This section is from the book "Wayside And Woodland Blossoms", by Edward Step. Also available from Amazon: Wayside And Woodland Blossoms: A Guide To British Wild-Flowers.
The Great or Cat's Valerian will come under the notice of the rambler whose way lies by the stream-side, through wet meadows or swampy woods. Where it is found it occurs in abundance, and its pretty flowers massed together in great heads will attract attention at once. It has a short perennial rootstock, increasing by suckers, and narrow pinnate leaves, those from the root soon withering. The stems are from two to four feet high, bearing the broad corymbs of pink or flesh-coloured flowers. The calyx is five-parted, and the lobes are at first rolled inward, but as the fruit matures these lobes expand and assume the form of a circlet of finely branched feathery hairs (pappus). The corolla is shortly tubular, with five lobes. The stamens three, and the stigma two-lobed. It flowers from June to August.
The roots have long been held in high esteem as a medicinal agent in certain nervous affections; and in some places the plant is known as All-heal, owing to its virtues. It has a warm aromatic taste, but when drying it develops a foetid odour, which acts as a charm upon cats. If the reader would have cheerful nights let him plant Valerian in his garden, and every cat in the neighbourhood will call to enjoy it. Strange to say, rats are equally delighted with its fragrance, and rat-catchers are said to use Valerian to assist them in attracting their victims. Query: Had the Pied-piper a root of Valerian in his poke?
There is one other native species, the Small Marsh Valerian (V. dioica), chiefly affecting boggy places. It has a creeping rootstock, and the root leaves are egg-shaped, with a long footstalk, whilst those of the stem are deeply lobed in pinnate fashion, with a large leaflet at the tip. The flowers, which are pink, are minute, and of four distinct kinds, which may be thus enumerated according to the size of the corolla. 1. Large, with anthers, but no pistil. 2. Small, with anthers and rudimentary pistil. 3. Smaller, with pistil and rudimentary anthers. 4. Smallest, with pistil, but no anthers. Flowers May and June.
The name is from the Latin, vatere, to be in health.
Valeriana officinalis. - Valerianaeae. cat's valerian. 104