Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)

Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)


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Red Valerian is, as the name suggests, a member of the Valerian family (Valerianaceae) and a close relative of both garden valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and the popular salad plant, Lamb’s Lettuce / Corn Salad (Valerianella locusta). It is also apparently known as Jupiter’s Beard, American Lilac, Bloody Butcher, and Bounching Bess/Betsy.

A native to the Mediterranean, it is widely naturalized in British meadows and along our roadsides. It even thrives in cracks along the edges of pavements and in walls. Its billowy masses of tiny, fragrant, pink, white, or red blooms are borne on stems sometimes reaching 90 cm (3 feet), but more often around 50-60cm, and make it an excellent edible ornamental. Plants are perennial and very cold hardy.

The young leaves are mild, tender and semi-succulent, and taste a bit like and Iceberg Lettuce crossed with Broad beans, and are great in salads. As they get older, the flavour becomes a little stronger, and some bitterness creeps in. These are better boiled. During Summer, particularly in plants grown in full sun, some people will probably find them too bitter – during his part of the year we still use them, only more sparingly. We’ve found, however, that they become somewhat milder again as the temperature drops, so although fresh greens are available from this plant most of the year round, it really shine in winter, when there is less available, and when they can still be found growing, even under the snow.

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