In traditional herbal folklore a number of plants are reputed to have sedative properties. The list includes almonds, camomile, catmint, fennel, hops, indian hemp, lettuce, lime, marjolaine, may blossom, melissa, mullein, oats, orange flower, passion flower, poppy seed, rosemary, willow and valerian. Although there is no doubt that some plants have real and potent psychoactive properties (opium poppy and Indian hemp are good examples), most of the other herbal remedies are of more doubtful value and have fallen out of favour. All the above (except cannabis and opium) disappeared from the U.S. and British Pharmacopoeias many years ago, but valerian can still be found in the French German and Swiss Pharmacopoeias.
Valerian is the common name given to the genus Valeriana, herbaceous perennial plants widely distributed in the temperate regions of North American, Europe and Asia. Of the 170 or so known species, common valerian (Valeriana offinicalis L.) is the one most often cultivated for medicinal uses. The dried rhizome has a distinctive odour which is now regarded as offensive but which was, in the 16th century, considered to be fragrant, the root being placed among the clothes as a perfume.