Garden valerian is a perennial herb that is native to the temperate regions of Europe and western Asia. It has been cultivated in North America since the early 19th century as a medicinal herb. In the First and Second World War, it was used as a calming remedy for troops affected by shell shock and civilians traumatized from air raids. It is also valued as an ornamental plant. Dark green lance-shaped leaves grow in pairs along tall hollow stems, terminating in an umbrella-shaped cluster of tiny white or pink flowers. Despite is long history and its popularity, valerian is an invasive plant. Not only will it take over your yard but it also spreads into naturalized areas. Therefore planting valerian is no longer recommended.
If you have an infestation of valerian, the earlier you get it under control, the better.
|Common Name||Valerian, garden valerian, common valerian, garden heliotrope, all-heal|
|Botanical Name||Valeriana officinalis|
|Plant Type||Perennial, herbaceous|
|Mature Size||3 to 5 ft. tall, 2-4 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Loamy, sandy, well-drained|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4-7 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Europe, Asia|
Invasiveness of Valerian
Depending upon your location, valerian can easily become invasive. It is invasive in the northern United States and Canada. Before you plant garden valerian, check on the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States on whether it is invasive in your area. The same applies to red valerian (Valeriana rubra).
Garden valerian adapts well to a wide range of growing conditions, including cold climates. It tolerates both wet and dry soil, which enables the plant to spread vigorously in wooded areas, wetlands, grasslands, and disturbed areas such as roadsides.
Valerian is a prolific self-seeder. The seeds are viable for two years or less, which is not overly long compared to other invasive species whose seeds remain dormant in the soil for many years but its seeds are powdery and spread easily by wind. The plant also spreads aggressively by its rhizomes.
Valerian emerges early in the spring so it often has a head start over native plants that break their dormancy later. Native plants might not be able to compete for nutrients, water, and sunlight in a location that valerian has already occupied with its vigorous growth.
How Does Valerian Look Like
Valerian has dark green, pointed, toothed leaves with a hairy underside. The thick and hairy stems are hollow and support sweet-smelling white or pale pink flowers with five petals that appear between June and August. The flowers are tiny and form tight, dense, umbrella-like clusters. After they bloom, the flowers turn into oblong capsules containing numerous powdery seeds.
The outstanding characteristic of valerian roots is their pungent smell. It is somewhere between earthy and foul and funky, often compared to the odor of dirty socks.
How to Get Rid of Valerian
If there are just a few valerian plants popping up in your yard, remove them by hand. This is best done by lifting them out of the ground with a trowel to make sure you get the entire plant—the stem breaks easily—as well as the roots. Do this as soon as the seedlings emerge, and definitely before they flower and set seed.
If valerian has overgrown a larger area, you can mow it. Again, this needs to be done before the plants set seed. If you are too late, mowing or any other form of mechanical removal will make it worse because you will just spread the seeds around further.
A heavy infestation might require repeated mowing and a follow-up spray treatment with an herbicide containing glyphosate. Keep in mind, however, that this is a non-selective herbicide that kills all other vegetation around it.
Whichever removal method you choose, it is important to monitor the area carefully afterwards in order to get rid of newly emerging plants promptly before they set seed.
Are there any types of valerian native to North America?
Besides the invasive non-native valerian, there are several native species. They usually grow in the wild and are rarely available commercially. These include mountain valerian, marsh valerian (Valeriana uliginosa), sharpleaf valerian (Valeriana acutiloba), marsh valerian or wood valerian (Valeriana dioica), large-flowered valerian (Valeriana pauciflora), and edible valerian or hairy valerian (Valeriana edulis var. ciliata). These native plants are often rare or threatened species and their removal from the wild is prohibited.
What is the difference between valerian and red valerian?
Red valerian (Valeriana rubra) is a native of the Mediterranean, both northern Africa and southern Europe. It can also be an invasive plant. It blooms in May, earlier than garden valerian. Its star-shaped flowers are crimson-colored, pink, or white. Just like garden valerian, it also self-seeds easily.
Can valerian be grown in pots to make it less invasive?
Growing valerian in a container controls the spread of its rhizomes but you still have the issue of the seeds being easily dispersed. Make sure to remove the flowers right after they fade and before they turn into seeds, and dispose of the flowers in the trash.
Valeriana officinalis. Missouri Botanical Garden.
Invasive of the Week: Garden Valerian. University of Michigan, Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum.
Valeriana officinalis. NC State Extension.
Laws and Regulations to Protect Endangered Plants. United States Department of Agriculture.