Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden
American valerian, Valeriana sitchensis, is also known as Sitka valerian. It’s closely related to valerian. Another plant sometimes called American valerian, Cypripedium calceolus pubescens, the nerve root is not related, nor is Jacob’s ladder (sometimes called Greek valerian). It’s very easy to tell these plants apart, particularly when in flower. The plant I’m covering in this post has tiny white flowers which are in clusters or even balls of many flowers on a single stem, whereas the nerve root is an orchid with fairly typical orchid foliage and large flowers in bright colors on individual stems and Jacob’s ladder has clusters of dark blue flowers. The plants are almost impossible to mix up unless you are going purely by the common name.
American valerian is a perennial which has male and female flowers on separate plants, so if you want to produce seed (so that you can replace plants you have dug up, for example), you will need several plants, to be sure of getting viable seed. The plant reaches a height of about 4 feet (120cm) and is happy in almost any soil, so long as it is moist. It will not grow in the shade.
The part used in medicine is the root. Dig up 2 year old plants after the leaves have fallen for use either fresh, or after drying by laying out in a single layer on kitchen paper somewhere out of the sun which is dry and airy. Turn the roots over every day or so until they are completely dry and store in a dark, cool place in an airtight container. However, fresh root is 3 times more effective than dried.
Make a decoction from 30g (1 ounce) of fresh or dried root to 570ml (2½ US cups or 1 UK pint) of water. Place the ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half (about 20 minutes), then strain and allow to cool. The correct dose is 1 tablespoonful a day maximum, and it is used for anxiety, insomnia, hypertension (high blood pressure), and cramps including those associated with menstruation and irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used externally to treat eczema, ulcers, cuts and grazes.
You will not be surprised that in common with all plants grown for use as herbal remedies, American valerian should be grown organically so as to avoid the active constituents being adulterated or completely negated by the presence of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.