Herbs for Health – An ancient herb, Valerian
Valeriana officinalis has a long history of use for insomnia.
An old tradition was to hang a sprig of valerian in the home, thus making a couple live in harmony and health.
Valerian grows wild in Europe and northern Asia, and is cultivated in central and eastern Europe
This tall, perennial shrub has clusters of white/pale pink throughout summer, with a tangle of roots. Do not confuse this plant with the showy flowering garden valerian, also known as red valerian (Centranthus ruber)
Plant it in a cool position or light shade with good compost. Propagate by seeds or basal cuttings in spring or by division in spring and autumn. Pick out flowers to encourage root growth. The plant disappears underground during winter.
The roots are used medicinally and are harvested by lifting two year old plants in autumn when the leaves have died back.
Valerian has been used since the time of ancient Greece and Rome. In the 2nd century, Greek physician Galen prescribed valerian for insomnia. It was known to Dioscorides in the 1st century AD, who named it phu, the word reflecting its unpleasant smell. The therapeutic uses were described by Hippocrates in the 4th century. In medieval Sweden it was placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the envy of the elves! It appeared in Anglo-Saxon herbals, and was known as “Treat All” or “All Heal” in Medieval Europe.
In the 16th century it was used for treating nervousness, trembling, headaches and heart palpitations. Although the roots have an unpleasant smell and taste, flower extracts were used as a perfume. Fresh roots smell like ancient leather, but dried they are like stale sweat, but are still used to add a musty smell to perfume. Cats and rats are attracted to the smell and it is said that the Pied Piper of Hamelin carried the root.
During World War I valerian tincture was used to treat shell shock, which is caused by prolonged psychological strain. In World War II it was used in England to relieve the stress of air raids.
Medical uses: Valerian is used much the same way as Valium, a popular drug today. However, the two are totally unrelated.
• Internally valerian is a good herbal tranquillizer for nervous disorders, such as anxiety, stress and is a safe, non-addictive relaxant.
• It promotes restful sleep, taking it to sleep people find that in the morning they do not have a lingering drugged effect that sleeping pills give them.
• It is recognized as an effective sedative that does not react with alcohol or cause dependency.
• Recent research has shown that valerian sedates and regulates mood problems, and to relieve tension and restlessness.
• It is currently one of the most popular orthodox antispasmodic medications in Russia and Germany, for cramps, muscular tension and spasms, as well as painful menstruation.
• Valerian will relieve migraine, pain and headaches and indigestion of nervous origin.
In South Africa, Valerian capensis – a related species – is used for hysteria and epilepsy, stress, muscle spasms, nervous exhaustion, headaches with nervous components, heart problems involving nervous tension, insomnia, and even whooping cough
Infusion (tea) for anxiety and insomnia OR 1 /2 tsp tincture with a little water an hour before bed as a sedative.
Contra Indications and Special Precautions: One of the main advantages of valerian root preparations is the almost total lack of toxicity they exhibit, even with prolonged use. Do not take for more than 3 weeks without a break or take high doses as it may cause headaches and palpitations. For some people it may act as a stimulant rather than a sedative.
Don’t use sleep-inducing drugs or anti-depressants at the same time as taking valerian as it will enhance the action. It can cause drowsiness, so do not drive or handle dangerous machinery.
Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Possible Drug Interactions: None known at this time
Yours in herbs,