately compound, and can be up to 15 cm long, with 5 to 11 lance-shaped leaflets. Valerian produces clusters of small, sweetly scented, pale pink to white flowers that bloom in late spring and summer. These flowers are borne in umbrella-shaped inflorescences and are highly attractive to pollinators. The plant's root, which is the part most commonly used for medicinal purposes, is thick and aromatic, with a strong, earthy odor that is often compared to old socks or damp earth.

valeriana officinalis botanical illustration

Properties of Valerian

  • Chemical Constituents: Valerian root contains a variety of compounds, including volatile oils (valerenic acid, valerianol), iridoids (valepotriates), alkaloids, flavonoids, and sesquiterpenes. These constituents are believed to contribute to its sedative and anxiolytic effects.

  • Edibility: While valerian root is not typically consumed as a food, it is widely used in herbal teas, tinctures, and supplements. The root’s strong, pungent flavor makes it more suitable for medicinal preparations rather than culinary uses. Valerian leaves have been used occasionally in salads, but due to their bitter taste, they are not commonly eaten.

Distribution and Habitat of Valerian

  • Native Range: Europe and parts of Asia.

  • Preferred Habitat: Valerian thrives in moist, well-drained soils and is commonly found in meadows, riverbanks, and woodland areas. It prefers full sun to partial shade and is often cultivated in gardens for its ornamental and medicinal value. Valerian grows well in temperate climates and is adaptable to a variety of soil types, provided they are not overly dry. In the wild, it is frequently found in damp, grassy habitats and alongside streams and ditches.

Medicinal Properties and Uses of Valerian

  • Traditional Uses: Valerian has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for nervous disorders, insomnia, and anxiety. Ancient Greeks and Romans employed valerian root to treat digestive problems and nervous conditions. In medieval Europe, it was known as "All-Heal" for its broad range of therapeutic uses, including as a treatment for epilepsy and as a general tonic. Valerian was also used to ease menstrual cramps and as a mild sedative during childbirth.

  • Modern Applications: Today, valerian is primarily valued for its sedative and calming effects. It is commonly used to alleviate insomnia, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. Valerian root is included in many over-the-counter sleep aids and calming supplements. Its antispasmodic properties also make it useful for relieving muscle cramps and digestive spasms. Studies have shown that valerian may help improve sleep quality and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep without causing morning grogginess. It is also used to manage symptoms of mild anxiety and to promote relaxation. Valerian is available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, teas, and liquid extracts. Despite its widespread use, it is recommended to use valerian under the guidance of a healthcare professional due to potential interactions with other medications and its strong, sedative effects.

Magical Correspondences and Uses of Valerian in Magical Practice

  • Element: Water

  • Planet: Mercury

  • Magical Properties: Protection, purification, love, and calming.

  • Uses: In magical practices, valerian is revered for its protective and purifying properties. It is often used in rituals to cleanse spaces and ward off negative energies. Sprinkling valerian around the home or adding it to protection sachets can help to create a safe and harmonious environment. Valerian’s calming effects make it suitable for spells and rituals aimed at promoting peace and tranquility. It can be burned as incense to induce relaxation and enhance meditation. Valerian is also associated with love magic and can be used in spells to attract love or to deepen romantic connections. Its soothing energies can help to mend emotional wounds and foster reconciliation. In folk magic, valerian was believed to have the power to drive away evil spirits and to protect against lightning. The plant's strong, earthy scent was thought to repel unwelcome entities and to purify both people and places. Valerian root can be included in dream pillows to promote restful sleep and to ward off nightmares. Its association with Mercury enhances its use in rituals involving communication, travel, and intellectual pursuits.

Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Valerian

  • Historical Context: Valerian has been cherished in both medicinal and magical traditions for centuries. Its reputation as a powerful healing and protective herb is well-documented in historical texts.

  • Folklore: In European folklore, valerian was often used as a protective charm. It was believed to guard against witchcraft and evil spirits. Valerian was also used in love potions and spells, particularly in the Middle Ages. It was thought to enhance romantic attraction and to bring harmony to troubled relationships. During the Victorian era, valerian was known as "Amantilla" and was used as a tranquilizer to calm the nerves and to soothe emotional distress. In some traditions, valerian was carried to prevent theft and to ensure safe travels. Its strong scent was said to confuse and repel unwelcome guests and spirits.

  • Mythology: While valerian does not have a prominent place in classical mythology, its attributes and uses align with themes of healing and protection found in many mythological stories. The plant’s ability to calm the mind and body reflects the qualities of divine healers and protectors in mythology. Valerian’s role in promoting sleep and dreams connects it to deities associated with rest and the dream world. Its powerful scent and strong presence in protective rituals underscore its enduring role as a guardian herb in magical and healing traditions.

Historical Literary Sources

  • "De Materia Medica" by Dioscorides (1st century AD): Includes references to the medicinal uses of valerian, highlighting its role in treating nervous disorders and promoting relaxation.

  • "The English Physician Enlarged" by Nicholas Culpeper (1653): Provides detailed descriptions of valerian’s medicinal and magical uses, noting its calming effects and its role in protection spells.

  • "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve (1931): Explores the historical and contemporary applications of valerian, with a focus on its sedative properties and its use in folk magic.


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