Garden Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)


Valerian is a wonderful herb that I simply cannot be without! It has been used since at least the days of ancient Greece and Rome, so of course it is steeped in history. Mrs. Grieve says that "It is supposed to be the Phu (an expression of aversion from its offensive odour) of Dioscorides and Galen, by whom it was it was extolled as an aromatic and diuretic". 


It was so highly esteemed during medieval times that it was given the name All-Heal. Another common name was Setewall or Setwall, as in these lines from Chaucer:

"There sprange up herbes great and small, The liquorice and the setewall"

In his Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, Gerard writes that "it hath been had (and is to this day among the poore people of our Northerne parts) in such veneration amongst them, that no broths, pottage or physicall meats are worth anything, if Setwall were not at an end: whereupon some woman Poet or other hath made these verses. 

"They that will have their heale, Must put Setwall in their keale." 

Historically, it was used for a wide variety of ailments including epilepsy, neuralgic pains, cramps, hysteria, nervous unrest, heart palpitations, to strengthen eyesight, as a remedy for cholera, and even to stop a fight! During both World Wars, it was used to help calm the nerves of civilians during air-raids, as well as for soldiers suffering from shell shock. And it is still in use now to relieve pain and anxiety and to promote sleep. 

Mrs. Grieve also says that "Valerian has an effect on the nervous system of many animals, especially cats, which seem to be thrown into a kind of intoxication by its scent". For this reason, it is called Cat's Valerian, and it can actually be substituted for Catnip! According to Mrs. Grieve, "it is equally attractive to rats and is often used by rat catchers to bait their traps. It has been suggested that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin owed his irresistible power over rats to the fact that he secreted Valerian roots about his person". 

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