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Valerian Root - Facts and Information on this Interesting Herb

Updated on February 4, 2012
Valeriana Officinalis
Valeriana Officinalis | Source
Valeriana Officinalis
Valeriana Officinalis | Source
Valerian Essential Oil
Valerian Essential Oil | Source
Valeriana Officinalis
Valeriana Officinalis | Source

Valerian- A Great Herb

Facts about Valerian Root

The herb called valerian or valerian root can also go by the name "garden heliotrope." A perennial plant, it is a member of the family Valerianaceae. The name comes from the Latin valere, which means "to be in good health." Many people do not realize that valerian is probably one of the most tranquilizing herbs you can grow in your garden.

While valerian is grown in many parts of the world now, it once was a native of England. It can be spotted in the garden by its dark leaves, with serrated edges, that grow in pairs. The plant itself can grow rather large, from three to five feet tall. Early on in the season, you will see a flower stalk develop little lavender colored flowers which are fragrant.

The seeds of valerian root sound fairly easy to recognize. They are flat, and heart shaped and have light or dark grey color.

The Fragrance or "Stink" of Valerian Root

This may sound harsh to use the word "stink," to describe valerian, but if you never have smelled valerian root then that would explain it. Its just a fact, that many people find valerian root to be disagreeable in how it smells. The good side of this is that I once heard that if your new valerian root is extra potent, then there is a good chance you got an extra fresh batch. I am not sure if that is completely true or not though. It does makes sense to some degree however.

Evidently long ago, there was an Asian version of valerian root that had a very pleasant fragrance to it. In fact, many believe that valerian is the spikenard referred to in the Bible as a perfume which was brought from the east! I had no idea about that, and wonder if it is true. It would be hard for me to imagine, as I have smelled some of the other kind of valerian root before! In fact, I could smell it in its closed bottle, if I was in the near vicinity! Still, I have no reason to doubt the better smelling ancient Asian version of the plant.

Unique Story from the Middle Ages with Valerian Root

During the Middle Ages, it is said that people put valerian roots among their clothing to act as a perfume. The herb also has an interesting affect on cats, like catnip! It was also said that valerian could attract rats. This may have something to do with that legend that the Pied Piper of Hamlin perhaps had valerian roots in his pocket when he had led the rats into the river.

Valerian Root - Historical Medicinal or Home Remedy Qualities

Valerian root seems to be best known for its help with certain health issues. It is an example of one of the things I love most about herbs and nature. There are so many answers within it that can help the human body with different things. Records show that the use of valerian goes back over one thousand years. Over the course of this time, you can see valerian root being used for different things.

Nicholas Culpeper, herbalist, physician and medical astrologer, said that valerian root was under the influence of Mercury, and therefore "hath a warming faculty." I thought that was interesting, but there are indeed some that may agree on its amazing benefits. Culpeper highly recommended this herb for coughs, the plague and bruising.

There have been others that made claims about valerian root uses. They range from helping hypochondria, migraine headaches, some fevers, hysteria, epilepsy and many other diseases of the nervous system.

John Gerard, another well known herbalist from long ago during the 16th century mentioned that valerian 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." He went on to say that "no broth or pottage or physicall meats be worth anything if [valerian] be not there."

Using Valerian Today

We now know that the main use of valerian today is as a sedative. There is a remarkable calming effect that is a great comfort to people struggling with everything from insomnia to nervous anxiousness and even hysteria. I think it is remarkable that a simple herb, growing in the wild can make such a marked, helpful affect on people.

Modern day herbalists use valerian root to support the special needs of the central nervous system. It seems to literally relax the body, and give some sleep support when not overused. It has been said to promote feelings of calm and decrease levels of anxiety and stress. One of the great benefits of this as an occasional sleep aid is that it isn't known to cause morning grogginess like other things can.

Valerian root can be used in general as a relaxing agent for the whole body. One of my herbal books mentions a very long list of possible benefits of this herb. The main points that it reiterates is that it is good for nervous disorders, insomnia and even pain. I imagine the calm and sleep it can help to induce would be great for sufferers of pain.

Valerian root, used rarely and only as needed, and in conjunction with other herbs and vitamins is probably the best way to go. Getting advice from your doctor or herbalist can bring other much needed information that can benefit your health overall. Things like melatonin and vitamin B complex are so helpful as well.

Warnings of overusing Valerian

People need to know that you still need to treat valerian like any other medicine. You don't want to overdo it, and it might seem very innocent since it is just an herb that grows in gardens. If taken in excess, it can cause headaches, spasms, or give hallucinations even. Its definitely an herb that you do not take on a regular basis, but rather only as necessary. That is the best way to benefit from this herb. Staying in contact with your physician is the best way to go.

Also, as reminded by some fellow hubbers below, Nell Rose and Kcsummers, don't take valerian if you are taking blood pressure medication without contacting your doctor first. Also, there are some people that have a hypersensitivity to valerian root. These can include increased nervousness, feelings of panic, insomnia and restless leg syndrome. This reminds me some of the side effects of over use or continued use.

Choose Good Herbs

Go for good quality when choosing your herbs so you get the freshest ones you can. Don't be alarmed for the smell that you will surely experience when opening a bottle of valerian root. To those that may wonder, I have read that it isn't like garlic in the sense that the smell would ever stay on one's breath or skin. Some have wondered that and when I smelled it one time, I have to admit that I wouldn't want that lingering around either!

