- Family Valerianaceae
- Valeriana officinalis
- All-heal, Amantilla, Great Valerian, Valeriana, Setwall/Set-Wall, Setewale, Capons Tail, Heliotrope, Vandal Root, All-heal
Do not take for more than two or three weeks at a time without a break. Continual use or high doses can lead to headaches and palpitations.
It should not be taken during the day since it does promote sleep.
Do not take during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.
Do not take with sleep-enhancing drugs as this herb increases the action.
Do not confuse the herb with the garden plant, red American valerian (Centranthus ruber), which has no medicinal value.
Native to Europe and northern Asian, the herb is an erect perennial, growing to four feet with pinnate, divided leaves and clusters of small white or pink flowers. It has a massive root system and short rhizomes. The roots are a hairy, spindly mass and are collected in the autumn from two-year-old plants. It grows wild in damp areas, and is cultivated in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Russia for pharmaceutical purposes. Other varieties are found in South Africa, China, and Indonesia, the Himalayas, and North America. Each is used for a variety of reasons. Valerian grows as a weed in Europe and most parts of the British Isles.
The Greek physicians, Galen and Dioscorides, aptly called the plant “phu” because of its distinctive and rather unpleasant smell resembling that of ancient leather or something akin to stale perspiration. The older botanical classification, V. phu, reflects this. The root is still added as a musky tone to perfumes.
The plant was named in the 9th or 10th century, and the name is thought to have derived from the Latin verb valere meaning “to be happy.”
Valium, the most widely prescribed antianxiety drug, is said to have taken its name from the same source and from the herb itself.
For centuries, it was used for a variety of disorders, including epilepsy, which, in 1592, a cure of such was published by Fabius Calumna. Today, there is some evidence to support it as an anticonvulsant.
First mentioned in a medicinal context by Isaac Judaeus in the year 924 CE, it has since been highly regarded by herbalists as a nervine and sedative. Dioscorides and Gerard taught that it was an antidote for poisons, but it is as a treatment for nervous complaints that Valerian has become most noteworthy.
Since cats and dogs are attracted to the scent, it is said that the Pied Piper of Hamelin carried the root to lure the rats, and his music was just a decoy. In cats, it acts as a stimulant and can be substituted for catnip. In humans, it has the opposite effect and is a very popular remedy for insomnia.
It has long been valued by Nordic, Persian, and Chinese herbalists.
The variety, V. sylvatica, was used by Canadian Indian warriors as a wound antiseptic.
Valerian was used during the First and Second World Wars for treating shell shock and nervous stress.
Many tribes used the herb for treating nervous conditions and insomnia. The Blackfoot also used it to treat stomach problems, while several tribes, including the Thompsons of British Columbia and the Menominee, have used valerian root topically to treat cuts and wounds.
- lowers blood pressure
- volatile oil (up to 1.4% including isovalerianic acid, borneol, geta-caryphyllene)
- iridoids (valepotriates – valtrate, isovaltrate)
Root and rhizome
In recent years, the plant has been well researched and found to have chemicals called valepotriates which seem to depress the nervous system and act as mild muscle relaxants. Although the extracts are useful, the fresh plant is more sedating.
Valerian has been extensively researched in Germany and Switzerland which confirmed its sleep-promoting qualities. Other constituents are also responsible for its actions but they have not yet been identified. It is able to reduce nervous activity by prolonging the action of an inhibitory neurotransmitter. In essence, valerian seems to work by calming the brain and relaxing tensed muscles so that sleep can occur more naturally.
- Macerations, infusions, and tinctures are used to treat insomnia and anxiety.
- Compresses soaked in the tincture can ease muscle cramps.
- Washes from the infusion or maceration are used for chronic ulcers and wounds and for drawing out splinters.
Valerian has been found to strengthen the heart and can sometimes reduce high blood pressure, if it is caused by stress and anxiety.
It encourages ulcer and wound healing and, when used topically, is effective for muscle spasms and menstrual cramps.
As an expectorant, it helps a tickling, nervous cough.
In South Africa, V. capensis, is used for hysteria and epilepsy. In China, V. hardwickii, is used as an atispasmodic. The Menominee tribe of North America, used V. ulginosa for cramps and menopausal symptoms while, in the Himalayas, V. wallichi is used in almost exactly the same way.
It has a relaxing nature is a benefit to those unable to relax during stress-related periods and in general has a more calming effect rather than a sedating one. It is also beneficial in relaxing overcontracted muscles and helpful for shoulder and neck tensions, asthma, colic, and irritable bowel syndrome.
For more than a decade, it has been used to treat ADHD and researchers have found it to be more effective than pharmaceutical agents with fewer adverse side effects.
Nervous spasms and tremors, phobias, insomnia, and restlessness may be helped by using the herb.
It has also been successfully used as a tincture in treating the condition known as Ekbom’s Syndrome, or “restless legs”. This condition causes the person to feel that they must constantly move their legs to prevent cramping. The symptoms usually intensify at night when in a supine position. An infusion of Valerian root will normally keep the symptoms at bay if taken on a regular basis after the initial course of treatment is over. Valerian is not addictive or habit-forming and causes no known side effects. However, it should not be taken in large doses except under professional supervision.
Although it is not safe to take with Valium or other pharmaceuticals, it is safe to take with other calming herbs such as lemon balm, chamomile, catnip, or kava, and with 5-HTP, GABA, and other calming supplements. However, large amounts over a long period of time is not advised.