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Valerian








The great Wild Valerian, or Heal-all (from valere, to be well),
grows abundantly throughout this country in moist woods, and on
the banks of streams. It is a Benedicta, or blessed herb, being
dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as preservative against poisons; and it
bears the name of Capon's tail, from its spreading flowers.

When found among bushes, in high pastures, and on dry heaths, it is
smaller, with the leaves narrower, but the roots more aromatic, and
less nauseous.

The Valerian family of plants is remarkable for producing aromatic
and scented genera, which are known as Nards (the Spikenard of
Scripture), and which are much favoured in Asiatic harems under
several varieties, according to the situation of growth. Judas valued
the box of ointment made from the Spikenard (Valeriana
Jatamansi), with which Mary anointed the feet of our Saviour at
two hundred denarii (L6: 9s: 2d.).

We have also the small Marsh Valerian, which is wild, and the
cultivated Red Valerian, of our cottage gardens.

The roots of our Wild Valerian exercise a strange fascination over
cats, causing an ecstasy of delight in these animals, who become
almost intoxicated when brought into contact with the Simple. And
rats strangely exhibit the same fondness for these roots [584] which
they grub up. It has been suggested that the Pied Piper of Hamelin
may have carried one of such roots in his wallet.

They have been given from an early period with much success for
hysterical affections, and for epileptic attacks induced by strong
emotional excitement, as anger or fear: likewise, they serve as a safe
and effectual remedy against habitual constipation when active
purgatives have failed to overcome this difficulty.

The plant is largely cultivated for the apothecary's uses about the
villages near Chesterfield, in Derbyshire. It is named Setwall in the
North of England; and, says Gerard, No broths, pottage, or
physicall meats be worth anything if Setwall (a corruption from
Zedoar), be not there:--

They that will have their heale,
Must put Setwall in their keale.

The Greeks employed one kind of Valerian named Phu for
hanging on doors and windows as a protective charm. But some
suppose this to have been a title of aversion, like our English
faugh against any thing which stinks. Dr. Uvedale introduced the
Valerian into his garden, at Eltham Palace, before 1722; and
Uvedale House still exists in Church Street, at Chelsea.
The herb is sometimes called Cut-heal, not because, as Gerard
thought, it is useful for slight cuts and wounds, but from its
attributed efficacy in disorders of the womb (kutte cowth). Joined
with Manna, Valerian has proved most useful in epilepsy; and when
combined with Guiacum it has resolved scrofulous tumours. In
Germany imps are thought to be afraid of it.

At Plymouth, the broad-leaved Red Valerian goes by the name of
Drunken Sailor, and Bovisand soldier, the [585] larger sort being
distinguished as Bouncing Bess, whilst the smaller, paler kind is
known as Delicate Bess throughout the West of Devon.

An officinal tincture is made from the rhizome of Valerian with
spirit of wine, of which from one to two teaspoonfuls may be given
for a dose, with a little water. Also a tincture (ammoniated) is
prepared with aromatic spirit of ammonia on the rhizome, and this is
considerably stronger; from twenty to forty drops is a sufficient
dose with a spoonful or two of water.

The essential oil of Valerian lessens the sensibility of the spinal
cord after primary stimulation of its nervous substance. A drop of
this oil in a spoonful of milk will be a proper dose: especially
in some forms of constipation.

Used externally, by friction, the volatile oil of Valerian has proved
beneficial as a liniment for paralyzed limbs. The powdered root
mixed in snuff is of efficacy for weak eyes.

The cultivated plant is less rich in the volatile oil than the wild
herb. On exposure to the air Valerian oil becomes oxidised, and forms
valerianic acid, which together with an alcohol, borneol,
constitutes the active medicinal part of the plant.

The root also contains malic, acetic, and formic acids, with a resin,
tannin, starch, and mucilage. It is by first arousing and then blunting
the reflex nervous activities of the spinal cord, that the oil of
Valerian overcomes chronic constipation.

Preparations of Valerian act admirably for the relief of nervous
headache associated with flatulence, and in a person of sensitive
temperament. They likewise do good for infantine colic, and they
diminish the urea; when the urine contains it in excess.

[586] The Greek Valerian is another British species, found growing
occasionally in the North of England and in Scotland, being known
as the blue Jacob's Ladder. It is also named Make bate, because
said to set a married couple quarrelling if put in their bed. This must
be a play on its botanical name Polemonium, from the Greek
polemos, war. It is called Jacob's Ladder from its successive pairs
of leaflets.





Next: Verbena

Previous: Turpentine



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