COMMON VALERIAN

Valeriana officinalis

Valerian Family [Valerianaceae]  

month8jun month8june month8jul month8july month8Aug

status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8white
 
inner
inner8pink
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ5
 
type
typeZumbel
 
type
typeZclustered
 
stem
stem8round
 
smell
smell8vanilla smell8custard smell8ice cream
vanilla

6th July 2007, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Always topped by a triple flower-head. Stem leaves sparse, and pinnate, becoming larger lower down, each one may have a pair of flowering stalks branching up at °50 or so. Despite growing near water, this specimen is not Marsh Valerian, which has leaflets which are much more rounded.


24th July 2012, extinct rly, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers now fully opened on all branches.


17th June 2005, Leek, Caldon Canal. Photo: © RWD
Grows up to 6 feet tall, usually very near water or on damp grassland. Un-like Red Valerian it has one or two pairs of narrow, slightly toothed, pinnate leaves up the single, usually un-branched, stem.


17th June 2005, Leek, Caldon Canal. Photo: © RWD
The flowers, pink in bud, but whiter pink when opened, form an untidy hemi-spherical umbel perched at the top of the stem.


17th June 2005, Leek, Caldon Canal. Photo: © RWD
The flowers have five rounded petals, flaring out at the end of a longer tube. Some flowers on the same plant have but four petals. A couple of bracts are immediately below the flowers.


27th June 2005, Rochdale Canal, Luddenden. Photo: © RWD
The flowers have three straggly stamens protruding from the flower with fawnish coloured pollen.


24th July 2012, extinct rly, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers are in flattish umbels and have long tubular pouches at the base.


24th July 2012, extinct rly, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
Flowers have long tubular pouches at the base and light-green sepal tubes with longish teeth.


24th July 2012, extinct rly, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
Has five short oblong petals with rounded ends plus five stamens with white anthers.


10th June 2009, Smardale Viaduct, Yorkshire. Photo: © RWD
The size of a golf-ball, un-developed flower-heads are shrouded in striped curled 'bracts'.


10th June 2009, Smardale Viaduct, Yorkshire. Photo: © RWD
The 'bracts' are papery, fawn-coloured, with a reddish stripe down the centre and slowly taper to a point.


1st June 2011, old railway line, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
The reddish stripe forks upwards like a flame.


1st June 2011, old railway line, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
The 'bracts' envelop the developing flower buds. They are turning green and becoming the two leaves immediately beneath the flower-head.


1st June 2011, old railway line, Rushton Spencer, Staffs. Photo: © RWD
Flower-head almost fully open, with bracts almost fully green and splayed out beneath the small 'umbel' of flowers.


27th June 2005, Rochdale Canal, Luddenden. Photo: © RWD
The singly-pinnate leaves are in pairs, with few toothed (or not), narrow lanceolate leaflets. This set is about mid-way up the stem.


10th June 2009, Smardale Viaduct, Yorkshire. Photo: © RWD
The lowest pair of leaves may be stalked and have more leaflets.


6th July 2007, Little Langdale, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Stem slightly ribbed in this specimen.


Some similarities to :

Could be confused with: Marsh Valerian but that has oval and un-toothed leaflets and lives in marshes, marshy grassland, fens and bogs.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics.

Grows up to 2m high either on damp or dry grassland or very close to freshwater. May grow in woods. It is slightly variable in characteristics, with leaves either toothed or not, and broad or narrow. Some specimens have pure white flowers.

Three sub-species exist, and which may represent the high variability observed in Common Valerian:

  • Valeriana officinalis sub-species collina [middle stem leaves with 15-27 leaflets]
  • Valeriana officinalis sub-species sambucifolia [middle stem leaves with 5-13 leaflets]
  • Valeriana officinalis sub-species dunensis [on dune-slacks on the Sefton coast].

Common Valerian has a smell similar to that of a vanilla-like perfume which is over-powering when it grows in profusion. Cats react in the same way to this smell as they do to Catnip, which is due to a chemical called Actinidine, see below.

One of the 20 proteogenic amino acids, L-Valine, is named after Valerian.

