Valerian Past and Present.
The first written record of valerian comes from the Islamic culture of 9th century North Africa via a physician called Isaac Judaeus, although it is also thought to be the plant Phu described in Greek and Roman texts where it is described as an aromatic and diuretic.
There seems to be little mention in anglo-saxon times but Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th century German mystic and healer describes it for “One who suffers from pleurisy, or is in pain from gicht..”.
By the 16th century it had reached the status of a “heal all” and Gerard, originally from Cheshire, England, in 1597 quotes a popular saying of the time:-
“They that will have there heale,
Must put Setwall in their keale”,
Setwall being the common name for Valerian during that period.
Famous herbalist Culpepper first to describe Valerian's nervine properties
Culpepper, our most famous herbalist, is perhaps, the first to describe its nervine properties, describing it as “often given with advantage in hysterical cases; and there are instances of it having effected cures in obstinate epileptic cases”.
However, its most prominent use was during both the first and second world wars, where its sedative nervine properties were recognised as second to none. During the First World War it was routinely given for shell shock and during the second it was much in demand for those suffering trauma during the blitz. Because of this wide demand, outstripping the supply of wild plants, it was commercially grown during this 30 plus year span.
Grown widely in Prussia, Saxony and Holland as well as the USA , the best was grown in Derbyshire, England, with this valerian demanding four times the price of the continental product.
The trade was centred on Chesterfield but extended right to the Stockport and Manchester border. Wild valerian was collected from woodland and cultivated in fields where the roots (the part used) spread and provided new shoots over the year.