Wild Valerian: Medicine of the Columbia Gorge

Sitka Valerian, photo by Tara Rose

Sitka Valerian, photo by Tara Rose

I had just parked at a beautiful waterfall in the Columbia Gorge and was on my way to lead a hike for my First Ways apprentices on Saturday when I spotted this lovely mystery flower. I was curious as to what it was, and simultaneously felt a strong intuitive hunch that it was Valerian. I got out my trusty Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast field guide to confirm or deny this hunch. I looked up “Valerian” in the index, turned to page 333, and –hurray! — found a matching photo. (Can I call myself a “plant whisperer?”)

Indeed, write the authors, Valeriana sitchensis is common at subalpine elevations in moist, open forest. The flowers, the book noted, are white and pale pink with long stamens. The leaves are opposite and divided into 3 to 7 coarsely toothed leaflets.

A related species, Valeriana officinalis, known as Valerian root, is a widely used herbal sedative. It tends to be polarizing in that some find the root enticingly sweet smelling — like I do — and others think it stinks. I believe this is because our biochemistry naturally interacts with the chemistry of the herb and indicates to us through our senses whether it is a good match for us. For those for whom it is unappealing, there are many alternatives that can do a similar job of relaxation and assistance for those sleepless nights, especially Passionflower, Skullcap and Kava Kava.

I’m the only person I have met who took Valerian root medicine by smoking it, which I did on a whim mixed with mullein because mullein is a lung medicine. I was experimenting with nervine smoke blends for a time.

I was curious about whether this wild herb could be used similarly. The field guide alluded to some native medicinal uses for this variety but did not get specific, so I got out my giant expensive ethnobotanical encyclopedia by Daniel Moerman to learn what is in the official academic records. Here I learned that, like the more widely used variety, it is the root of Valeriana sitchensis that has a history of medicinal use. Interestingly, it is recorded many times over as a cold and flu remedy, and also as part of a smoke mixture blend with tobacco for ceremonial purposes.
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13051737_10153537863038837_1202333867878047304_nIf you are one of those people who, like me, is looking forward to spending as much as time as possible this summer hiking and camping, but sometimes feel a little nervous about it because you don’t have wilderness first aid training and wouldn’t know what to do in an emergency, then you’re in luck, because the weekend of May 13-15 the world-renowned expert on this subject, Sam Coffman, is flying in from Texas to teach a three-day camping immersion on the subject that will get you certified in Wilderness First Aid plus 8 hours of herbal first aid training. It’s a lot of fun to sleep under the stars, have bonfires and go swimming in the Little Klickitat River. You’ll go home with confidence, plus two textbooks to keep as reference tools, one of which was written by Sam himself. The location for this experience is very beautiful and private, with a hot tub and catered home-cooked meals. There’s just one week left to sign up. Join me!

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13072657_10106271893946139_8623441421686074921_oIn cultures all over the world, indigenous people learn about the medicinal properties of wild plants through meditation, dreams and visionary experiences with entheogens (psychoactive plant medicines). Every one of us is indigenous to this planet and has the same capability. Explore your intuitive side with me in my upcoming Plant Spirits, Ganja & The Chakras series.
These events are detailed on my Plant Spirit Reiki website here. They are also listed on MeetUp; if you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, you can find the events listed on my group page, which is called Ascending Lightworkers of Portland.
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In case you didn’t know this, I did change my name this January to Tara Rose. So when you see all this stuff about Tara Rose and you’re wondering who that is, yes, that’s me, the same person who has been blogging on this website since 2008!

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