Grow Valerian as a Natural Sleep Aid
Valerian Roots make a gentle sleepy tea
It’s easy to grow valerian. Though it can get tall and can be knocked down by wind, it’s generally tolerant of both heavy and light soil. The flowers smell gorgeous in summer and attract bees and butterflies. In autumn you dig up some of the roots to use.
Valerian is used as a mild sedative and is taken as a tea or in capsules. The way it works is by gradually making you drowsy and you fall into a natural sleep. Best of all, there’s no hangover in the morning like you’d have with conventional sleeping pills.
Valerian for better sleep
Valerian is non-habit-forming which is a good thing if you have irregular sleep patterns. You use second year roots for this purpose and once dried they can be simmered into a strong-tasting sleepy tea. Blend valerian with better tasting calming herbs such as chamomile, passion flower, and lemon balm if the flavour is too strong for you.
The taste is why some people prefer to take valerian in capsules. You can fill empty capsules with your own dried herbs and keep them stored for up to a year.
Cats go crazy for Valerian
Valerian has a second use that might surprise you. Its pungent scent is irresistible to many 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.
Giving your kitty a little valerian before taking them into stressful situations can calm them down.
If you have space at the back of a border, definitely grow valerian. I started mine off as seeds that I sowed in spring. I let them grow in the seed tray until they had true leaves before planting them into large modules. They were about three inches tall when I planted them outside.
That first year the Valerian plants grew about 2.5 feet in height and then died down for the winter. 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 don’t need seed to grow valerian. 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.
Harvesting & Drying
Last week, and after nearly eighteen months of growth, I harvested two of my plants. To grow valerian is an investment but a worthwhile one!
Valerian has 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.
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.
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.
If you’re having sleeping issues due to a cold or flu, these herbs can help you recover.
Dried Valerian available on Amazon: Frontier cut & sifted Valerian Root Certified Organic, 16 Ounce Bag