'Workhorse' Valerian Grex
Improvement status: Breeding population
Seeds per packet: ~90
Germination tested 1/2022: 52%
Life cycle: Perennial
Also known as Allheal, Garden Heliotrope, and Vandalroot, Valerian is an important plant ally to have naturalized around your garden or farm. The name Valerian comes from the Latin word ‘Valere’ which means to “be strong” or to “be well” — a hint at its powerful medicinal properties. This medicinal herb has been recognized for thousands of years in Europe for a wide array of ailments, but most often used for relaxation and sleep. During World War II, Valerian was widely used in England during the German bombing raids as an herbal tranquilizer. While it is most often used as a sedative or for insomnia and to improve sleep quality, it is also known to be used for anxiety, headaches, stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Generally, it is known to have a relaxing effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. Many of its medicinal actions have been confirmed by scientific studies and can be seen in many commercial herbal blends today. Indeed, it’s one of the most popular herbal medicines consumed in both Europe and the US.
But beyond its medicinal properties, Valerian has many other uses, including as an excellent insectary, attractive garden flower, nutritional bioaccumulator, and important plant in Biodynamic farming. A known dynamic accumulator of Phosphorus, it is used in both biodynamic and permaculture circles to add to compost piles or as a component in pasture mixtures. The leaves are edible and were used sparingly as a traditional spring leafy green or to flavor food, but most would probably not prefer to use the plant in this way.
The flowers are a well-known versatile insectary for a wide variety of insects and have a valuable place in “insect banks” or the medicinal flower garden, particularly as an excellent late-season source of nectar which attracts butterflies, flies, honey bees, hoverflies (syrphid flies), moths, native bees, and parasitic wasps.
This herbaceous plant creates a small mound about 2 feet tall of feathery droopy dissected leaves, heading to flower in mid-to-late summer, and displaying large panicles of tiny sweet-smelling flowers, white to pinkish in color, ultimately reaching a stately height of 6-7 feet tall. The flowers then give way to seed heads with a bit of puffy “cotton” attached to each seed that allows the seed to disperse around the garden or farm.
If growing for medicine, make sure to cut flower stalks as they emerge so as not to exhaust energy in the roots. You may harvest roots in the late autumn of the second year after it has frosted back. Root clumps can be easily spray-washed clean. Split any roots that are about ¾ of an inch or larger to ensure uniform drying. Remember to dry in a place where people will not be disturbed by the roots' pungent odor.
This grex is the result of years of selection of naturalized populations of Valerian derived from many sources from Europe and US including known medicinal strains. Selected for drought hardiness, vigor, and large root masses. What is a ‘grex’? Grex in Latin means ‘flock’ and though it was originally first used in the orchid hybridization world, it is an apt moniker for seed stewardship generally as we are shepherds who carry seeds forward into the world.
Start seed about 8 weeks prior to your last frost. Prepare a seeding flat with a good quality seeding mix and press the seed lightly into the soil or just slightly cover. Seeds are light-dependent. Keep evenly watered and germination should occur in the span of a couple weeks or a bit more. For best transplant success, wait until the seedling begins to push some growth. It is found all over Europe growing in moist places like along ditches or streambanks, and as such Valerian will grow best with consistent moisture throughout the season in a normal garden or farm setting. Valerian performs well in both full sun or part shade and is very cold hardy. It can survive down to USDA Zone 3 and will grow up to USDA Zone 9 as it needs a winter cold vernalization period of rest.
These seeds are the result of several cycles of selection by our dear friend and collaborator Chris Homanics in Washington state of Head, Hands, Heart Nursery and Seed. Some states (including Illinois and Connecticut) may restrict the planting of valerian, so be sure to check with your local authorities before ordering.