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Common Name: Valerian | Scientific Name: Valeriana Officinalis

Family Name: Valerianaceae


Valerian is a often called herbal Valium, which I think is somewhat of an exageration. However, it is an herbal relaxant and if you take a tablet or drink some valerian tea, you will be much more relaxed than you would be normally. If you have a tension problem, then, I would think about using Valerian to relieve it. There curious thing about Valerian is that it works for some people, and does not work for other people. It either does or it does not. So, if you take it and find yourself falling asleep on the couch, when you would otherwise be pacing, then you are one of the lucky ones for which it works! Another odd feature of this plant is this. Its has a very strong smell, and, this strength of odor is used by the perfume trade to make softer, subtler scents stronger. Its used to amplify the more delicate scents! In any case, if you have a problem with stress or sleep, this is a great option before you reach for the stronger more addictive prescription options.

Part Used

Cure insomnia, improve smokers sleep, lessen anxiety, melt tension and stress


Fact Sheet
Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest”

Fact Sheet

Remember This: Herbal Valium

Reasonable Uses: Anxiety, nervousness, stress related conditions such as insomnia, neck pain, headaches, muscle cramps, irritability, stomachache, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and diarrhea. Anything stress can cause valerian can cure.

History and Traditional Uses
Long before Valium, there was valerian. This showy plant with feathery pink blooms has roots so stinky that the Greek physician Dioscorides called it phu. But the substance responsible for valerian’s aroma has also made it nature’s top tranquilizer and sleep aid for more than 2,000 years. Headaches, trembling, palpitations, hysteria, and stress-related digestion problems have been calmed by valerian root since the earliest day.

Scientific Back Up
As an insomnia remedy, valerian shortens the time it takes to fall asleep and reduces middle-of-the-night awakening for many people, without any of the morning-after grogginess that often comes with conventional sleeping pills. It relaxes tense nerves and muscles, so it’s used to relieve menstrual cramps and mood swings.

Research indicates that components in valerian attach to the same brain receptors as tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) but with milder effects—and without causing dependence or addiction.

Herbalists Use It To:
Cure insomnia – Valerian is seen as the all purpose herbal sleep remedy helping all kinds of insomniacs. It is especially good for those people whose sleep is disturbed by day time problems. If life troubles take their toll on your sleep, Valerian is seen as the solution. Also, for the light sleeper who finds it difficult to fall into a deep sleep, valerian will help.

Improve smokers sleep – Amongst the many devastating effects of smoking is sleep disturbance. It seems smokers do not sleep as well as non-smokers. Herbalists find that when smokers use Valerian they are better able to drift into the deep sleep known as REM and stay there.

Lessen Anxiety – An herbal alternative to valium, valerian can be used by those anxious souls looking for something to reduce their nervousness. Unlike some of the chemical alternatives, going off the Valerian does not require hospitalisation or a worsening of anxiety.

Melt tension and stress – Stress kills and there is no arguing that point. Stress accumulates in the mind and in turn affects all the major body systems. Breathing becomes erratic, blood pressure raises, the digestive tract goes into knots, and more. Herbalists find that Valerian blocks the transmission of stress from the mind down to the body. Called the stress melter, everything from headaches to constipation, when rooted in stress, can be helped with regular dose of valerian.

Shopping Tips
Only purchase products made from the root of Valerian officinalis. Avoid products containing other herbal remedies.

Avoid valerian if you’re taking other sleep-enhancing or mood-regulating medications such as Valium or amitriptyline (Elavil).

Kava-kava (Piper methysticum), Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest

Stress sufferers best friend.
“I am so stressed out I think my head might blow off my body.”

Valerian is our Mother Theresa in the plant world for those suffering from stress. The connection between mental stress and resulting physical maladies is well documented and just about any stress sufferer knows this to be the case. More than one daughter in law suffers from acid stomach aches for a week before the esteemed mother comes for a domestic inspection, or before the managing partner hits town to check the annual figures at the accounting office. When you get under a lot of stress your body generally lets you know, whether with headaches or diarrhea. If you take a look at your life and realize the root of the condition at hand is stress and you want to do something about it, the good news is their is plant in the garden that is quite the stress killer.

