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Valerian: Valeriana Officinalis, Fragrant Valerian, Garden Valerian


Valerian is native to Europe and Northern Asia and naturally prefers damp fields, but will grow almost anywhere. Valerian is an erect perennial herb. The roots consist of many white colored erect root stacks of rhizomes. In spring, every plant forms one hollow stem. The leaves are arranged in pairs and consist of six to ten leaflets. During midsummer the valerian root starts to bloom. The flowers are white to pink with a very unique but rather pleasant smell. The roots and other parts have a more strange and volatile smell. Some versions of the Pied Piper of Hamelin have him using valerian, as well as his pipe, to attract the rats. The valerian roots are harvested in autumn. Valerian has volatile oil, valepotriates, alkaloids and iridoids as active agents. Pharmacological research suggests that these components naturally inhibit enzyme-induced Gamma-Amniobutyric  Acid (GABA) breakdown in the brain, although, the precise mechanism of action has yet to be defined.


Fun Fact: 

Valerian is called nature’s tranquilizer because it calms the nerves without the side effects of comparable orthodox drugs.


The first therapeutic uses of valerian were described by Hippocrates and in the 2nd century Galen prescribed valerian for insomnia. In the 16th century, it was used to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations. In the mid-19th century, valerian was considered a stimulant that caused some of the same complaints it was thought to treat and was generally held in low esteem as a medicinal herb. During World War II, it was used in England to relieve the stress of the air raids on the soldiers.


It is relaxing and sleep inducing, relieves spasms, calms the digestion, and lowers blood pressure. It is useful for extreme insomnia and insomnia accompanied by pain, cramps, intestinal and menstrual pain, tension, anxiety and over excitability. Valerian can bring on a restful night sleep without the dangers of addiction. Studies show that valerian has an extremely beneficial effect among poor or irregular sleepers and in people having difficulty falling asleep.

The roots and rhizome are the most common used parts of the plant. The root is good at treating nervous tension, especially anxiety and insomnia. The root also strengthens the heart and can sometimes reduce high blood pressure. It encourages healing in wounds and ulcers and is effective topically for muscle cramps. It may be used as an expectorant and can help tickling nervous coughs. The rhizome is a powerful carminative, stimulant, and antispasmodic. It is used to treat hysteria, and palpitations of the heart.


Valerian can be used in macerations, infusions, tinctures, compressions, and washes. As a maceration and infusion, it is used as a sedating brew to treat anxiety and insomnia. If you add two tablespoons of valerian root, two quarts of warm water, mix well, and heat; it will alleviate gas and is calming to the nervous system. In a tincture, it is used as a sedative or for insomnia. If you combine with licorice and other expectorants such as hyssop for coughs, it can be added to mixtures for high blood pressure where tension or anxiety is a contributing factor. When used in a compression, you soak a pad in the tincture to ease muscle cramps. As a wash it is used with either an infusion or maceration to treat chronic ulcers and wounds. It can also be used for drawing out splinters.

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions: 

If taking valerian, one should take a few precautions. Valerian should not be taken for more than two weeks straight, as continuous used or high doses may lead to headaches and palpitations. It also enhances the action of sleep-inducing drugs, so avoid if taking any of these medications. Valerian looks similar to the garden plant red “American” valerian, which has no medicinal properties

References Cited:   

Barnes, Anderson, Phillipson. Herbal Medicines 3rd Edition. Chicago: Pharmaceutical Press, 2007.

Ody, Penelope. Complete Medicinal Herbal. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1993.

Barnes, Thomas G. “Common Valerian.” Plants National Database. 2004. 18 Apr.