Growing Valerian: a Natural Sleep Aid

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden
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Every now and then I’ll have a night where I just can’t get to sleep but am reluctant to take conventional sleep tablets. I don’t really understand the chemicals are used in them and really don’t like that groggy feeling you get when you wake up. So several years ago I did a bit of research and found an excellent herbal tea that put me to sleep almost immediately.

There were quite a few sleep inducing herbs in the mix which included hops, passionflower and St Johns Wort. However, the most important of all turned out to be Valerian officinalis and I’ve been using it on its own ever since.

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If you’ve never heard of Valerian please allow me to introduce you to the strongest and safest natural sleep aid I’ve ever tried. It’s also non-habit-forming which is a good thing if you have irregular sleep patterns and want to take this herb on a regular basis. Valerian as a medicinal compound is made out of the second year roots of the Valerian plant so it’s 100% natural and requires no other additives – though if taking it as a tea or decoction, it will taste nicer if you blend it with herbs that have a better flavour.

If you end up not liking the taste of Valerian then you can also take it in tablet form. I believe that store-purchased gelatin capsules are simply filled with a powdered form of the dried root and that they’ll have just as much effect, if not stronger, than Valerian in liquid form. It’s also possible to buy empty gelatin capsules and insert your own dried herbs in them at home.
Dried Valerian available on Amazon: Frontier cut & sifted Valerian Root Certified Organic, 16 Ounce Bag

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden #herbalmedicine

Cats adore Valerian in the same way that they love Catnip

Valerian has a second use which you can see from the image above. Its pungent scent is irresistible to most cats and they’ll go absolutely mad for it. I don’t know what it is about this herb but it causes cats to start drooling and rolling around in it until they’re properly stoned. I’d probably say that both Catnip and Valerian are to cats what Marijuana is to people. However if you have a cat that isn’t keen on catnip (it does happen) it’s good to know that Valerian can have the same effect on them. Feeding your kitty a little bit before taking them into stressful situations, such as trips to the vet or cattery, can be especially helpful to both pet and pet owner.

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden #herbalmedicine

First season Valerian leaves grow to about 2.5 to 3 feet tall

Valerian roots are a gentle (and effective) sleeping aide, the flowers are visited by bees and other friendly garden insects, and the roots are irresistible to cats. It's like another type of catnip!

Valerian in its second year can reach over five feet in height

Because I use Valerian at home I decided to look into the possibilities of growing it for myself last year. This led to me purchasing Valerian officinalis seeds from which I was able to grow a few healthy plants by March of 2011. The seeds were sown in a seed tray in my conservatory and were left growing in that container until they had true leaves. I then potted them into large modules and let them grow until they were about three inches tall before hardening them off. This means that I left them outside during the day and took them in for the night over the period of a week. I only planted them out in my allotment after I was satisfied that they’d be able to withstand nights out in the cold.

That first year the Valerian plants grew leaves about 2.5 feet in height and some of these leaves even stayed around through the winter. Then in spring of this year the plants put on masses of new leaves after which they sent up stalks which I allowed to set flowers. Apparently you can increase the medicinal strength of the Valerian root by removing the flower stalks but I left them on so that honeybees could gorge themselves on the flowers’ nectar. Though the leaves and roots are a bit stinky the flowers smell gorgeous and all types of wildlife are attracted to them.

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden #herbalmedicine

Last week, and after nearly eighteen months of growth, I decided to harvest two of my Valerian plants. Digging them up gently with the garden fork I then removed all the green growth and took the roots home to wash off first outside and then again in the sink. When most of the dirt was washed off I then used a pair of scissors to cut the long stringy white roots off and into a bowl. After washing them again I used a large kitchen knife to cut the roots into smaller pieces – between 1/2″ to 1″ in length. Probably any longer than this and the pieces might rot during the drying process.

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden #herbalmedicine

Valerian’s stringy white roots can be used as a natural sleep remedy

These smaller pieces I spread out over some paper towels on my drying rack and then I placed the whole thing on the top of some shelves in the garage. To dry, they need to be in a cool dark place for three months and in my house this was the best place for them. I suppose a closet might do but there’s no way I want my clothes smelling like this herb. Some have compared its odor to dirty socks and others think it smells like cat pee – maybe that’s why cats like it so much?

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden #herbalmedicine

The roots need to be thoroughly cleaned before they’re cut up and dried

Hopefully in a few month’s time I’ll be able to take the Valerian down and put it into a well sealed container until I can use it in my own decoctions. I also have some purchased from an online herbalist so I hope to compare the strength of that batch with my own. If mine feels weaker then I’ll make sure to cut the flowers of the plants I want to harvest next year.

