Growing Valerian: a Natural Sleep Aid

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide
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Valerian Roots make a gentle sleepy tea

If you occasionally have trouble sleeping, then a mild sedative like Valerian can help. The roots of the plant when dried and made into a tea can gently bring you your zzz’s without the need of less natural medication. The way it works is by gradually making you sleepy and it can even improve your quality of sleep. Best of all, there’s no drowsiness in the morning like you’d have with conventional sleeping pills.

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

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

Valerian for better sleep

Valerian is also non-habit-forming which is a good thing if you have irregular sleep patterns. 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. It is easier to sip if you blend it with better tasting herbs — chamomile, passion flower, and lemon balm are great choices. If you’d like to buy the dried herb instead of growing it, you can  Get Valerian online.

If you end up not liking the taste of Valerian then you can also take it in tablet form. It’s also possible to buy empty capsules and insert your own dried herbs in them at home.

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

Cats adore Valerian in the same way that they love Catnip

Cats go crazy for Valerian

Valerian has a second use that might surprise you. Its pungent scent is irresistible to most cats and they’ll go absolutely mad for it!  It causes cats to start drooling and rolling around until they’re properly silly. 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.

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

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

On Growing Valerian

Valerian can be easily started off by seeds which is how I started off. I sowed them in spring and left them in the seed tray until they had true leaves. Afterwards I potted them into large modules and let them grow until they were about three inches tall before planting them outside.

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 (zone 9). They regrew this year sending up new leaves and tall flower spikes with beautifully scented flowers. You can increase the medicinal strength of the Valerian root by removing the flower stalks but I left them on for the bees.

2017 update: I’ve been growing Valerian for six years now and can add that it does well in both clay soil and lighter soil. I’ve given it the occasional mulch of composted manure but have left it to do it’s own thing most of the time. What you should be aware of is that in a good situation it can grow to five feet in height and needs staking. Otherwise you’ll find your plants knocked over by both the wind and their own weight.

You won’t need seed to propagate Valerian for years to come. The plants can send out runners that you can transplant elsewhere and you can also use root divisions to create more plants. In spring or autumn dig up the plant and chop it into a few pieces with leaf, crown, and roots attached. Replant and you’ll have more plants. Valerian also self seeds so you can transplant the volunteers if you wish.

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

Valerian grows wild throughout Europe and the British Isles. Image via Flickr

Harvesting & Drying

Last week, and after nearly eighteen months of growth, I harvested two of my Valerian plants. They have long spindly roots that dig up easily but take a lot of cleaning. I can recommend spraying them with the hose to loosen any hard clumps of soil.

Scissors are a great way of cutting the roots off the plant and then give them another wash afterward. Next, cut them to about 1/4″ in length for drying. You can compost the rest of the plant or if there are enough roots attached, you can replant it for next year. I’ve tried it and it works, especially if you remove most of the leaves and cut the plant down to about 6-8″ in height.

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

Valerian roots are long and stringy and can be difficult to clean

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

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

Drying Valerian for Tea

There are at least two ways to dry Valerian. The first is to spread the pieces out on drying racks and to let them dry naturally in a dim and airy place in the home. A drying cupboard if you have one would be ideal but I’ve dried Valerian in my garage and it works fine too. It can take up to several weeks for them to dry this way — you know they’re dry when the pieces are dark and brittle.

The other way is to use a food dehydrator. Each model is different so follow the instructions that yours comes with as far as temperature and time. It’s likely that your Valerian roots will be fully dried within a day this way.

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

Valerian roots laid out to dry

Preparing the Tea

To make a Valerian tea you prepare it as a decoction — basically you need to boil it. Place 2 tsp of the dried herb or 5 tsp of the fresh herb into four cups of boiling water. Boil for a minute then turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let it seep for half an hour before straining out the liquid. Drink 2-3 cups before you want to go to sleep.

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

How to grow Valerian -- a natural herbal sleep aide

23 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.

  12. ginny christensen says:

    Thank you for your helpfulness! I have a young valarian plant and was wondering if I could make a beneficial tea with the leaves while waiting for the plant’s roots to grow. Ginny

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