Attractive perennial growing to 9 in (23 cm). Has a pair of elliptical leaves, clusters of bell-shaped white flowers on one side of the stem, and red berries.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to Europe, this herb is also distributed over North America and northern Asia. It is widely cultivated as a garden plant. The leaves and flowers are gathered in late spring as the plant comes into flower.
Lily of the valley contains cardiac glycosides, including the cardenolides convallotoxin, convalloside, convallatoxol, and others, and flavonoid glycosides. The cardiac glycosides act to strengthen a weakened heart.
History & Folklore
The herbalist Apuleius, writing in the 2nd century CE, records that Apollo gave lily of the valley as a gift to Asclepius, the god of healing. In the 16th century, the herbalist John Gerard had the following to say about its therapeutic value: “The flowers of the valley lillie distilled with wine, and drunke to the quantitie of a spoonful, restore speech unto those that have the dumb palsie and that are fallen into apoplexy, and are good against the gout, and comfort the heart.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Lily of the valley is used by European herbalists in place of common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Both herbs have a profound effect in cases of heart failure, whether due in the long term to a cardiovascular problem, or to a chronic lung problem such as emphysema. Lily of the valley encourages a failing heart to beat more slowly and regularly, and to pump more efficiently, thereby improving blood flow to the heart itself via the coronary arteries.
It is also diuretic and lowers blood volume. The herb is better tolerated than foxglove, as it does not accumulate within the body to the same degree. Relatively low doses are required to support heart rate and rhythm, and to increase urine production.
Use only under professional supervision. Lily of the valley is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.