I was at diner not too long ago with a bunch of my hardworking friends and we started talking about the nervous twitch we had all been getting in one or the other of our eyes. These nervous twitches are your bodies way of saying stress is doing some damage. We sat around and admired our twitching eyes and discussed the stress in our lives responsible for these twitches. In the 16th century Gerard wrote that valerian would take away such twitches and even bigger ones, ” Wild valerian is thought by the later herbalists to be good for them that are bursten, for such as be troubled with the crampe, and other convulsions, and also for all those that are bruised with falls.” I haven’t read stress being responsible for a person bursting physically, mentally is another story. We can only guess what caused people to burst at the seams in Gerards day, he mentions it a good bit. Cramps and twitches are common symptoms of stress and from the earliest day valerian was seen as able to dissolve such spasms.

Like with many of our conditions, and stress is a condition, modern people tend to do just the worst thing they can for themselves in the way of treatment. If they get themselves sufficiently stressed out they end up taking tranquilizers to relieve it. Whether in pill form or cocktail form sedation is the modern solution to stress. The amount of sedatives taken by the world community is astounding. The problem here is that these drugs are not great for the body or the mind. They are said to have no side effects, that is until you stop taking them. Take yourself to a drug rehab and visit the ward where people are coming off of Valium and ask yourself the question do I really want to use sedatives to treat my stress problem.

On the other hand the fact that people get themselves worked into a tight little ball is a reality in this “advanced” day and age. Its well enough to say that you should keep your life under control enough so the stress doesn’t get out of control, but sometimes it does and the body suffers. Our next plant is a wonderful one in that it will help the stress sufferer get through a rough patch and when they go off the herb they will be no worse for the wear. In fact valerian is strengthening to the nervous system whereas it would be hard to say the same thing about chemical tranquilizers.

Valerian has the odd effect of nullifying the effect stress has on our bodies. How this works remains a bit of a question. What has been proven time and time again is that if you are in a stressful situation , whatever usually happens to your body will not happen, if you take valerian. The physiological reactions to stress are as varied as the types of trees on the planet. If you had a car accident and had to speak to the insurance claims adjuster, after the conversation some would get a headache, others an acid stomach ache, still others a cramp in their neck. What herbalists have found is that if you take a cup of valerian tea when stress happens, the pains and aches dont appear.

The herbaceous perennial Valerian officinalis grows wild throughout Europe and can be found growing in most locations from Spain to Iceland, from there onto the Crimea and all the way to northern Asia and into China. It could be said the valerian is a common plant throughout much of the world. It is commercially grown in many countries for one reason; for a long time people have known that valerian will relieve the anxiousness a nervous person is suffering from.

Valerian was known to the Greeks and Romans. Diocorides and Pliny talk of a plant they called the wild nard, which is supposed to be a species of valerian. There are many species of valerians, all of which manifest the same relaxing medicinal activities to a greater or lesser degree. The name valerian is somewhat new, it was not used by the classical writers. The name appears in the written record first in the ninth and then in the tenth century. Valerian can be found in the Anglo Saxon names of home remedies and in books on herbal medicine as early as the eleventh century. Saladinus of Ascoli, 1450, was very clear in his writings on the plant that it should be harvested in August for the strongest possible drug.

We grow Valerian for the roots which are harvested in the fall once the plant has spent the whole year packing away chemicals in the roots intended to keep the plant alive over the winter. The plant spreads by way of runners and when you harvest valerian you get a rag-tag collection of runners, dubbed stolons by the botanists, and roots. All of afore mentioned bits contain the chemicals we use for relaxation.

This is one complex plant filled with chemicals responsible for its actions on the body. The roots contains chemicals called valopotriates, volatile oils, and alkaloids. Because of the plants popularity many a chemical research team have attacked the chemicals contained in it to find “the” chemical that makes the plant such an effective relaxant and what has been discovered is that plant actually contain chemicals that have opposing actions which lead to a balancing effect on the nervous system. One chemical has been found to suppress nervous activity and at the same time another has been found to be central nervous stimulant. The alkaloids have the ability to lower blood pressure, yet another symptom of the stressed out individual. Here is where things get strange. The plant has proven to relax those in an uptight state and stimulate those so exhausted they can’t move. The plant is described as having a balancing effect on the nervous system, it can go either way.

One of the reasons tranquilizers are so popular is they are effective knock out pills for people too stressed out to sleep, a sad statement. Sleep is one of the most natural things the body does and the amount of people that cant do it naturally is shocking. There are several layers of sleep all of which are essential for people to wake up refreshed, the stages, called rem, rapid eye movement, are disturbed deeply by tranquilizers. Its for this reason people dependant of sleeping pills dont wake up refreshed. Valerian has been clinically proven to make it easier for people to slip into sleep and rest deeply while asleep. Unlike chemical sleeping pills, valerian does not interfere with the normal sleep stages! A cup of valerian tea will make nodding off easier minus the side effects!

