Valerian, how to grow, harvest and dry for use

If you've ventured into the world of herbal medicine you've probably heard of Valerian. Known for it's sleep inducing and anxiety reducing qualities, Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an easy to grow perennial that absolutely stinks to harvest and use! 

Grow, harvest valerian. Directions

That's actually a very funny fact because the valerian flowers smell quite nice, in fact they attract all sorts of pollinators to the garden. The white or pale pink valerian flowers have a sweet, almost vanilla like scent. Plus they grow to be about 6 feet tall so that scent wafts all throughout the garden. 

The valerian roots however don't have anywhere near as pleasant of a fragrance! They've been compared to the stench of dirty socks.

Truth time: I thought there was absolutely no way valerian roots could smell that bad. I was proven wrong and the dehydrator wafted that smell through my entire house. I also find that absolutely hilarious!

grow, harvest Valerian

How to grow and harvest Valerian

Valerian is fairly easy to grow but can be difficult to start from seed. It took me 3 tries before I got them started but luckily 6 seedlings grew that time. I haven't had to start more since. They multiply pretty well and oddly enough, it self seeds pretty well too. 

Since the valerian flowers stand on stalks up to 6 feet high, the wind will assist the seeds in blowing absolutely everywhere. Even all the way out to the end of your driveway! Want to ask me how I know? 

Because of this quality it made my list of 9 Herbs that want to take over your garden.


Growing Valerian

If you can get a valerian plant from a nursery or from someone already growing valerian, you'll have a much easier time. I couldn't find any plants locally and I ended up ordering my valerian seeds online. 

If you start valerian from seed they prefer loose, moist soil. I only put a dusting of soil on top of the seeds since light helps them to germinate. 

Valerian seeds are not particularly hardy, so you'll probably want to plant them as soon as you get them. You'll also want to save seeds each year if you plan on planting new plants. Last year's valerian seeds probably won't germinate.

I like to start all my seeds inside but I moved the seedlings into a row in the garden when they were a few inches high. I have a lot of birds in my garden and seeds that aren't planted deeply usually don't last long....but of course you might have better luck then that!

I spaced my valerian seedlings about a foot apart, but I thin the plant every year. If you're not planning on harvesting valerian roots yearly you'll want to space the plants out a bit more to start.

valerian flowers

Being as Valerian gets so tall, most people like to plant it in the back of their garden. This makes sense, except that when harvesting you're going to have to dig out the roots. 

make sure it's somewhere you can get to when you decide where to plant it. It helps though, if you harvest the roots in spring when most other plants are just starting to grow for the year.

Valerian likes the sun, so make sure it gets about 6 hours of full sun a day. It likes a well drained soil but also likes a good amount of moisture, which can be a difficult balance to achieve. 

I have my valerian in the flat part right before the slope in my garden. Water pools there a bit when it rains but does drain off fairly quickly. It seems to like it there!

Valerian likes a nitrogen rich soil and I usually mulch with compost in spring after harvest and feed with compost tea once a month through summer. You might want to cut the flowers off when they start to dry up. If you don't they will go to seed and blow seeds all over your garden. Even with their low germination rate, some are bound to grow.

Fun fact: Cat's love valerian! They will go after it about the same as catnip so you'll want to make sure it's in a cat proof area. If they roll on it when the seedlings are small they'll destroy them, though older plants may be able to handle the damage.

How to harvest valerian root:

I like to harvest valerian roots in the spring, but you could also do it in the fall. I usually pick every other plant and dig up the roots. Obviously if you just started seed in spring you won't be able to harvest till fall. I recommend only taking a small amount the first fall to allow it time to multiply, and harvesting every spring thereafter. That's just my method though, obviously do what works best for you!

harvesting valerian roots

I like to remove the leaves first so I can see what I'm working with. Just snap the stems off near the base and set them aside for now. Gently dig up the roots of each plant you've chosen to harvest. Fill in the holes with aged compost to nourish the remaining valerian plants. 

Rinse roots in an outdoor sink or bucket of clear water. They are hair like, thin roots so you might do best with a water sprayer as scrubbing just won't work.

Once rinsed, pat the valerian roots dry with lint free towels. I like to separate them into small clumps then spread them out on racks to go into my dehydrator.  I think they dehydrate faster this way. 

I set them on low, around 100° Fahrenheit. They usually only take a few hours although thicker roots will take longer. Check after 3 hours and remove the dry thin roots. 

drying valerian root on a screen in a dehydrator

Unfortunately this is the point that you are definitely going to be confronted with valerians stinky side! The term 'dirty socks' will probably come to mind though some people kindly refer to the scent as 'musty'. 

Either way, you'll want to use your dehydrator in a room with an open window as this perfume will soon be wafting through the entire house. Don't say I didn't warn you! 

You can also dry the valerian leaves. Many people like to use dried valerian leaf in a sleep tea. They are said to have a milder effect then the roots. To dehydrate, take the leaves you have set aside earlier and remove them from their stalks. 

Rinse leaves to remove dirt, pat dry and arrange on dehydrator trays. They can go in the dehydrator with the roots but will be done after about 3 hours. Store the roots and leaves in separate glass jars.

Valerian can be ground with a mortar and pestle and used in teas or to fill capsules. If you've read my post on why I don't buy herbal supplements anymore you'll understand why I prefer to fill my own capsules. Scary stuff! 

It's a much better idea to grow your own and I've had much better results with homegrown herbs then store bought anyway!

Disclaimer: In doing a bit of research for this post I keep coming across this information: Valerian grows up to 4 feet tall. While I believe this to be true, the Valerian in my garden in well over my head and I am about 5'3" with my garden boots on. 

Then again, my parsley is over a foot taller than it's supposed to be, so maybe it's something in the chicken poop I feed my plants! 😉


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I am not a doctor or other health care professional nor do I claim to be. I am simply passing on information that has worked for me. This information is not medical advice and is for entertainment purposes only. Please see a Dr if you are ill. Click for my full disclaimer.

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  1. Thanks for sharing the info from start to finish for the plant all in one post!

  2. I love using valerian! In the past I've used it as a sleep aid for my kids (and the hubby loves it too). I really would like to grow some of my own someday though. Thanks for the tips!!

    1. It's so easy to definitely should try it!!


  3. How do you dose the valerian root? By grams?

  4. Thank you for the good information. I just got my seeds today and can't wait. I'm glad I read how tall they can be, that changes my plan a bit. Can you use the flowers for anything or just the leaves and roots?

    1. Just the leaves and roots unfortunately. The flowers are lovely though so enjoy the sight and smell while they're blooming! You'll want to deadhead the valerian to increase root production. Good luck with it!


  5. Can you just take part of the roots off the same plant year after year? Or do you have to replant every year? I have two plants and was hoping to just leave them and harvest a little from each every year.

    1. Yes, they will spread! No need to replant. I planted my first little patch of valerian all in a row. When it came time to harvest next spring I took out every other plant. They filled in the that year and I had plenty to harvest from again the next spring. Now, they seeds are spreading I dig up the extra plants when I see them and put them all in one place. Let them grow and die off this year, then harvest in spring when they come back.


  6. My Valerian grew easily in a large pot with all of the seeds germinating! I plan to thin them out and put half in the ground for next year. They never flowered though, do they need to flower to harvest? Thanks! Glad to find you Lisa!

    1. No, they do not need to flower to harvest the roots, but any you don't harvest this year should flower next year.