Of course, the other option is to get so educated on this herb and others and the growing of it, that you could eventually grow and harvest your own.


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    • nityanandagaurang profile image

      nityanandagaurang 5 years ago

      very interesting herb oceansnsunsets.Although i have heard about this herb first time,but you have given every information about it.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, I used to take something I think was called night dreams for sleeping and that had valerian in it, one thing I should mention is that it should never be used with blood pressure tablets, evidently it's a similar thing, great hub! cheers nell

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Nity, thank you very much. I am glad you found the information interesting. I appreciate your comment.

      Hello Nell Rose, Thank you for that reminder to not use Valerian root with blood pressure tablets. I wonder, did the tablets help you to sleep better? Thanks for your visit and comment, they aer much appreciated.

    • kcsummers profile image

      kcsummers 5 years ago from East Tennessee

      Great, informative article. I'd much rather see people use Valerian root or Melatonin than prescription sleep medicines, but I think you should mention that about 20% of people experience a hypersensitivity reaction, or a reverse effect, from Valerian root, such as increased nervousness to the point of panic, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Kcsummers, thanks for the mentioning of adverse side effects, which aren't that different from what I mention regarding overuse or continued use. For whatever reason, it is good for people to know all they can about herbs and vitamins they take, which is why I encourage keeping in touch with a physician. I can add in more details like you mention though, as that wouldn't hurt and may help people.

      I am with you, in that valerian is a much better alternative than some other prescription medicines. Thanks for your comment, it is appreciated.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Yes they were really good, compared to diazipam that I had been given in the years before, long story! these didn't leave any 'after affect' in other words diazipam makes you drowsy but these didn't! so its a great idea!

    • anndavis25 profile image

      anndavis25 5 years ago from Clearwater, Fl.

      Nice hub. You covered it thoroughly. I want you to check out a fellow hubber: mOrdOr. Both of you have knowdedge in this field.

      I am not famaliar with Valerian. Dr. OZ hasn't mentioned that yet. lol. But the other day he spoke highly of Chia know the commercial ch ch ch chia...have you ever heard of that? Write a hub on that.

      It is supposed to be a powerful anti-oxidant.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      great information on this herb. I am going to share it with a friend that has epilepsy. He has been having a real hard time. thanks for sharing this hub.

      voted up


    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hi Nell Rose, that is good to hear they didn't have any after effect. I can see why that is such a great thing. Thanks for sharing your experience with Valerian, and I agree that its a better idea or option. When I used it, it didn't leave any after effect either. I appreciate your comment.

      Hello Ann, I will look into that for sure, and yes I am familiar with the ch ch ch chia! Too funny and interesting. I am glad you stopped by and left a comment.

      Hi Debbie, I hope it helps him, and I would add that I am not a doctor, and its always good to consult one's doctor before trying anything new. While its a natural product that people can grow in their garden, I would suggest he get an "ok" or go ahead from his doctor for him to try. I know the people that I know that have tried it, it has been a great thing. Have a great day and thank you for the vote up and comment.

    • loveofnight profile image

      loveofnight 5 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

      You are right about giving the warning,too much of a good thing can be bad for you......thx 4 share

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Loveofnight, thanks for your comment. As with so many things in this world, that is very true.

      My goal was to help others that might struggle with anxiety and insomnia issues, to know there is another natural option in the form of an herb. Used in moderation and only as needed, its a lifesaver for people that need help with those things.

    • Pam Ho profile image

      Pam Ho 23 months ago

      Hi Paula I just came across this blog and wanted to answer some questions you raised in your post:

      1. Valerian does lose potency dependent on temperature, I've seen official studies done on how it is affected by heat and moisture - heat is the culprit. Keep your valerian cold, I keep it in the freezer, exposure to anything above cold affects the potency greatly.

      2. There are still fragrant varieties of Valerian, I've had the stinky stuff and the fragrant , they smell and taste completely different, the fragrant smells and tastes reminiscent of frankincense. The stinky root powder I have had is very dark in color, whereas the fragrant is very light tan. If you do an image search online for "valerian root powder" you will see some that are dark and some very light.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 23 months ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello Pam, I thank you for stopping by and for your comment. You gave some great points and I really appreciate it! Do the different fragrances have different qualities, or is some just more stinky than others? My point is, do they have the same effect or potency, just different smells? This would make sense of a video I saw once on Valerian root, where I saw someone put a big scoop of it into an herbal tea mixture they were making. My immediate thought was that it would make the whole thing smell very bad. Perhaps that isn't the case though, and if so, how wonderful! Thank you again.

    • Pam Ho profile image

      Pam Ho 23 months ago

      Hi Paula, I did a little reading in the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia because I wondered if they really were different strains after I read what you wrote, from what I can tell, while there may be different strains, the difference between the foul and fragrant versions just may be in the way the root is dried. I read that properly dried it will be fragrant, bitter, and tan colored. Which is what I have experienced with the the light colored version: the smell and taste is reminiscent of frankincense - not as fragrant but a similar smell, and it also tastes like frankincense, but not as bitter. It also said when improperly dried it becomes dark and stinky, which I have also had and is seen in many products. This is what I read

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 22 months ago from The Midwest, USA

      Hello again Pam, and thank you so much. I really appreciate your comment and the information. Well, its good news because it seems Valerian root need not be stinky to be effective. I actually heard someone once say that the more stinky it is, the fresher and better it is. So this is good to hear, especially for those that might use and benefit from Valerian Root.

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