Weekly Herb Review #23 – Valerian

‘Men who begin to fight and when you wish to stop them, give to them the juice of Amantilla id est Valeriana and peace will be made immediately.’ – Annonymus, 14th Century

Common Names: Valerian (all-heal, set-well, English valerian, Belgian valerian, common valerian, German valerian, wild valerian, heliotrope, garden heliotrope, fragrant valerian, vandal root, phu (Galen), amantilla, capon’s tail)

Scientific Name: Valeriana officinalis

Family: Valerianaceae

Parts Used:
Root and rhizome

Harvesting:

A perennial that grows 2 – 4 feet, Valerian is commonly seen on roadsides and in fields throughout Europe and in the Northeastern US. Valerian is native to Europe and North Asia, growing in damp, rich conditions. The flowers are in bloom from June to September. The 2-year or older rhizome and roots should be collected in October and November and dried slowly in the shade.

Qualities:
Aromatic
Sweet
Spicy
Slightly Warming
Slightly Bitter

Constituents/Nutrition:
Over 150 constituents have been identified
Volatile oils
Alkaloids (responsible for blood pressure lowering effects)
‘Valeopotriates’ (calms the mind)
Flavonoids
Sterols
Resins
High in Aluminum, Ash, Calcium, Chromium, Iron, Magnesium, Selenium, and Tin.

Properties/Actions:

Sedative
Anti-anxiolytic
Antispasmodic
Nervine
Carminative
Hypotensive
Anti convulsant

Uses/Indications:
Nervous system (restlessness, insomnia, “off switch to the brain”, anxiety/panic, hysteria
Muscular system (muscle tension, spasm/cramping, colic, menstrual pain, rheumatic pains)
Headaches, digestive spasm
Decreases blood pressure by decreasing tension and anxiety
Asthma (decreases bronchial muscle spasm)

The sedative effect due to the valepotriates and the isovaleric acid, which is also responsible for the characteristic smell of valerian (Fresh it is like old leather, dried root has been described as old sweat, rotten cheese, or dirty socks!)

The valepotriates have a regulatory effect on the autonomic nervous system – one fraction has a suppressant effect, another a stimulant one, so that in combination they have an amphoteric effect.

Folk History/Magical Uses:

Valerian was used by the ancient Greek and Chinese, including Dioscorides and Galen, and is found in Chinese medical writings of the 9th century. Known as “all-heal” in the Middle Ages, in 1592, Fabius Calumna cured his epilepsy with the herb. Valerian was said to be one of the most popular remedies of this time.

Many animals love the smell of valerian. Plant Valerian in a garden and cats will come from all over to roll in the plant, in an intoxicated state. Rumor has it that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin may have kept Valerian in his pocket and that is what gave him such power over the rats in the town.

During the Second World War, Valerian was used to treat shell-shock and ‘bombing neurosis’.

Cautions/Side Effects:
Valerian may enhance the action of sleep-inducing drugs.
In large doses or extended use, Valerian may cause headache and agitation.
Valerian is not known to be additive or cause motor impairment.

Preparation/Dosage:
Infusion: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp. of the dried herb and steep for 10 – 15 minutes. (Though it is a root, Valerian is made as an infusion to keep its volatile oils in the solution.)

Tincture: 30 – 60 drops

Can also be used in capsules or as a compress

Recipe:
Valerian Wine

2 handfuls valerian roots
1 clove
1 orange rind
1 rosemary twig
1 liter of dry white wine

Cut valerian root into small pieces, and place them on a large clear glass
container. Add the clove, the grated orange rind and rosemary twig. Pour the dry
white wine over the dry mixture. Seal the container tightly and allow to steep
for one moon cycle (28 days). Then strain through gauze cloth, store in a bottle
and seal tightly. Enjoy a small liqueur glass full and relax!

My Thoughts:
5 – 10% of the population have an opposite experience with Valerian and may become over stimulated and have difficulty relaxing after taking valerian. As Valerian is a warming herb, it is possible that these people are already “warm and stimulated or over active” and need an herb that is more cooling such as Skullcap.

Bibliography:

Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary gladstar’s family herbal. North Adams, MA: Storey
Books Publishing.

Gypsy Wisdom. Retrieved on February 1, 2007 from: http://www.ladyoftheearth.com/healing/gypsy-wisdom.txt

Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Pederson, M. (1994). Nutritional herbology. revised edition. Indiana: Wendell W. Whitman Company.

Valerian. Retrieved on February 1, 2007 from: http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_valerian.htm

Valerian. Retrieved on February 1, 2007 from: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/v/valeri01.html

Valerian. Retrieved on February 1, 2007 from: http://www.purplesage.org.uk/profiles/valerian.htm

Tierra, L. (1992). The herbs of life: health & healing using western & chinese techniques. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press.

Tilgner, S. (1999). Herbal medicine from the heart of the earth. Creswell, OR: Wise Acres Press.

3 thoughts on “Weekly Herb Review #23 – Valerian

  1. Yeh, my cat use to knock my scale off of the counter and roll around in it after I weighed out valerian. He was in Kitty heaven!

  2. The Valerian wine sounds yummy! I’ll have to try to make some.

    And maybe I should grow some valerian…so the cats play in that instead of digging up my vegetable garden!

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