Red valerian is a common perennial wildflower found across most of Europe and North America. The flowers can range from bright pink to purple and in some cases white. It was introduced into gardens before the 1600s, this plant from the Mediterranean soon escaped and became naturalised in the wild.
It is known to attract insects and it is a good source of nectar from May to October for bees, butterflies and moths like the Hummingbird hawk-moth.
As it grows and spreads so well it can end up being regarded as a pest. In fact it is listed as a NEMBA 1b invasive in the Western Cape, South Africa.
The leaves are generally 5–8 cm in length. Their form changes from the bottom to the top of the plant, the lower leaves being petiolate while the upper leaves are sessile.
As it is able to tolerate very alkaline soil conditions, it can grow and in many cases thrive in the lime in mortar. This allows Red valerian to grow in old walls in Italy, southern France and south-west UK.
Lastly, red valerian is often said to share into the sedative properties of its cousin medicinal valerian.
Red valerian is related to the Valeriana family. Inside all these plants is valproic acid, a compound that helps relax. It has been shown that eating any during pregnancy, especially at the beginning, resulted in more birth defects (1 to 2% added risk) in the children. These include spina bifida, atrial septal defect (a hole in the heart), hypospadias (in boys, an abnormality in the urethra), polydactyly (extra fingers/toes), craniosynostosis and cleft palate. Do not use this herb while pregnant or if hoping to be!