By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Valeriana officinalis-Valerian

Family: Valerianaceae

 Other names: Valeriana baltica Pleijel,Valeriana exaltata J.C. Mikan, Valerian Root, All-Heal, Garden Heliotrope, Graveyard Dust, Phu, Setwell, Vandal Root

 Habitat: Europe, including Britain but excluding the extreme north and south, temperate Asia to Japan. Grassland, scrub, woods etc, on dry or damp soils. Avoids acid soil.

hazardsmallIt is said that prolonged medicinal use of this plant can lead to addiction. A course of treatment should not exceed 3 months. Adverse effects can include: headaches (rare), giddiness, nausea, excitability & agitation, heart palpitations (rare), insomnia (rare). Do not take with other sedatives (e.g. alcohol) or before driving (or alertness required.

Valerian is a well-known and frequently used medicinal herb that has a long and proven history of efficacy. It is noted especially for its effect as a tranquilliser and nervine, particularly for those people suffering from nervous overstrain. Is Valerian Good for Anxiety.Valerian has been shown to encourage sleep, improve sleep quality and reduce blood pressure. It is also used internally in the treatment of painful menstruation, cramps, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome etc. It should not be prescribed for patients with liver problems. Externally, it is used to treat eczema, ulcers and minor injuries. The root is antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, hypnotic, powerfully nervine, sedative and stimulant. The active ingredients are called valepotriates, research has confirmed that these have a calming effect on agitated people, but are also a stimulant in cases of fatigue. The roots of 2 year old plants are harvested in the autumn once the leaves have died down and are used fresh or dried. The fresh root is about 3 times as effective as roots dried at 40° (the report does not specify if this is centigrade or Fahrenheit , whilst temperatures above 82° destroy the active principle in the root. Use with caution. This herb is one that has been affected by new legislation and now can only be prescribed by a qualified herbal practitioner due to the number of interactions that it can have with certain drugs.

By H. Zell (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Description of Valerian:

Valeriana officinalis is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in). 
It is hardy to zone 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to August, and the seeds ripen from Jul to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies, beetles.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. Needs full sun. It prefers moist soil.

Cultivation of Valerian:

A very easily grown plant, it succeeds in ordinary garden soil, preferring a rich heavy loam in a moist site. Thrives in full sun or in partial shade, doing well in light woodland. A polymorphic species, the more extreme variations are given specific status by some botanists. Valerian is often grown in the herb garden and also sometimes grown commercially as a medicinal herb. When grown for its medicinal root, the plant should not be allowed to flower. The flowers and the dried roots have a strong smell somewhat resembling stale perspiration. Cats are very fond of this plant, particularly the powdered root. Once a cat has discovered a plant they will often destroy it by constantly rolling over it.The dried root also attracts rats and can be used as a bait in traps. A good companion for most plants.

valerian leaves
By Danny S. (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Propagation of Valerian:

Seed – sow spring in a cold frame and only just cover the seed because it requires light for germination. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and plant out into their permanent positions in the summer if sufficient growth has been made. If the plants are too small to plant out, grow them on in the greenhouse or frame for their first winter and plant them out early in the following summer. Division in spring. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is best to pot up smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are growing away well. Plant them out in the summer or the following spring.

Culinary uses of Valerian:

Edible Parts: Seed.
Edible Uses: Condiment;  Tea.

Seed. No further details are given but the seeds of other members of this genus are parched and then eaten. An essential oil from the leaves and root is used as a flavouring in ice cream, baked goods, condiments etc. It is especially important in apple flavours. The leaves can also be used as a condiment. The plant is used in moderation as a herbal tea.

valerian_Botanical_illustrationMedicinal uses of Valerian:

Actions: Nervine, hypnotic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, hypotensive, emmenagogue.

Part used: Rhizome, stolons & roots.

Indications: It has a wide range of specific uses, but its main indications are: anxiety, nervous sleeplessness, and the bodily symptoms of tension such as muscle cramping or indigestion. It may be used safely in situations where tension and anxiety are causing problems. This may manifest in purely psychological and behavioral ways or also with body symptoms. Valerian will help in most cases. For some people it can be an effective mild pain reliever. As one of the best gentle and harmless herbal sleeping remedies, it enhances the natural body process of slipping into sleep and making the stresses of the day recede. For people who do not need as much sleep as they once did, it also eases lying awake in bed, ensuring that it becomes a restful and relaxing experience. This is often as re-vivifying as sleep itself, and indeed all that is necessary in more cases than not. The true nature of sleep still remains a mystery. Everybody goes through stages of REM (rapid eye movement)sleep, a stage where dreaming is associated with minor involuntary muscle jerks and rapid eye movements, indicating that active processes are occurring in the brain. It is important not to suppress the dreams dreamed during this stage. Emotional experiences are processed by the mind in those dreams, and much arising from both the unconscious and daily life is balanced and harmonized. Whilst sleeping pills have a marked impact on REM, Valerian does not interfere with this process as it is not powerful enough to suppress these necessary REM phases. The research into valerian is confirming the traditional experience of the herbalist. In one study Valerian produced a significant decrease in subjectively evaluated sleep scores and an improvement in sleep quality. Improvement was most notable amongst those who considered themselves poor or irregular sleepers and smokers. Dream recall was relatively unaffected by Valerian . When the effect of valerian root on sleep was studied in healthy, young people, it reduced perceived sleep latency and the wake time after sleep onset. In other words they experienced an easily and quicker descent into sleep. A combination of Valerian and Hops was given to people whose sleep was disturbed by heavy traffic noise. Giving the herbs well before retiring, reduced the noise induced disturbance of a number of sleep stage patterns. Much research has centered on its effects upon smooth muscle, demonstrating that it is a powerful and safe muscle relaxant. It can be safely used in muscle cramping,uterine cramps and intestinal colic. Its sedative and anti-spasmodic action can be partially ascribed to the valepotriates and to a lesser extent to the sesquiterpene constituents of the volatile oils. Amongst other effects, Valerian decreases both spontaneous and caffeine-stimulated muscular activity, significantly reduces aggressiveness of animals, and decrease a number of measurable processes in the brain. Italian researchers compared the relaxing properties of Valerian and a number of other plants on the muscles of the digestive tract. Hawthorn and Valerian were the best, followed by Passion Flower and Chamomile. Especially interesting was the finding that combining all the herbs acted in a synergistic way, being relaxing at low dosage levels. Valerian is used world wide as a relaxing remedy in hypertension and stress related heart problems. There is an effect here beyond simple nerve relaxation, as it contains alkaloids that are mild hypotensives. Such use is recognized by the World Health Organization. They promote research and development of traditional medicine that sees the importance of using whole plants and going beyond the test tube for meaningful results. In WHO sponsored studies in Bulgaria, traditional herbs known for their healing effect in cardiovascular problems were considered. Results of clinical examination of patients using such herbs are impressive. Valerian is one such herb whose use was validated. Others are garlic, geranium, European mistletoe, olive, and hawthorn.

