Valerian has a long history in traditional Western pharmacopeia. It's considered a sedative for it's classic use as a calming herb. Valerian helps induce sleep and improves the quality of sleep.
By balancing the nervous system, it also lessons nervous irritability and cramps. Valerian both relaxes the nonstriated muscles and depresses the central nervous system.
The roots have a characteristic unpleasant odor, which is why the plant is taken in an extract form, such as an essential oil. The roots are gathered in the fall and made in into a tincture and glycerite.
Photo by @krnel
Valerian has the scientific name Valeriana officinalis. Other names are:
All-Heal, Amantilla, Baldrian, Baldrianwurzel, Belgium Valerian, Common Valerian, Fragrant Valerian, Garden Heliotrope, Garden Valerian, Grande Valériane, Guérit Tout, Herbe à la Femme Meurtrie, Herbe aux Chats, Herbe aux Coupures, Herbe de Notre-Dame, Herbe de Saint-Georges, Herbe du Loup, Indian Valerian, Mexican Valerian, Pacific Valerian, Rhizome de Valériane, Tagar, Tagar-Ganthoda, Tagara, Valeriana, Valeriana angustifolia, Valeriana edulis, Valeriana fauriei, Valeriana jatamansii, Valeriana officinalis, Valeriana Pseudofficinalis, Valeriana Rhizome, Valeriana sitchensis, Valeriana wallichii, Valerianae Radix, Valeriane, Valériane, Valériane à Petites Feuilles, Valériane Africaine, Valériane Celtique, Valériane Commune, Valériane de Belgique, Valériane des Collines, Valériane Dioïque, Valériane du Jardin, Valériane Indienne, Valériane Mexicaine, Valériane Officinale, Valériane Sauvage.
- used to induce sleep
- calming effect on nervous system
- attracts cats like catnip
- invasive species
Use as a medicinal herb stretches into at least ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described it, and Galen used it as a remedy for insomnia. Medieval Sweden used it in wedding clothes to ward off the envy of elves. It was said to hav ebeen used by the poor in the north of England and south of Scotland.
The herb's name comes from the personal names Valeria and is of Latin origin through the verb valere, meaning to be strong or healthy.
Where is it found?
Valerian is a perennial flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. It has been introduced into North America and is considered and invasive species. In Connecticut it's officially banned.
What's it used for?
Valerian acts like a sedative on the brain and nervous system. The most common use is for treating sleeping disorders like insomnia. Taken orally it has a calming effect which help with treating anxiety and psychological stress.
The essential oil extract is sometimes used as a flavoring in food and beverage.
In studies, taking 400-900mg 15 to 20 minutes before bed seem to work best for insomnia. It might be required to take it for several days before it takes effect. It might also help to help epopel sleep who are coming off of sleeping pills.
Research also shows a 675-1060mg dose for 8 weeks reduces the severity and frequency of hot flashes in postmenopausal women.
Are there any risks?
It's safe to take, even for weeks. Research of 12,000 people who have taken it for up to 28 days has shown it's safe, even for children.
Some side effects reported may include headache, stomach upset, mental dullness, excitability, uneasiness, heart disturbances, and even insomnia in some people. Due to it's ability to induce sleep, it can make some people feel sluggish in the morning. Some people have vivid dreams and dry mouth.
Valerian can interact with alcohol to cause more sleepiness. Valerian decreases how quickly the liver breaks down some medication, like alprazolam (xanax), so it can increase the side effects of this and other drugs. Some sedative medications include pentobarbital (Nembutal), phenobarbital (Luminal), secobarbital (Seconal), thiopental (Pentothal), fentanyl (Duragesic, Sublimaze), morphine, propofol (Diprivan), and others. Some other medications changed by the liver include lovastatin (Mevacor), ketoconazole (Nizoral), itraconazole (Sporanox), fexofenadine (Allegra), triazolam (Halcion), and many others.
Previous posts on Getting to Know Herbs:
Malva/Mallow | Boneset | Elecampane | Lungwort | Cramp Bark | Motherwort | Common Plantain | Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) | Black Cohosh | Common Bearberry | Mahonia Mountain Grape (Oregon Grape) | Blue Cohosh | Goldenseal
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