RED VALERIAN (Centranthus ruber)

S Europe, Mediterranean to Turkey, N Africa

Valerian, Centranthus ruber, in bud







This sun-loving import from the Mediterranean, with its chalky ROSE-RED flowers & glaucous leaves, was introduced from Europe in the 1600s.

Now a favourite cottage garden flower, Centranthus ruber spills over walls & stony banks – it can be seen around Highbury in front gardens & in beds around street trees.

Red Valerian adapts to soils that are poor, alkaline, moist or dry, sandy or chalky, flowering from April through to October. Remove spent flowerheads to encourage more blooms. This will also prevent the formation of dandelion-like seed parachutes.





Bees’ Favourite.

Bees and butterflies are attracted to this plant. Centranthus is not to be confused with herbal Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), loved by cats & used by humans for insomnia.



Other names: Devil’s Beard, Drunkards, Drunkard’s Nose, Drunken Sailor, Drunken Willy, Drunkits, Fox, Fox’s Brush, German Lilac, Gipsy Lace, Good Neighbourhood, Good Neighbours, Jupiter’s Beard, Keys to Heaven, Kiss Behind the Pantry, Kiss Me Quick, Kissing Kind, Kiss the Garden Door, Lady’s Needlework, Pretty Betsy, Red Valerian, Scarlet Lightning, Spanish Valerian, Spur Valerian.

Centranthus ruber; Valerian May 25 2015

Unsuccessful at Highbury

Our first Valerian, ‘St George’, was a mix of white & red flowers grown from seed. It struggled with invading Bindweed tendrils from the concrete garden next door & was moved onto the earthwork. There it struggled with existing plants, as did its replacement. Sadly, this plant did not survive in our garden.






Valeriana officinalis

Valeriana officinalis, A Modern Herbal, Maud Grieve 1931


The herb Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, is a different plant. A flowering plant with white flowers whose root has long been used as a herbal remedy to treat insomnia. The use of valerian root dates back to the Greek and Roman Empires and was noted by Hippocrates to treat headaches, nervousness, trembling, and heart palpitations.

Other names:  All-heal, Amantilla, Baldrian, Bloody Butcher, Butcher’s Valerian, Cat’s Valerian, Capon’s Trailer, English Valerian, Fragrant Valerian, Garden Heliotrope, Phu, St George’s Herb, Sets Wale, Setwall, Tagar (Ayurvedic), Vandal Root, Xie Cao (traditional Chinese medicine.)

Sweaty socks and Valerian Root

Years ago a Valerian pillow was planned for Bertie, a cat who lived in Stoke Newington… I went to the Bread & Roses health food shop on Upper Street – & yes, they had Valerian root. It was in a large jar… as she opened the lid & a whiff of old sweaty socks wafted out, the assistant said ‘I hope you don’t think that’s ME!’

Friend Beryl made a small pillow for the Valerian root. She stitched ‘Bertie’ across it, & put it into a manila envelope with holes in it. This was addressed to Bertie. The Valerian aroma could be smelled through the holes in the envelope. The post office duly delivered it to Stoke Newington (probably wondering at the sorting office just who was this Bertie & what was his interest in sweaty socks).

Bertie’s humans, Angie & Ruth, got in touch… when the package came through the front door mail slot & dropped to the floor, Bertie had run into the hall… he returned dragging the aromatic package behind him. He KNEW it was meant for him, but needed help opening it. Once the smelly Bertie Pillow was brought out, it became his personal favourite. ‘Thank you so much, said our friends. ‘You shouldn’t have.’.