Valerian officinalis is a perennial herb that has a short rhizome and many hollow rootlets. It has sweetly scented pink and white flowers which bloom in the summer and which may be used to make perfumes due to their pleasant scent (Bremness 1988).
V. officinalis thrives in damp, fertile soil, especially in ditches and stream banks, as well as in moist woods. It is very common to find this plant growing wild in Europe and northern Asia (Bremness 1988).
TRADITIONAL USES: Valerian is an ancient Germanic healing plant that is held sacred by the earth goddess Hertha. The root was utilized by the smith Wieland to heal diseases. The root was hung outside of houses to shield the space from evil spirits, devils, and curses, and was burned as a protective incense. The root attracts lightening and lovers. In medieval Sweden, the root was occasionally placed in the wedding clothing of a groom to ward off envious elvish beings. In Iran, the root is still smoked and injected for recreation (Ratsch 1998, 587).
Many texts extol the calming qualities of this herb, and it is recommended as a solution for men who are beginning to get into an altercation, as it will immediately create peace (Grieve n.d.).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATIONS: Valerian root may be taken in capsule or extract form, or the dried root may be made in to a tea. Valerian has a very synergistic effect with certain other plant medicines. For example, a tea made of equal parts valerian root and kava kava is said to produce beautiful dreams. When valerian root is mixed with hops in a tea, one has a potent sleeping potion (Dreamherbs.com 2011).
Fresh or recently dried valerian root is the most potent, and after a year potency is almost completely lost. A dose of about one teaspoon of ground root powder is sufficient for sedative effects in most people. The root may be extracted into alcohol or water as a tincture, or may be made in to a tea by adding root matter to boiling water and allowing the mixture to steep for several minutes (Cunningham 1994).
MEDICINAL USES: In the early modern period, valerian root was used as an aphrodisiac and epilepsy treatment. The root was also an important ingredient of the universal panacea of the Greeks known as Theriac (Ratsch 1998, 587). Theriac was said to be a treatment for ever sickness, and was prepared from a number of herbs and fermented for several years. It was meant to be particularly good as a treatment for venomous animal bites, and was sold up into the late 1800s in Europe. Other ingredients sometimes included viper’s flesh, opium, cinnamon, honey, wine, and many other ingredients (Karaberopoulos et al. 2012).
In late 16th century Europe, Valerian root was used extensively as a sedative, especially for women. It was also used during the World Wars as a treatment for shell-shock and stress (Voogelbreinder 2009, 343). A tea made from the roots is also a great treatment for menstrual cramps.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, valerian root is used to strengthen the mind and promote awareness and sleep. Excessive use, however, seems to dull the mind. Valerian root is especially effective for assisting elderly people. The root and preparations of it have been used to treat anxiety, nervous tension, depression, insomnia, cramps, Parkinson’s disease and PMS, among other things (Voogelbreinder 2009, 343).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Valerian root is well know for having strong sedating effects. This is due to alkaloids that increase GABA levels, reduce alcohol-induced attention troubles, and are powerful sedatives. Excessive use may cause headaches, anxiety, insomnia and heart trouble, so valerian medicine must be used with care (Voogelbreinder 2009, 343).
Valerian root may be somewhat stimulating, especially in younger people, but it is most often sedating and calming, helping body and the mind to relax as fully as possible. The plant is particularly helpful in cases of insomnia for promoting sleep, and may help calm pain from headaches, arthritis, and other physical ailments (Voogelbreinder 2009, 343). The juice of the fresh roots is said to be more predictable in action, and is very valuable as a narcotic and insomnia treatment, and as an anti-convulsant in epilepsy treatments. The juice also slows the heart, and may therefore be helpful in cases of heart palpitations (Grieve n.d.).
Bremness, L., The Complete Book of Herbs. NWS: Reader’s Digest Press, 1988.
Cunningham, S., Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 1994.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
“Valeriana Officinalis”, May 25, 2011. http://dreamherbs.com/herbal-products/valeriana-officinalis/.
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.