Valerian Virtues: A Look Into the Plant’s Symbolic Significance and Folklore

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a plant that wears many hats. In addition to bearing charming pink flower clusters in summer, it also has medicinal properties and rich symbolic value. Moreover, it features in one of Western culture’s best-known fairy tales, though many of us probably haven’t heard that version. Here we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Valerian flower meaning in the language of flowers.

Everything You Need to Know About Valerian Plants

Valerian Symbolism – Key Takeaways

The valerian flower has a storied history. Its starring role is in a variation of the Pied Piper of Hamelin tale. In it, the piper uses valerian to draw the rats away from the city. It was also praised by the Greeks for health and stashed on medieval Swedish bridegrooms to ward off jealous elves.

Etymological Meaning

Valerian comes from the Latin word valere, meaning to be strong or healthy. It is also known as garden valerian, setwall, or heal-all. Sometimes, it is referred to as garden heliotrope, but it is unrelated to Heliotropium. Similarly, while Centranthus ruber or red valerian is occasionally referred to simply as valerian, the two are not closely related.

Valerian Flower Meaning & Symbolism

Soft pink Valerian Flowers in bloom

Traditionally, the Valerian flower has carried the symbolic meaning of strength, likely from the Latin name. Its white and pale pink flowers are good additions to bouquets symbolizing loyalty (white) and friendship or appreciation (pink). Valerian also symbolizes readiness or awareness in the language of flowers.

The Cultural Significance of Valerian Plants

Bright pink Valerian flowers in bloom against a blue sky

Valerian, in addition to its long-held reputation as a plant of medicinal note, has also made its way into various myths and legends throughout the ages.

Valerian Flowers in Ancient Egypt

The ancient Egyptians are said to have honored Valerian because their favorite animal, the cat, loved it.

Valerian Flowers in Medieval Times

Swedish groomsman in the Middle Ages tucked valerian on their person before the wedding to “ward off the envy of the elves.” It played a role in medicinal remedies, but historians also say it was an everyday food for people in Great Britain, who put it in everything.

Nicholas Culpeper, an “astrological botanist” in the 17th century, believed valerian was influenced by Mercury. As such, it could warm the user.

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Most people know the tragic tale of the Pied Piper. A town plagued with rats calls in the ratcatcher. He quickly dispatches them through, in some versions, the use of valerian as a bait.

The town reneges on the agreement to pay for the rat-free service, now that it is free of rats. In revenge, the pied piper leads every child of the town away, and they are never seen again.

Valerian for Fun and Profit

Okay, unless you’re the Pied Piper, there probably isn’t going to be much profit in the valerian plant for you. (And honestly, there wasn’t any for him either if you’ll recall.) But valerian certainly is a fun plant to have around!

Editorial Director | | Full Bio

Andrew is the Editorial Director at Petal Republic. He holds a BSc degree in Plant Sciences and has trained professionally at leading floristry schools in London and Paris. In amongst overseeing a global editorial team, Andrew's a passionate content creator around all things flowers, floral design, gardening, and houseplants.

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