Valerian is well known for its strong, distinct aroma, which only develops after the roots are dried. One of the most calming and deeply relaxing herbs we know of, valerian is often used in bedtime formulas and sleep pillows.*
Botanical name: Valeriana officinalis L.
Valerian was used for more than 2,000 years in a variety of ways -- including as a food, medicinal herb, perfume and spice. Its modern uses are related to its relaxing effects on people and animals.*
The name valerian (which did not come into common use until the 9th or 10th centuries) comes from the Latin word valere, meaning to be well or to be strong. Valerian root was official in The United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820 till 1936. Today, it's one of the best studied of the traditional healing herbs. It's also one of the most popular herbal remedies in Europe and the United States.
The distinctive aroma of valerian roots (often described as "stinky socks") is not present in the fresh roots. The chemical responsible for the unpleasant aroma, isovaleric acid, develops during the drying process and intensifies the longer the root is stored. In fact, the fresh roots have an earthy, sweet and musky aroma. For those who like the effects of valerian but have an aversion to the aroma of the dried herb, growing your own valerian and using it fresh, or tincturing the fresh roots, might be a good alternative.
Constituents of Note: An essential oil, present at 0.01 to 0.06% in dried valerian root, contains 150 different constituents, most importantly bornyl acetate, valerianol, valaranone, camphene, cryptofauronol and valernic acid. Valeopotriates (0.5 to 2.0%) are another important class of constituents in valerian. Also present are around 0.01% of alkaloids and some tannins.
Did you know? Valerian was once called herbe aux chats or "herb of the cats." Some cats seem to find the aroma of dried valerian as irresistible as the aroma of catnip, and they will roll around in it ecstatically. One legend has it that rats, too, are attracted to the aroma of valerian and that the Pied Piper of Hamelin actually used valerian to lure the rats out of town instead of his magic flute.