Dosage: To be effective it has to be used in sufficiently high dosage. The tincture is the most widely used preparation and is always useful, provided that the single dose is not counted in drops, but that 2.5-5ml (1/2 – 1 teaspoonful ) is given, and indeed sometimes 10 ml at one time. It is almost pointless to give ten or twenty drops of valerian tincture. Over dosage is highly unlikely, even with very much larger doses. For situations of extreme stress where a sedative or muscle relaxant effect is need fast, the single dose of one teaspoonful may be repeated two or three times at short intervals.

The dried herb is prepared as an infusion to ensure no loss of the volatile oils. Two teaspoons of the dried herb are used for each cup of tea prepared. With these doses expect a good relaxing, anti-spasmodic and sleep-inducing effect, and above all rapid sedation in states of excitement. A cold infusion may be used: a glass of cold water is poured over two teaspoons of valerian root and left to stand for 8-10 hours. A night time dose is thus set up in the morning, and a dose for the mornings is prepared at night.

Other uses of Valerian:

Compost,  Essential oil,  Liquid feed,  Repellent.

The plant yields about 1% of an essential oil from the roots. It is used in perfumery to provide a ‘mossy’ aroma, though the scent is considered to be disagreeable by many people. The dried roots are also placed in linen cupboards and clothes drawers in order to scent the clothes. The dried root attracts rats and cats, it can be used as a bait to lure them away from other areas[. An ingredient of ‘QR’ herbal compost activator. This is a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost. The plant can also be used to make a very good liquid plant feed. It attracts earthworms. The leaves are very rich in phosphorus.

valerianEsoteric uses of Valerian:

Dream magick, reconciliation, love, and harmony. Placed in sachets for love & protection and used in sleep pillows. It is said that having Valerian Root nearby will settle an argument between a couple. Used to purify sacred space. Used as a substitution for graveyard dirt/dust in spells. Use in protection baths. Burn for reconciliation in ailing relationships, but only with the permission of all parties involved in the relationship. Wear to calm the emotions.

The Chemistry:

Constituents: A range of unique chemical constituents have been found, but as with all herbal remedies it is a mistake to try to understand the plant from these chemicals alone. The healing gift of Valerian is much more than simply the effects of constituents like valepotriates. The practitioner of herbal medicine can glean much of value from biochemical research that canaugment clinical experience but never replace it.

  • Valepotriates: valtrate, didrovaltrate, acevaltrate, isovaleroxy-hydoxydidrovaltrate
  • volatile oil: esters: bornyl isovalerianate, bornylacetate, bornyl formate, eugenyl isovalerate, isoeugenyl isovalerate alcohols eugenol terpenes valerianol, a sesquiterpene alcohol.

Alkaloids: chatinine, valerine and 2 others similar to skytanthine The powerful sedative action of valerian is partially due to valepotriates, epoxy-iridoid esters, found in the root. A whole series of valepotriates has been isolated, and their actions have been found to be different, and in part opposite. They do not have simply sedative properties, but a predominantly regulatory effect on the autonomic system. One fraction has a suppressant effect, another a stimulant one, so that in combination they have an equalizing effect that has been referred to as amphoteric. Valtrate& didrovaltrate have been to have potent cytotoxic activity, and the former is active against Krebs II ascitic tumors. There is 0.5-1.0% of volatile oil present. The peculiar bouquet of valerian is actually produced by drying. A number of components of the volatile oil in the roots, hydrolyse with time to isovaleric acid. Very little is present in the fresh root, which has a pleasant aroma. The older the dried herb the stronger the smell of isovaleric acid, but not necessarily stronger in effect. This volatile oil has anti-microbial, carminative and relaxing properties. Alkaloids are also present that have blood pressure lowering effects. There may be up to 0.1% in the dried root. Like many other medicinal plants valerian contains a complex of active principles, making analysis is difficult. Even detailed and thorough investigation does not reveal a single active constituent in this well-known medicinal plant, highlighting that the therapeutic effect depends on the interaction of the plants constituents as a whole.

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