Valerianaceae – Valerian Family
The family Valerianaceae is primarily a north temperate family, but has a substantial representation in the mountains of South America. It has about 13 genera and 300 species worldwide.
Most members of the Valerianaceae, and all ours, are herbaceous in habit but there are a few shrubs in the family and, in South America, some cushion plants. The leaves are opposite, often pinnatisect (which means pinnately cut but not completely divided into leaflets), without stipules, but frequently with clasping bases. The flower clusters usually have many small flowers, all or most of which bracts at the bases. The flowers are bilaterally symmetric and usually bisexual. The calyx is practically invisible on the flowers but often develops in fruit. It is located on the top of the ovary and basically 5-lobed. The corolla is united, with five lobes, often with a long tube and has a spur at the base in some genera. The stamens vary in number from 1 to 4.
The ovary consists of 3 united cells and is inferior. The ovary can be somewhat confusing to interpret because only one cell, with one ovule, develops. The other two cells may form an empty locule which splits open at maturity, or may simply not develop.
Many members of the Valerianaceae have a distinctive odor when dry. The odor reflects the presence of valerianic acid and its derivatives. These compounds are often most abundant in the roots. Several species have medicinal properties, and root and leaf extracts are used in treating nerve complaints. A few species are used for perfumes and dyes, for instance, spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansii, a Himalayan member of the Valerianaceae. Some European species of Valerianella are used in salads. However, some plants contain poisons in high concentrations.
Guide to Identify Presented Species of the Valerian Family

Valeriana acutiloba – Subalpine Valerian
Perennial, stem 10-60 cm tall, finely short-hairy. Rocky areas in the mountains. Flowers white, 4-7 mm long, tubular, with 5 spreading lobes, in dense clusters. Basal leaves spatulate, stem leaves opposite, whole or pinnate with few leaflets.
Valeriana sitchensis – Sitka Valerian
Perennial, 30-70 cm tall. Moist sites, foothills to alpine. Flowers white, 4-7 mm long, tubular, with 5 spreading lobes, in dense clusters. Leaves opposite, pinnately divided into 3-5 egg-shaped, blunt-toothed leaflets.
Valeriana edulis – Edible Valerian
Hairless perennial, 10-120 cm tall. Not too dry, open areas in the mountains. Flowers white, 1-3.5 mm long, with 5 spreading lobes, in elongated clusters. Basal leaves long, narrow. Stem leaves opposite, pinnate with narrow leaflets.
Alphabetical listing with links to presented species of the Valerian family:
Scientific Name English Name
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