Beyond this research has also shown that valerian is a muscle relaxant to various muscles in the digestive tract. The stomach is one of the sets of muscles that classically clenches up with stress and strain and valerian specifically relaxes this set of muscles. The alkaloids have a definite and marked ability to act as a hypotensive, or blood pressure lowering impact.

Valerian has been an ingredient in perfumes for several hundred years. It combines well with other fragrances and in a combination creates a rather pleasant scent. Much of the valerian produced today is bound for the perfume maker. If you have ever smelled valerian you are aware of its unique odor, some might say repulsive. Dioscorides, an ancient greek herbalist, called the plant phu, as that was the noise people emitted when they smelled it.,It does indeed have a strange odor and one that is apparently immensely attractive to domestic cats. Annete Zeylstra, imminent pharmacognosy lecturer, insists you better hide the valerian from the felines or they will rip through all but the toughest container to get at it. Though not creatures walking on two legs feel that moved by the scent of Valerian it is indeed one of the major ingredients in most commercial fragrances.

Talk about tastes and customs changing over time, there was a day when valerian was used to flavor food. Wait till you have a smell of the stuff, you will then see how bizarre the next quote is.

” In medicaval days in england the flavor of valerian was considered by the common people a delightful addition to broths and pottages, gerarde in his herbal 1567, remarking that the poorer classes of people in the north of England did not consider such forms of food worth anything without it.” The quote comes from an Eclectic medical book detailing the history of medicinal plants.

When you dig up your valerian root and take a smell you might think that there is something wrong with your valerian as it has no odor. Not so fast blanche, the curious odor of valerian develops in the drying process. The volatile oils in the roots of the plants hydrolyse with time and become a different series of chemicals, chemicals that will indeed have the much sought after stink. You may be one of the lucky ones that loves the smell of valerian, or you may hate it. If you suffer from stress and experience valerians relaxing powers you will, like the cats, tear through any container to get your hands on it.

In the days when Eclectic physicians were more than a faded page in the history of medicine and valerian more than an ingredient in perfume, this physician had this to say about valerian, ” This agent has a special affinity for the nervous system, being gently stimulant and antispasmodic, but not producing narcosis. In medicinal doses it acts as a cerebral stimulant. It is adapted to those nervous conditions arising from enfeebled circulation in the cerebral structures. When thus indicated it controls pain, allays irritability, induces rest, and consequently sleep follows , but not from any narcotic properties of the drug.”

As the physician states, valerian relaxes without the side effects of most drugs used to do the same thing. It won’t make you drowsy or drugged feeling. The muscles and the mind are just relaxed. There is a condition I call “two squirrels in the head disorder”. One of the symptoms of the condition is when you lay down to sleep and instead of your mind cutting off and turning off it starts running and running. The mind races non-stop from one stressful thought to the next and all you really want to do is to fall asleep. But, oh, no, the mind just works faster and faster. Its like having two squirrels in your head chasing each others tails.

And of course this usually happens when you have something going on the next morning that is killer important. Some sort of activity that requires you being at your best. The more you can’t sleep the more you check the clock to see how much sleep you had thus far. At this junction if you hop out of bed and make a hot cup of valerian tea the squirrels will move on and your mind will slow down enough for you to fall to sleep.

Getting your supply:
1. Buy the dried roots and rhizome from the nature food store.
2. Grow it yourself. Another easy plant to grow and a fun one at that. Valerian grows much like crab grass, spreading via runners that shoot in every direction. Most mail order herb nurseries sell the plant and all it will take is one plant and in a year or two there will be enough valerian root for the whole stressed out family. It is the root we are after and as with all roots it pays to plant valerian in the middle of a patch loosened soil that has been worked with peat moss. The Valerian roots and rhizomes are not that big and for this reason I would add an extra measure of peatmoss to make certain it pulls out of the soil effortlessly. The plant will come with planting instructions but it naturally grows in a wet location so bear in mind it likes its feet on the wet side. It will take two seasons for the plant to grow sufficiently for there to be anything to harvest. The time to harvest Valerian is in july, before the plant flowers. At that time, using a pitchfork just tip the plants out of the earth and collect the roots. Once washed they need to be dried in a shaded location, away from any cats!

Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.