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Bypass stinky tablet, grow sweet-scented herb

Thursday, August 9, 2018

By Marilyn McKinley

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

I grow several types of herbs. One of my favorites is valerian. That word might sound familiar, as valerian root can be found in tablet form in the vitamin, mineral and herb section of drugstores.

Valerian root has been described as nature’s Valium. It can be used as a calming and sleep aid.

As with any herb, it is important to discuss its use with your health professional before trying to use any form of it.

If you have ever smelled these tablets you will never forget the odor. It smells like the nastiest, dirtiest gym socks ever – just awful.

The above-ground version of valerian is quite another story – a lovely story.

This is a perennial plant, hardy to zone 4. The tiny white (or pink) blooms have a wonderful sweet smell.

This flower blooms in mid spring and is quite attractive in the garden. My valerian grows to about 5 feet tall. The leaves are fernlike.

I like to use the flowers and the leaves in spring bouquets. A gentle breeze produces a lovely aroma. Above ground valerian looks and smells like spring time freshness to me.

Valerian seeds are very slow to germinate. I strongly recommend that you begin with a plant. Almost anyone who has valerian will most likely be more than willing to share a clump with you.

You guessed it, it’s another herb that “travels’’ and is considered invasive in some areas. It does tend to travel in a line, so it would make a lovely back border plant. If I had neighbor issues, this would be a good plant for along the boundary line. It does attract pollinators, bumblebees and flies, especially hover flies. I am unsure, but I am pretty sure I have seen Mason bees on my valerian.

It blooms a little early for butterflies to be attracted to the flowers, but may serve as a host plant.

Valerian will grow in just about any soil. It needs sunlight and will not tolerate wet soil. A pH of 5.5 – 7.0 makes it happy. I never fertilize my valerian “crop.” When the flowers have faded, I cut the stalk off at ground level.

As with most herbs, the history is interesting. The herb originated in Asia and Europe. The word valerian means strong and healthy. Rats and cats are attracted to valerian. They say it’s like catnip for cats. As for rats, it is said that the Pied Piper stuffed his pockets with valerian to lure plague-carrying rats out of the village. I have never seen any cats or rats around my valerian. Maybe that’s because some history is more like folklore.

Check out pictures of this unusual herb to try in your garden at: