Monday, September 17, 2012

Valerian: A Real Herbal Ally Chooses Me

Several weeks ago our Farm to Pharmacy class sat down in the garden bed designated for Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). We passed around two tincture bottles of the herb while we talked about its properties, and what we observed in ourselves after taking it. Valerian is considered a “hypnotic,” and Bill asked us what we thought this might mean. I noticed a lot of space opening around my thoughts and feelings, as though I could hold them more without being so identified with them. Bill spoke about Valerian's ability to help our attention move “sideways,” rather than to be single-pointedly focused. 

Perhaps we are considering the solution to a problem. Valerian can help us open to input, or suggestion (hence, hypnotic) other than what we habitually, compulsively, and/or rigidly focused on to “fix” whatever is wrong. This suggestion could come in the form of guidance from a teacher or mentor, or it could come in the form of simple awareness of our surroundings. As we sat in the garden bed considering and feeling this, a bird landed in the apple tree next to us and began making a crackling sound that most of us had never heard before in our entire lives. Was it our openness to input that brought the bird's song to us?

While we spoke and tasted, I noted that the particular quality of spaciousness I felt with Valerian might be useful to me when I was highly emotionally upset – which I tend to get sometimes – or else, when I was trying to contact spiritual guidance and hear its input. I have a practice that involves communicating with my inner self, as well as guidance, but I often find it difficult just to sit down and listen to what the voices within me are telling me, let alone distinguish between the voices of my wounded parts and those of my guidance. I thought that Valerian, based on my visceral experience of it right there in the garden bed (not on reading about it in a book and saying, “yeah, that's what I need”), might be extremely helpful to me in my practice. I also felt very connected to the plant itself, and was even inspired to give it a creative offering before we got up. 

A few weeks went by, and I definitely thought about Valerian now and then. I used it with great effect in a tea blend to help me sleep, but didn't take the time to use it with any intentions of opening to guidance. Then, at my boyfriend's house, after I'd been processing some trauma in therapy, I was hit with a surge of rage and confusion so strong I had to keep my mouth shut for fear that anything I communicated would be abusive. In fact, the little that I did communicate was abusive, and all I was able to say by way of kindness (though I badly wanted to be kind - and sane, for that matter) was that I couldn't speak because I was unable to not be abusive.

My boyfriend left me alone to tremble and work it out for myself. I must have asked for help of some sort from the universe. I looked beside me and there was a note pad on the desk. Usually, when I am emotionally disturbed and think of writing, I assume that it needs to be long and coherent, but I realized that I could just write single words – anything to get my feelings onto paper and out of their destructive path through my body.

Several words came. 


 “Can't say what I need to...” 

Finally, I wrote, “I want someone or something to hold space for me while I struggle through this.” 

Immediately, I thought of Valerian. Thankfully, I had a tincture of it in my bag. It was pretty lucky. I got down onto the floor with my bag and took the tincture out of it. I didn't take it right away. I felt desperate, but hadn't decided yet whether to trust that it would help me. Then I decided it would, and I took it. And took more. And more. Until I felt some relief. Which only took a few seconds. I started drawing with colored pencils. I drew the way my body was feeling; a crying eye, multiple layers of a heart being pierced by a dagger. I continued to take the Valerian every few minutes. Drawing was a huge relief in itself. But then, as I continued to draw and take the Valerian, something more happened. I chose the color green, rather than the reds, yellows and blues I'd been using. I began to take some deep breaths. I imagined a protective, energetic forest surrounding me, and the quality of it came out in my drawing. You can see below that I began to draw a flood of rainbow starriness around the painful parts of the picture. I started with green, on the right side of the page, and moved clockwise. The drawing eventually culminated in mountain-tops, and then a sunrise...

By the time my boyfriend came back into the room, I was able to communicate my needs. I wasn't perfect, but it was so much better. I still need to develop certain skills around communication and self-care that no herb can accomplish for me. That evening, though, I eventually came back around to myself, and I credit my new herbal ally, Valerian, for helping me to do it as gracefully as possible.

— Photos and post by Rebecca Mokey, Farm to Pharmacy intern


  1. Wonderful story, and an herb close to my heart... ( as my name is Valerianna!)

  2. You have released your emotions through your drawings and by writing. I really am inspired with this one. Thank you very much. I have two favorite tea, one of them is tulsi tea I got from mercola and the other one is this Valerian herb tea. Mixing your emotions on this one shows how wonderful your personality is.