Valerian Root - Facts and Information on this Interesting Herb
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.