The Valerian Harvest

Today it is officially autumn, and there is so much still to harvest. Yesterday I brought in popcorn cobs as well as our typical round of fruit (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, strawberries — anything that will spoil if left on the plant too long). I also grabbed a shovel to get at our first valerian harvest.

You can see in the photo above that I broke off many of the stems and leaves before digging up the roots. It's a fairly shallow-rooted plant, so it didn't take all that much effort to get it all out of the bed in one block.

We have two valerian plants in the cutting garden, and I left one to come back next spring:

It's not much to look at right now, but in the springtime it is much fuller and is a darker green. It sends up strong, hollow stalks that are capped with lacy umbrels of white flowers. They smell very sweet — perhaps a bit too cloying, but nice on the breeze. They also look pretty in a vase, athough they don't last long.

But the real point of growing valerian is for its medicinal properties. It was used in medieval times as a sedative, and is also known as the poor man's Valium. The roots are still used as an herbal supplement to help with insomnia, so I figured I'd see if I could harvest some to test it out.

This is a second-year plant, and this spring I did my best to cut off flowers before they opened, which is supposed to help the plant put most of its energy into developing good roots. Once I dug up the roots and brushed off most of the dirt with my hands, I gave them a good blast with the hose to wash away the rest:

Once they dried a bit in the sun, I brought the roots inside to continue drying on a rack in the dining room:

Now, this arrangement might not last very long. Valerian is supposed to smell terrible as it dries, so I will probably have to move the roots out into the workshop or garage if complaints arise. As of today they smell sort of like an herby, earthy version of Vick's Vapor Rub — in the way that the camphor-like smell kind of sticks in the back of your sinuses. It's not bad so far, but this herb is renowned for its awful smell, so we'll see how it goes.

It's also supposed to be irresistible to cats and mice alike, but so far Fletch has shown zero interest in it. Maybe as it gets smellier? I'll keep you posted as the process continues.


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