by Life Enthusiast Staff
Part used: Rhizome, stolons & roots.
Collection: A number of herbs belong to the genus Valeriana, but three are commonly used V. officinalis, V. sitchensis and V.wallichii. It is collected in the fall, as after a seasons growth the roots will be rich in material that has been created during the growing season. It is dried below 40 centigrade.
Constituents: A range of unique chemical constituents have been found, but as with all herbal remedies it is a mistake to try to understand the plant from these chemicals alone. The healing gift of Valerian is much more than simply the effects of constituents like valepotriates. The practitioner of herbal medicine can glean much of value from biochemical research that can augment clinical experience but never replace it.
valepotriates: valtrate, didrovaltrate, acevaltrate, isovaleroxy-hydoxydidrovaltrate
volatile oil - esters: bornyl isovalerianate, bornyl acetate, bornyl formate, eugenyl isovalerate, isoeugenyl isovalerate
alcohols, eugenol, terpenes, valerianol, a sesquiterpene alcohol
Alkaloids: chatinine, valerine and 2 others similar to skytanthine
The powerful sedative action of valerian is partially due to valepotriates, epoxy-iridoid esters, found in the root. A whole series of valepotriates has been isolated, and their actions have been found to be different, and in part opposite. They do not have simply sedative properties, but a predominantly regulatory effect on the autonomic system.
One fraction has a suppressant effect, another a stimulant one, so that in combination they have an equalizing effect that has been referred to as amphoteric. Valtrate & didrovaltrate have been to have potent cytotoxic activity, and the former is active against Krebs II ascitic tumors.
There is 0.5-1.0% of volatile oil present. The peculiar bouquet of valerian is actually produced by drying. A number of components of the volatile oil in the roots, hydrolyse with time to isovaleric acid. Very little is present in the fresh root, which has a pleasant aroma. The older the dried herb the stronger the smell of isovaleric acid, but not necessarily stronger in effect. This volatile oil has antimicrobial, carminative and relaxing properties.
Alkaloids are also present that have blood pressure lowering effects. There may be up to 0.1% in the dried root.
Like many other medicinal plants valerian contains a complex of active principles, making analysis is difficult. Even detailed and thorough investigation does not reveal a single active constituent in this well-known medicinal plant, highlighting that the therapeutic effect depends on the interaction of the plants constituents as a whole.
Actions: Nervine, hypnotic, antispasmodic, carminative, hypotensive, emmenagogue.
Indications: It has a wide range of specific uses, but its main indications are: anxiety, nervous sleeplessness, and the bodily symptoms of tension such as muscle cramping or indigestion. It may be used safely in situations where tension and anxiety are causing problems. This may manifest in purely psychological and behavioral ways or also with body symptoms. Valeriana will help in most cases. For some people it can be an effective mild pain reliever.
As one of the best gentle and harmless herbal sleeping remedies, it enhances the natural body process of slipping into sleep and making the stresses of the day recede. For people who do not need as much sleep as they once did, it also eases lying awake in bed, ensuring that it becomes a restful and relaxing experience. This is often as re-vivifying as sleep itself, and indeed all that is necessary in more cases than not.
The true nature of sleep still remains a mystery. Everybody goes through stages of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a stage where dreaming is associated with minor involuntary muscle jerks and rapid eye movements, indicating that active processes are occurring in the brain. It is important not to suppress the dreams dreamed during this stage. Emotional experiences are processed by the mind in those dreams, and much arising from both the unconscious and daily life is balanced and harmonized. Whilst sleeping pills have a marked impact on REM, Valeriana does not interfere with this process as it is not powerful enough to suppress these necessary REM phases.
The research into valerian is confirming the traditional experience of the herbalist. In one study Valeriana produced a significant decrease in subjectively evaluated sleep scores and an improvement in sleep quality. Improvement was most notable amongst those who considered themselves poor or irregular sleepers and smokers.
Dream recall was relatively unaffected by Valeriana. When the effect of valerian root on sleep was studied in healthy, young people, it reduced perceived sleep latency and the wake time after sleep onset. In other words they experienced an easily and quicker descent into sleep. A combination of Valeriana and Humulus was given to people whose sleep was disturbed by heavy traffic noise. Giving the herbs well before retiring, reduced the noise induced disturbance of a number of sleep stage patterns.
