A Statement of Purpose

Since 2012 I have been responsible for
the garden at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum on Antietam National Battlefield. The Pry House garden began as a 19th century style medicinal and kitchen garden, including medicinal plants, herbs, and vegetables. As close as possible, these plants mirrored those available to the Pry Family in the 1860s, meaning heirloom varieties. Since then, the garden has transformed to focus exclusively on medicinal plants, becoming an exhibit of the flora that was employed by military and civilian caregivers in the Civil War Era.

I am strictly an amateur, with no real experience in growing a garden. The purpose of this blog is to document my experiences as I learn by doing. It is anything but authoritative and I welcome any comments and advice for a greenhorn. Please be kind!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Most Ancient and Healthful Herb of Valerian

One of the plants which I have been trying to grow from seed, but with very little luck, is Valerian. Thankfully this year I was able to find a healthy plant for sale at the Landis Valley Herb and Garden Faire, so I snatched it up and it is currently in bloom in the Pry Garden.

Valerian Growing in the Pry Garden

Valerian is one of those plants that has been used as medicine from a time before recorded history, right up through the present. Hippocrates prescribed it and it can be picked up in the herbal supplements aisle of the drug store today.

Valerian - Valeriana officinalis is a rugged perennial plant native to Europe and Southwest Asia, especially in the Mediterranean. It flowers in the spring with white or rosy pink flowers. It has been introduced in North America and elsewhere around the world, but is neither very common nor particularly invasive in the wild.

Valerian's usage has not changed substantially from ancient times to the present. It is generally taken today as a mild sedative thought to be efficacious in anxiety, depression, insomnia, and tension headaches or migraines. That has always been its primary usage, but historically it has also been prescribed as an antispasmodic and anticonvulsant, including for epilepsy.

Valerian was a standard item on the U.S. Army Medical Supply Table during the Civil War. Fluid extract of Valerian was listed as an antispasmodic used in epilepsy, hysteria, dyspepsia, spasmodic cough, and neuralgia.

Valerian was included in the U.S. Army Medicine Pannier, a fully stocked wooden medicine chest which was produced and sold by the laboratories of Dr. Edward Robinson Squibb in Brooklyn, NY. Squibb became a primary supplier of drugs for the U.S. Army during the Civil War.

Original Squibb Pannier in the collection of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine

The Label inside the lid of the original Squibb Pannier

Detail photo showing Valerian listed as #23 on the Squibb Pannier label

The Confederate States Medical Department valued Valerian just as strongly as their Union counterparts. Nevertheless, the blockade of Southern ports by the U.S. Navy made it nearly impossible to secure so many  supplies for the war effort, among them Valerian and other medicines. Confederate surgeons were often obliged to make due with limited supplies or find more obtainable substitutes.

In the case of Valerian, Confederate Doctors turned toward Yellow Lady's Slipper, Cypripediun pubescens, known by many alternative names, including American Valerian. In 1863, Francis Porcher wrote of the plant, "It is employed by the Indians, and held in high estimation in domestic practice as a sedative and antispasmodic, acting like valerian in alleviating nervous symptoms; said to have proved useful in hysteria, and even in chorea. A Teaspoon of the powder is taken as a dose." In 1862, the Confederate Government was paying one dollar per pound of lady's slipper root, presumably dried.

While the Confederates could not obtain Valerian and switched to the more plentiful lady's slipper, I have found Valerian, but not the lady's slipper.

I am on the hunt for Yellow Lady's Slipper! If you have any leads on this plant, let me know!!!


  1. Here ya go!


  2. Do you have any information about saw palmetto aside from Dr. Mercola's topic on prostate health? I need more option on which saw palmetto should I get for my father because he is now getting older and I don't want him to have any problems with his prostate in the future.