If you have Valerian growing in your garden or have some fresh or dried roots then I’d encourage you to try taking it for a good night’s sleep. To make a decoction you place 2 tsp of the dried herb or 5 tsp of the fresh herb in four cups of boiling water. Cover the pot and seep for half an hour after which you can drink the strained liquid. Drink 2-3 cups daily (nightly).

Dried Valerian available on Amazon: Frontier cut & sifted Valerian Root Certified Organic, 16 Ounce Bag

Valerian officinalis - a natural sleep aid that you can grow in your own garden #herbalmedicine

These roots will take around three months to dry fully

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21 Discussion to this post

  1. sanda says:

    Hello Tanya,
    Lovely post on Valerian. I can personally attest to its effectiveness as a sleeping aid. Although I have never grown or bought the root, I buy and use "Rest" tea by Tazo, whose main ingredient is Valerian. I brew a cup and within 30 minutes get extremely drowsy and drift off to sleep with ease!

    • It's pretty potent stuff isn't it? I'll have to look up the Tazo tea and see if it's available in the UK. The tea I used before is called Peace and was made by Fushi, though I don't think they offer it any longer. My guess is that it's because a new set of UK legislation on herbal remedies and ingredients took effect in 2010. Since it's now quite expensive to purchase commercial licenses for herbal medicines I think a lot of small businesses have opted out of buying them.

  2. lynda says:

    Can you tell me if Valerian is invasive like cat mint, which I have growing all over the pastures at the moment?? A few years ago I pulled it up and dried it on screens in my cellar (next to the oil furnace). Just before I was going to crumble it up and bag it to sell, I went down to find the cats beat me to it and it was all over the cellar floor and of course, ruined…

    • Hi Lynda 🙂 My experience in growing Valerian is that it's fairly easy to control. But I imagine that if you leave it growing without harvesting the roots or weeding out and moving the seedlings (which emerge from self-sown seed) it could become a large patch within a few years.

      I've read that some people choose to plant their Valerian in less-visited areas of their garden or even in containers. Maybe that would be a good option for yourself?

  3. I have never grown Valerian but I did know about it's properties. I didn't realise it took so long to dry the roots out. What are you going to do with it when it's ready??

    • The Hubster really does not like the smell or taste of Valerian so I'll be crushing this lot up in a mortar and pestle and putting it into capsules. Even if I open a packet of Valerian in the kitchen momentarily and then put it away again he knows about it (and complains 😉

  4. Anonymous says:

    Where do you get valerian? I could really use a sleep aid.

    • It used to be a bit more readily available before 2010 – see my response to the first comment. Nowadays the best place to buy it in the UK would be online from a reputable chemist (pharmacist). You can get some decent quality Valerian capsules from Auravita for around £8.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tanya,
    do you know if the leaves are safe to eat?

    • Hi Pal, to be honest I've no idea. I've never considered eating them before and don't think I've come across a reference of people using them for anything before. Would be well worth some investigation!

  6. Ananke says:

    Hi Tanya, my valerian seedlings have just poked their heads through and I've been reading up on how to grow them on. Your article was very helpful, thanks, I came across another article, which I can't seem to find again but I think it said that only second year roots should be used for medicinal preperation but I can't be sure now. Have you any knowledge of this?

  7. Hallie Hicks says:

    Hi Tanya, I am doing a school project on Medical Plants and I have chosen Valerian to be one of the plants that I'm researching and I was wondering if you knew where Valerian grows the best?

  8. Jolie says:

    Informative article, thank you. I picked up a Valerian plant last summer at the garden center, but wasn’t quite sure how to harvest it, so I just left for the winter. I was pleasantly surprised this summer when it shot up to 6 feet tall with tons of little white flowers. I don’t notice a bad smell, but maybe that’s just me. It’s a hardy plant, even with a stem breaking, that stem continued to grow and thrive. I did read somewhere that you can use the leaves and flowers to make tea, and it has a sedative effect. Now I know when and how to harvest it, and then how to use it afterward. Thank you.

    • lovelygreens says:

      They’re super hardy and will keep growing back each year if you let them. The smell of Valerian actually comes from the roots rather than the above-ground parts which is why you haven’t smelt it…yet! I wish you loads of success and a bit of fun in harvesting your first homegrown natural sedative. Roots from second year plants are better anyway!

  9. Jason says:

    Great article!
    I was wondering if it is safe to use a dehydrator? Does it damage the oils?
    I use Valerian capsule daily for my 2 of my dogs, do you know of any dangers of long term use?

  10. P Dhandapani says:

    I want to grow this valerian plant to use as a sleep inducer.Plz tell me where i can get it?

  11. AJ says:

    I have a lovely valerian plant that was gifted to me by the birds I think ! It does grow wild in the woods in our area – NE BC Canada. So I have been enjoying the look of this tall plant in the back of my perennial bed for a few years now. I haven’t tried digging it up for the roots, and this year I’m going to try drying some leaves and will make tea for starters.

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