If you suffer from insomnia, or if you are under a lot of stress, and looking for an alternative to prescribed sedatives, you may find that valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb that can help treat your health condition.
Valerian is one of the most popular herbal supplements for anxiety, and is also often used as a remedy for insomnia and sleep disorders.
The University of Maryland Medical Center states that studies have shown that valerian helps people fall asleep faster, and that its use can improve the quality of sleep. The herb has also been suggested as a remedy for stomach cramps, as well as a treatment for headaches, migraines and epileptic seizures.
Valerian is said to have fewer side effects than prescription drugs, and the herb is listed as “Generally Recognized as Safe” by the American Food and Drug Administration.
How to Consume Valerian as a dietary supplement
Valerian is commonly sold as a natural sleeping aid in the United States, and is often included as an ingredient in herbal products that are promoted as mild sedatives and treatments for nervous tension.
It may be combined with other popular herbal remedies for anxiety and insomnia, such as, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), hops (Humulus lupulus), passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora). Most health stores and herbal supplement suppliers stock valerian.
Historical uses of Valerian
In a Factsheet for Professionals, published by The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, reports that valerian has been recognized as a medicinal herb since ancient Greek and Roman times.
In the 2nd century, Galen prescribed valerian as a treatment to cure insomnia, and in the 16th century, valerian was used as a remedy for headaches, nervousness and palpitations. Moving forward to the time of World War II, the herb was employed as a means of relieving the stress caused by air raids.
How does Valerian work?
Although it is still unclear as to exactly how valerian works, it is thought that it increases the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA helps regulate the activity of the nervous system and can produce a tranquilizing effect.
What part of Valerian is used?
Valerian grows as a perennial plant with a creeping rootstock, and it is the roots and rhizomes of the plant that are harvested and dried for use in herbal medicine. The valerian root has an unpleasant smell, and this is why the plant is nicknamed “Phu.”
The dried valerian root is used to make tinctures and teas, as well as being processed to form valerian tablets and capsules.
Where does Valerian grow?
Valerian is a native of Europe and Asia, is naturalized in America, and grown in herb gardens in many parts of the world. It is also known as garden valerian to distinguish it from red valerian (Centranthus ruber). In the wild, valerian is found in fields and grassy places, as well as by rivers and streams.
The herb can be grown from seeds, and does well in the herb garden. Valerian has pinnate leaves and its flower stalks can reach 2m in height if the plant is growing in ideal circumstances, though it is usually much shorter.
Umbels of sweetly scented pinkish or white flowers are produced every summer, and the herb was once used by the perfume industry. Valerian is also propagated by division of the rhizomes.
Who should not use Valerian
While valerian is a mild sedative with minimal side effects, there are some people that should not use the herb. Also, there are certain situations where valerian should not be taken.
- Pregnant women and women who are nursing should stay away from using valerian because of possible risks to the fetus or baby.
- Children younger than 3-years-old should not take valerian.
- Valerian can have adverse effects if combined with prescribed sedatives, tranquilizers, antidepressants and antihistamines, as well as if used in conjunction with various dietary supplements, including Melatonin and St John’s wort. Avoid alcohol when taking valerian.
To be on the safe side it is best to consult your healthcare provider if you are going to take Valerian.
What the ancient herbalists say about Valerian
Famous herbalists from the past had plenty to say about valerian. Nicholas Culpeper recommended the herb and stated:
valerian root boiled with licorice, raisins and aniseed is good for those troubled with cough.”
John Gerard praised valerian too, saying that it was: “excellent for those burdened and for such as be troubled with croup and other like convulsions, and also for those that are bruised with falls.”
Valerian acts like Catnip
Valerian is an herb that has a psychoactive effect on cats, just like catnip (Nepeta cataria) does. This is because it contains actinidine, a substance which is known to attract and excite these animals.
How do you benefit from Valerian?
Valerian is used for many treatments including a sleep aid and a muscle relaxer. I’d like to know how you utilize valerian for your own healing. Please leave me a comment below.