Much research has centered on its effects upon smooth muscle, demonstrating that it is a powerful and safe muscle relaxant. It can be safely used in muscle cramping, uterine cramps and intestinal colic. Its sedative and antispasmodic action can be partially ascribed to the valepotriates and to a lesser extent to the sesquiterpene constituents of the volatile oils. Amongst other effects, Valeriana decreases both spontaneous and caffeine-stimulated muscular activity, significantly reduces aggressiveness of animals, and decrease a number of measurable processes in the brain.
Italian researchers compared the relaxing properties of Valeriana and a number of other plants on the muscles of the digestive tract. Crataegus and Valerian were the best, followed by Passiflora and Matricaria. Especially interesting was the finding that combining all the herbs acted in a synergistic way, being relaxing at low dosage levels.
Valeriana is used world wide as a relaxing remedy in hypertension and stress related heart problems. There is an effect here beyond simple nerve relaxation, as it contains alkaloids that are mild hypotensives. Such use is recognized by the World Health Organization. They promote research and development of traditional medicine that sees the importance of using whole plants and going beyond the test tube for meaningful results. In WHO sponsored studies in Bulgaria, traditional herbs known for their healing effect in cardiovascular problems were considered. Results of clinical examination of patients using such herbs are impressive. Valeriana is one such herb whose use was validated. Others are garlic, geranium, European mistletoe, olive, and hawthorn.
Combinations: It is possible to enhance different aspects of valerians effects by combining it with other herbs. For tension and anxiety it will combine well with Scutellaria, whilst for sleep Humulus or Passiflora would be better. In cases of nervous indigestion use it with Matricaria or Lavandula and for muscular cramps with Viburnum opulus or V. prunifolia.
Dosage: To be effective it has to be used in sufficiently high dosage. The tincture is the most widely used preparation and is always useful, provided that the single dose is not counted in drops, but that 2.5-5ml (1/2 - 1 teaspoonful) is given, and indeed sometimes 10ml at one time. It is almost pointless to give ten or twenty drops of valerian tincture.
Overdosage is highly unlikely, even with very much larger doses. For situations of extreme stress where a sedative or muscle relaxant effect is need fast, the single dose of one teaspoonful may be repeated two or three times at short intervals.
The dried herb is prepared as an infusion to ensure no loss of the volatile oils. Two teaspoons of the dried herb are used for each cup of tea prepared. With these doses expect a good relaxing, antispasmodic and sleep-inducing effect, and above all rapid sedation in states of excitement. A cold infusion may be used: a glass of cold water is poured over two teaspoons of valerian root and left to stand for 8-10 hours. A night time dose is thus set up in the morning, and a dose for the mornings is prepared at night.
Folklore: It has an ancient and world wide history. Scholars have concluded that it is the same plant that the Greek herbalist Dioscorides called Phu, because of its offensive smell. It was first called Valeriana in the 9th century and was later known as All Heal in medieval England, where it was considered a spice and perfume as well as medicine! Cats are attracted to this wonderful herb, and it can sometimes induce a state of ecstasy in them. They will roll around in it as if they have taken leave of their senses, a far more impressive display than with catnip.
Valerian has been used as a medicinal anti-anxiety herb and sleep aid since the days of the Romans. The dried roots of the plant are used in teas, tinctures and in capsule/tablet forms.
- Promotes relaxation
- Induces sleep
- Calms nerves
It is unclear which of the numerous compounds is the true "active" - but the combination of compounds appears to work together in the brain in a manner similar to the action of prescription tranquilizers such as Valium and Halcion.
Valerian taken before bedtime appears to reduce the amount of time that it takes to fall asleep. It is unknown, however, whether the quality of the sleep is affected by valerian consumption. Valerian is generally regarded as a mild tranquilizer and has been deemed safe by the German Commission E for treating "restlessness and sleeping disorders brought on by nervous conditions."
Occasional reports of headaches and mild nausea are documented, but habituation or dependency is unlikely when used as directed. Valerian should be avoided by pregnant and lactating women and should not be consumed by children. Individuals currently taking sedative drugs or antidepressant medications should be advised by their personal physician before taking valerian. Do not take valerian in conjunction with alcohol or other tranquilizers and do not consume for more than two weeks.
As a mild tranquilizer and sleep aid, valerian may be an effective herb for dealing with temporary feelings of anxiety, nervousness or insomnia. The effects of valerian are generally quite mild when compared to prescription products and synthetic OTC products.
Because the activity and strength of valerian preparations can vary significantly from one product to the next, it is recommended to select a standardized product (0.5-1.0% valerenic acids) whenever possible and to follow the directions on the particular product. As a general guideline, approximately 250-500 mg of a 5-6:1 extract can be taken before bed (as a sleep aid) or as needed as a mild tranquilizer.