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
eaves 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.