Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) of the family Valerianaceae, is a tall perennial herb with hollow stems that bear white or reddish flowers. The plant is found throughout Europe and Northern Asia, and is common in England in marshy thickets and on the borders of ditches and rivers, where its tall stems may generally be seen in the summer towering above the usual foliage. The erect, sturdy growth of this plant, the rich, dark green of the leaves, their beautiful form, and the crowning masses of light-colored flowers, make the plant very conspicuous.
This plant has been used since ancient Greek times for its relaxing, sedative effects. It was also found to be useful in certain kinds of epilepsy. The plant was in such esteem in mediaeval times as a remedy, that it received the name "All Heal", which is still used in some parts of the country. The name "Valerian" comes from the Latin "valere," which means "to be in good health."
Valerian root is well known for its odor during drying, which is akin to smelly socks or rotten cheese. In medicine, the root of V. officinalis is intended when Valerian is mentioned. It is supposed to be the Phu (an expression to the dislike of offensive odor) described by Dioscorides and Galen, who celebrated it as an aromatic and diuretic.
Records of valerian's use go back more than 1,000 years. It was used as a coffee substitute by German women, as a condiment during medieval times, and as a perfume during the 16th century. The roots have been used for food by many cultures. The Piute Indians ground them for flour and the British used the roots in soups. Cats and other small animals are fond of the plant.
Valerian extract, derived from the dried rhizomes and roots of the plant, has been used for thousands of years as a folk remedy, tranquilizer and calmative for several disorders such as restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, hysteria, menstrual problems, and as a sedative for "nervous" stomach. Valerian extracts are currently used in scores of compounds and teas in Europe.
Valerian has been prescribed for patients with Anxiety disorders. Particularly for people who are having a difficult time sleeping. While most current treatments for insomnia work by disrupting natural sleep rhythms and risk psychologically addiction, natural sedatives, free of side effects, are constantly being sought. In the early 80's many people turned to L-tryptophan (no longer available) as a sleep aid. More recently western consumers have become aware of the benefits of low-dose melatonin. Now health conscious consumers in Europe and United States are discovering that valerian root has a calming effect and helps them fall asleep more easily.
The German Commission E monograph for health authorities indicates that valerian is a safe and effective anti-anxiety agent and sedative for treatment of restlessness and sleep disturbances resulting from nervous conditions. Valerian is perhaps best characterized as a minor tranquilizer when administered in the form of a tea, a tincture or an extract.
During the past three decades extensive studies on Valerian have identified several unstable esters called valepotriates believed to be the primary source of the plants sedative effects.
A study conducted in Russia reported that valepotriates inhibited caffeine-stimulated motor activity and prolonged barbiturate-induced sleeping time in mice and rats. This translates to anti-anxiety and sedative activities.
Overall, Valerian has no significant side effects, though people with impaired kidney or liver functions should take Valerian only under a physician's supervision. Standard dosages include: 30-90 drops dry root Tincture, (1.5, 70% alcohol) twice per day. Or, 2-3 Capsules; (dry root), #00, per day.
Valerian may interact with alcohol, certain antihistamines, muscle relaxants, psychotropic drugs and narcotics. Constant use of the dry root may induce mental agitation. So as always, talk with your physician if taking this herb.
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