ESSENCE OF VANILLA

The flowers of Common Valerian smell of vanilla, but do not necessarily contain vanillin, the principle odorous compound of vanilla pods. The root of the plant has also been used historically as a herbal sedative or hypnotic due to the presence of valepotriate compounds (see below).

VALERIC ACID and VELARATES

Common Valerian contains valeric acid, or N-pentanoic acid, which has an un-pleasant odour. In small quantities, valeric acid is used in some perfumes, and hence valerian used to be harvested for the perfume industry. Two laboratory synthesized esters of Valeric Acid, Ethyl Valerate and Pentyl Valerate, taste of apples and in the latter example also of pineapple, and are used as food additives. Valeric acid is claimed able to treat acne, although no peer reviewed trials have been done. Despite, or perhaps because Valerian grows near water, Valeric Acid is poisonous to aquatic life.


Isovaleric Acid (aka 3-Methylbutanoic Acid and IsoPentanoic Acid) is a positional isomer of Valeric Acid is contained in the roots, which when dried smell of sweaty feet or pungent cheese. Indeed, the action of bacteria metabolising Leucine on sweaty feet produces IsoValeric Acid. There are also smaller amounts of Myrtenyl Isovalerate, an ester of it, which smells much more pleasant and is used in perfumery. Compare with the parent Myrtenol.

Common Valerian also contains Valproic Acid (2-propyl valeric acid), which is similar to Valeric Acid but possesses an additional 3-carbon aliphatic chain. It too finds pharmacological uses: for treating bipolar disorder and as an anti-convulsant in treating migraine and epilepsy. It affects the neurotransmiter GABA and is used as a substitute for lithium salts in the treatment of manic-depression (bipolar disorder).

Valeproic Acid (aka Valproate) may also find a use on the battlefield. Injured soldiers can go into shock after losing a lot of blood. Around 7 percent of our genes change their expression in response to loss of blood by the removal of 'epigenetic' acetylations of the genome. This deacetylation changes the way the genes work, resulting in the automatic raising of blood pressure, increasing the heart rate and conserving energy, which is called 'shock'. However, shock is dangerous if it persists for any length of time, and can lead to organ failure and death soon after. To try and prevent this shock response, histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC) can be administered which would prevent the removal of acetylations from the genome. Valproic Acid is one such promising HDAC, administration of which should save the injured from going into shock, and thus surviving long enough to reach hospital.

HDAC acts on DNA and makes it harder to switch genes on or off. HDAC inhibitors allow the genetic machinery to be switched back on again. In the brain the presence of HDAC after the initial early learning years stops the brain from re-wiring itself; brain plasticity is stopped. But HDAC inhibitors can re-awaken the brain plasticity (something normally un-desirable in an adult) and by this means it can treat bipolar disorder.

ACTINIDINE

Actinidine is a pyridine alkaloid which is present in the roots of common Valerian, and also present in oil of valerian, a herbal extract of the plant. Actinidine is a pheromone for some insects and has a similar intoxicating effect on male cats as nepetalactone which is present in Catmint (Catnip).

NEPETALACTONE

Nepetalactone, not present in Common Valerian but present in Catnip, is a bicyclic terpenoid that is chemically related to the valepotriates. By smell alone it has a profound effect on 75% of cats; it drives them half crazy with excitement. The other 25% are quite indifferent to this odour, as are the Authors cats.

VALEPOTRIATES

Common Valerian yields the iridoid alkaloids classed as valepotriates, pharmaceutical drugs used as sedatives. Amongst them is valtratum.

[Valium, or diazepam (a benzodiazepine), although similar in name as well as being a sedative, is totally synthetic, does not occur naturally and is quite un-related chemically to the valepotriates].

CHLORINATED VALEPOTRIATES

Common Valerian is one of very few vascular plants that are capable of converting the inorganic chloride ion into organic chlorine. Others are Yellow Star Thistle, Potato plants and many in the Pea Family of plants. Two chlorinated iridoids have been found in Common Valerian, Valechlorine and Valeridine.


  Valeriana officinalis  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Valerianaceae  

Distribution
family8Valerian family8Valerianaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Valeriana
Valeriana
(Valerians)

COMMON VALERIAN

Valeriana officinalis

Valerian Family [Valerianaceae]  

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