VALERIAN: Valerianan Officinalis, Valeriana Edulis, Valeriana Sitchensis, Valeriana Wallichi, Valeriana Capensis, Valeriana Dioica, etc.
Also known as: vandal root, all-heal, setwell, Capori's tail, St. George's herb, garden heliotrope, amantilla, etc.
Parts Used: root
Systems/Organs affected: nerves, brain, heart, digestive, structural, muscles, liver
Properties: aromatic, nerve tonic, brain stimulant, anodyne, anti-spasmodic, emmenogogue, carminative, sedative, analgesic, hypotensive, anti-depressant, hypnotic, hepato protective, antibacterial, anti-diuretic, anti-carcinogenic, antiviral
Valerian is a member of its own family (Valerianaceae). It is a perennial plant with dark green, serrated leaves, a light green hollow stem that terminates in a cluster of white or light lavender colored flowers. It can be anywhere from three to six feet in height and blooms between April and August. The leaves are often paired and sparsely located on the stem. The root is brown, stringy and pungent. It likes moist soil and partial shade and often can be found on hillsides or north-facing banks. The root is harvested in the fall after the plant has gone to seed. There are around 250 species of valerian found throughout the world though it is native to England.
Valerian has a long history-as so many plants do. The early physicians referred to it as "phu" due to its prolific odor that some describe as smelly socks. However, it seemed to be quite popular as rat bait back in the day as they were attracted to the smell. Cats also seem to enjoy this plant and respond to it in much the same way they do catnip. Legend has it that valerian is what the Pied Piper used to entice the rats to the river. In the middle ages it was laid in bureaus and amongst clothes as perfume (why anyone would want to smell like stinky socks is beyond my ability to fathom).
It also was believed that this plant was actually the spikenard spoken of in the Bible (also used as perfume). Gerard used it for convulsions, bruises and croup. Culpeper used it for hysteria, migraines, hypochondria, epilepsy, the plague and nervous system disorders. He believed that valerian had a warming quality to it and as such was good for some kinds of fevers. During WWI and WWII valerian was used to treat civilians who were anxious or had become hysterical over the bombardment of their cities. It is believed that Hitler himself was addicted to the plant.
Some Native American tribes would pound the roots and use it as a poultice for earaches, wounds and headaches and/or seizures. They also would powder the roots to mix with other herbs for colds or to flavor their tobacco.
Perhaps the most well known use of this plant is as a sedative. The Swiss, Germans and French still use a tincture of valerian as an aid for insomnia. The Ayurvedic, Chinese and Unani health systems have used it as a cardio tonic, a homeopathic agent and a number of other conditions. The Ayurvedics would say this herb is best for those that have cold, nervous conditions. Jethro Kloss said it was helpful for colds, fevers, colic, gallstones, stomach ulcers, heart palpitations and more. Some Native tribes actually ate the steamed root although the taste was considered unpleasant.
There have been a number of studies conducted on this herb. It is currently being studied for possible use in epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuralgia as it is a muscle relaxant and natural tranquilizer. (Culpeper must have nailed it).
Valerian has been found to numb the brain which helps with migraines and headaches. This effect also has shown helpful for those suffering with muscle and/or joint pain. It also has been found to reduce the symptoms related to irritable bowerl and gas/stress related digestive issues. Some studies have shown that valerian has the ability to calm anxious or agitated individuals as well as stimulate individuals who suffer from fatigue (sounds like an adaptogen to me). Experiments on animals have shown that it can lower blood pressure and other studies show that it eases menstrual cramping, rheumatic and arthritic conditions, shingles, stomach cramps, etc.
Valerian has a number of beneficial components that make it an herb that should be considered for bone issues, muscles spasms, cancer, bacterial infections and stress in general. When tested, it was found to contain one of the highest amounts of calcium in nature (which explains its use as a relaxing agent). It also contains a significant amount of B vitamins, vitamin C, chromium, cobalt, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, silicon, selenium, tin and a host of antioxidants. (A virtual powerhouse of nutritive agents!)
This herb is recognized as safe but generally should be taken in SMALL doses over time; large amounts can cause side effects such as stupor, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, depression and emotional instability (hmmmm.....thinking about Hitler again).
The roots were said to be poisonous unless roasted in a pit for two days; it also is said that the root should NEVER be boiled. This is an herb that should be taken for not longer than two weeks at a time as it may cause adverse effects (such as paralysis and depression). The Sitka and marsh valerians are considered to be the most medicinal of the species (valeriana sitchensis and valeriana dioica respectively). Fresh root tinctures are preferred over dried but either will work. The roots are best harvested in the fall after the blooming stage has passed. This plant can be mistaken for water hemlock so ALWAYS BE SURE OF WHAT YOU ARE HARVESTING BEFORE YOU HARVEST!
Valerian should not be used by those with liver diseases, those on anxiety medications or sedatives. It should not be given to children or pregnant and/or nursing women and should NEVER be taken with alcohol or drugs! As with any herbal supplement-ALWAYS consult a qualified physician before beginning any herbal product.