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pierre laszlo

 
Valeriana montana (Valerianaceae)

Plant of the month (©Pierre Laszlo, all rights reserved)
Valeriana montana (Valerianaceae).

My motivation in writing this piece is to honor a lady, whose first and middle names are Valerie Annette, whom I had the great luck to meet in the mountains. 
A perennial, 10-50 cm tall, it forms tight carpets in Alpine meadows, typically between 1,000 and 1,800 m. The flowers, visible between May and August, are lilac pink in color. They are  tiny, 4-5 mm, with five-fold symmetry. The large inflorescence consists in dozens of florets. The plant is found in rocky environments, such as rock fissures or screes, often near a stream.  
The genus Valeriana originated in the Himalayas. It emigrated to both the Alps and the Andes. Its genome for the various species changes, upon colonization of various regions, often mountainous, accompanied by morphological changes, which it would be tedious to record here in detail.
We owe a lot to our ancestors. In this case, we can surmise that hunters-gatherers — the role of women should not be underestimated — had developed observational skills of the highest order. The empirical knowledge thus acquired was passed on, from generation to generation. It provided some of the roots of medical science and of chemistry.
Herb teas are a case at hand. With Valeriana montana, the root was used to treat various minor ailments. Such use continues to this day, in Germany especially.
But what are Valeriana — not so much V. montana as V. officinalis, a close relative — good for? Primarily, as a weapon in fighting insomnia, a condition so many adults, elderly people especially, are prone to. 
Does it work? Objectively, no better than a placebo. However, if the combination of a placebo effect and auto-suggestion makes for improved sleep, who can object? It is assuredly less harmful than barbiturates or benzodiazepines.