Every now and then I'll have a night where I just can't get to sleep but am reluctant to take conventional sleep tablets. I don't really understand the chemicals are used in them and really don't like that groggy feeling you get when you wake up. So several years ago I did a bit of research and found an excellent herbal tea that put me to sleep almost immediately. There were quite a few sleep inducing herbs in the mix which included hops, passionflower and St Johns Wort. However, the most important of all turned out to be Valerian and I've been using it on its own ever since.
If you've never heard of Valerian please allow me to introduce you to the strongest and safest natural sleep aid I've ever tried. It's also non-habit-forming which is a good thing if you have irregular sleep patterns and want to take this herb on a regular basis. Valerian as a medicinal compound is made out of the second year roots of the Valerian plant so it's 100% natural and requires no other additives - though if taking it as a tea or decoction, it will taste nicer if you blend it with herbs that have a better flavour.
If you end up not liking the taste of Valerian then you can also take it in tablet form. I believe that store-purchased gelatin capsules are simply filled with a powdered form of the dried root and that they'll have just as much effect, if not stronger, than Valerian in liquid form. It's also possible to buy empty gelatin capsules and insert your own dried herbs in them at home.
Valerian has a second use which you can see from the image above. Its pungent scent is irresistible to most cats and they'll go absolutely mad for it. I don't know what it is about this herb but it causes cats to start drooling and rolling around in it until they're properly stoned. I'd probably say that both Catnip and Valerian are to cats what Marijuana is to people. However if you have a cat that isn't keen on catnip (it does happen) it's good to know that Valerian can have the same effect on them. Feeding your kitty a little bit before taking them into stressful situations, such as trips to the vet or cattery, can be especially helpful to both pet and pet owner.
Because I use Valerian at home I decided to look into the possibilities of growing it for myself last year. This led to me purchasing some seeds from which I was able to grow a few healthy plants by March of 2011. The seeds were sown in a seed tray in my conservatory and were left growing in that container until they had true leaves. I then potted them into large modules and let them grow until they were about three inches tall before hardening them off. This means that I left them outside during the day and took them in for the night over the period of a week. I only planted them out in my allotment after I was satisfied that they'd be able to withstand nights out in the cold.
That first year the Valerian plants grew leaves about 2.5 feet in height and some of these leaves even stayed around through the winter. Then in spring of this year the plants put on masses of new leaves after which they sent up stalks which I allowed to set flowers. Apparently you can increase the medicinal strength of the Valerian root by removing the flower stalks but I left them on so that honeybees could gorge themselves on the flowers' nectar. Though the leaves and roots are a bit stinky the flowers smell gorgeous and all types of wildlife are attracted to them.
Last week, and after nearly eighteen months of growth, I decided to harvest two of my Valerian plants. Digging them up gently with the garden fork I then removed all the green growth and took the roots home to wash off first outside and then again in the sink. When most of the dirt was washed off I then used a pair of scissors to cut the long stringy white roots off and into a bowl. After washing them again I used a large kitchen knife to cut the roots into smaller pieces - between 1/2" to 1" in length. Probably any longer than this and the pieces might rot during the drying process.
These smaller pieces I spread out over some paper towels on my drying rack and then I placed the whole thing on the top of some shelves in the garage. To dry, they need to be in a cool dark place for three months and in my house this was the best place for them. I suppose a closet might do but there's no way I want my clothes smelling like this herb. Some have compared its odor to dirty socks and others think it smells like cat pee - maybe that's why cats like it so much?
Hopefully in a few month's time I'll be able to take the Valerian down and put it into a well sealed container until I can use it in my own decoctions. I also have some purchased from an online herbalist so I hope to compare the strength of that batch with my own. If mine feels weaker then I'll make sure to cut the flowers of the plants I want to harvest next year.
If you have Valerian growing in your garden or have some fresh or dried roots then I'd encourage you to try taking it for a good night's sleep. To make a decoction you place 2 tsp of the dried herb or 5 tsp of the fresh herb in four cups of boiling water. Cover the pot and boil the herbs for half an hour after which you can drink the strained liquid. After half an hour those four cups will have boiled down to just two cups which makes two servings. Drink 2-3 cups daily (nightly).
Have a lovely weekend :)