Valeriana officinalis

Part used: Rhizome, stolons & roots.

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 canaugment
clinical experience but never replace it.

  • Valepotriates: valtrate, didrovaltrate, acevaltrate,

  • volatile oil: esters: bornyl isovalerianate,
    bornylacetate, 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 anti-microbial, 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, anti-spasmodic, 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. Valerian will help
in most cases. For some people it can be an effective mild pain

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, Valerian 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 Valerian 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 Valerian . 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 Valerian and Hops 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 anti-spasmodic
action can be partially ascribed to the valepotriates and to a
lesser extent to the sesquiterpene constituents of the volatile
oils. Amongst other effects, Valerian 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 Valerian
and a number of other plants on the muscles of the digestive tract.
Hawthorn and Valerian were the best, followed by Passion
Flower and Chamomile. Especially interesting was the finding that
combining all the herbs acted in a synergistic way, being relaxing
at low dosage levels.

Valerian 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. Valerian is one such herb whose
use was validated. Others are garlic, geranium, European mistletoe,
olive, and hawthorn.

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 (l/2 – l teaspoonful ) is given,
and indeed sometimes 10 ml at one time. It is almost pointless to
give ten or twenty drops of valerian tincture. Over dosage 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, anti-spasmodic 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-l0 hours. A night time
dose is thus set up in the morning, and a dose for the mornings
is prepared at night.

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

Explore Wellness in 2021