Valerian is an herb that is propagated for its medicinal properties. Growing Valerian is fairly simple in most climates. The root portion of the plant is harvested and dried for further use. It contains strong volatile oils that are the active ingredient in supplements and teas containing Valerian. Valerian should always be cultivated as opposed to wild-harvested to ensure the purity of the plant.
Valerian is a perennial plant that grows to four to five feet tall when in full bloom. The tall stalks are topped with dense clusters of pink or white flowers. The plant, which is native to Europe and western Asia, is most often found in wet areas such as marshes, and near stream banks. Valerian also commonly grows in ditches where moisture tends to puddle, and in areas that are far too damp for most other plants.
Valerian seeds should be planted in early spring. They require little more than a patch of damp soil; simply rake the area to loosen the dirt and press the seeds into the ground. Do not cover the seeds with dirt, as they need light to germinate. When planting Valerian, it's best to choose a spot that gets partial shade. However, the plant can tolerate both full sun and full shade if partial shade is not available.
Valerian plants require a great deal of phosphorus to grow, so it's a good idea to treat the soil with a high-phosphorus, slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the planting season. Keep the ground very wet, watering the Valerian heavily daily. Valerian is harvested in the fall, before the ground freezes. Use a spade to dig up the plant with the roots intact and wash and dry the roots immediately. The clean roots can be boiled in water to make a tea, or processed by a pharmaceutical company to express the oil.
Valerian root's uses are related to sleep and relaxation. The herb is often administered to insomniacs because it helps people fall asleep without the addiction and side-effects presented by many prescription sleep aids. It is also occasionally used as a pain reliever for mild symptoms.
Valerian should never be ingested with other sedatives, including alcohol, because over-sedation can occur quite easily. Side effects of taking the herb include headaches and heart palpitations. Discontinue use immediately if these symptoms occur. Like any herbal supplement, Valerian may interact with existing conditions and ongoing prescription medications. Always consult a doctor before taking Valerian.