Valerian (Valerian officinalis)
Valerian is a perennial which grows 4 to5 feet. A Native of England but found growing throughout the world, Valerian has dark green, serrated leaves grouped in pairs. The plant develops a flower stalk early in the year with fragrant light lavender flowers. Its seed is flat and heart-shaped, and colored
either light or dark gray. The yellow-brown, tuberous rootstock produces a hollow, angular, furrowed stem with opposite, pinnate leaves which have from 7 to 25 lanceolate, sharply serrated leaflets. The rose-colored to reddish, sometimes white, flowers are small and fragrant, appearing in compact terminal cymes from June to July.
Family: Valerianaceae (Valerian family)
Other Names: All-heal, Setwall
Flowers: June – July
Parts Used: Root
Habitat: Along roadsides and thickets. Quebec; Maine to New Jersey and Pennsylvania; Ohio to Minnesota. Alien – (Imported from Europe).
History: Ancient Greek and Roman authorities, including Dioscorides, Pliny, and Galen all called it fu, because of the unpleasant aroma. The term Valeriana first appeared around the 10th century, derived from the Latin valere, to be strong.
Dioscorides recommended valerian as a diuretic and antidote to poisons. Pliny considered it a pain reliever. Galen prescribed it as a decongestant. By the time the plant’s name became valetian, early European herbalists considered it a panacea and also called it all-heal.
During the late 1500s, valerian’s popularity grew after an Italian physician claimed he cured himself of epilepsy using it. In 1597, herbalist John Gerard recommended the herb enthusiastically for chest congestion, convulsions, bruises, and falls.
Seventeenth-century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper added several recommendations: “The decoction of the root. . . is of special virtue against the plague. . . provokes menstruation. . . is singularly good for those troubled with cough. . . is excellent for any sores, hurts, or wounds. . . .”Later, European herbalists considered the herb a digestive aid and treatment for “hysteria” and menstrual discomforts.
Early colonists discovered several Indian tribes using the pulverized roots of native American valerian to treat wounds. Indian use of the herb brought it to the attention of Samuel Thomson, the founder of Thomsonian medicine, which was popular before the Civil War. Thomson called valerian “the best nervine (tranquilizer) known.”
Valerian entered the U.S. Pharmacopoeia as a tranquilizer in 1820 and remained there until 1942. It was listed in the National Formulary until 1950.
Constituents: Valtrate, Didovaltrate, Valerosidatum, Volatile oil, Limolene, Sesquiterpene, Valerian camphor, Alkaloids, Chatinine, Valerianine, Actinidine, Valerine, Choline, Tannins, Resins.
Properties: Antispasmodic, calmative, carminative, hypnotic, nervine, stomachic.
Main Uses: All parts of valerian contain chemicals that appear to have sedative properties known as valepotriates, but they occur in highest concentration in the roots. The valepotriates are insoluble in water. Many valerian sleep aids are water-based, meaning they cannot contain more than traces of these chemicals, leading some herb critics to dismiss valerian as worthless.
It is useful for all sorts of nervous conditions, migraine headaches, insomnia, hysteria, neurasthenia, fatigue, stress and stomach cramps that cause vomiting.
Preparation And Dosages: (Use only fresh rootstock.)
Infusion: Steep 1 teaspoon rootstock in 1 pint of boiling water. Take cold, 1 cup in the course of the day, or when going to bed.
Cold extract: Use 2 teaspoons rootstock with 1 cup water; let stand for 24 hours and strain. Take 1/2 to 1 cup when going to bed.
Tincture: Fresh whole plant (1:2), dry root (1:5), in 70% alcohol. Take 30 to 90 drops up to 3 times a day.
Valerian (Valerian officinalis)