First used as medicine in ancient Greece and Rome for centuries and now used to treat a variety of ailments, the Valerian herb is native to Europe and can grow to be up to 2 feet tall. It is grown to decorate gardens, but also grows wild in damp grasslands. Straight, hollow stems are topped by umbrella-like heads. Its dark green leaves are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. The root is light grayish brown and has little odor when fresh.
Today, Valerian is used in several different perfumes, medications, and drinks, serving as a relaxant for consumers. In this article, we will discuss the several different roles that Valerian plays in both old and modern society, as well as the different benefits the herb has for the human body.
What is Valerian?
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), is a perennial plant, home to Europe and Asia, while also being naturalized in North America. It has been used to aid management of restlessness, anxiety, mental strain, excitability, insomnia, headaches, stress, nervous stomach cramps, menopause, pain, discomfort, emotional distress caused by menstruation, and several other conditions.
The strong smell of the Valerian root makes it easily identifiable, with texts ranging several thousand years back referring to its pungency. However, despite its scent, Valerian has been used in the creation of different perfumes and aromas, even being used in bath water for its smell. It was also used as a spice during the 1500’s; commonly being added to salads and different stews.
How does it benefit the body?
Valerian is commonly known for both its ability to relax the nervous system and its sedative qualities. For hundreds of years, it has been used as a sleeping aid where an individual is either too excited or too nervous to fall asleep. These effects can be accredited to the complex nature of the herb, which contains over 120 chemical compounds. Despite this, with moderate use, there have not been any negative side effects.
The roots and the underground stems of Valerian are typically used to make liquid extracts, supplements, as well as teas. It can also be used as antispasmodic, particularly for abdominal cramping and uterine cramps. It is able to be applied as a treatment for cramps and other muscle tensions.
In 1982, a sleep study conducted by a team of researchers was performed on 128 people with the goal of seeing if the use of valerian root improved sleep quality. Each person had received 9 samples to test; 3 containing 400mg valerian extract, 3 containing a placebo and 3 containing an over-the-counter preparation. The samples were not taken consecutively, and were instead taken on non-consecutive nights. The valerian capsules had produced a significant decrease in sleep latency and an overall improvement in sleep quality.
One of the best designed studies found that valerian was no more effective than placebo for 14 days, but by 28 days valerian greatly improved sleep for those who were taking it. This initially led researchers to believe that several weeks were needed for the effects of valerian to work. However, in another study, valerian was more effective than placebo almost immediately.
Supplements that contain valerian are occasionally suggested as a natural therapy for individuals struggling with anxiety. This effect seems to be linked to compounds in the plant that bind to specific receptors in the brain. Valerian root is best taken before bedtime, as the effect of the root slowly grows over time.
What are the side effects of Valerian?
When taken in higher doses, inattentiveness and drowsiness are of the most typical side effects. The root assists with insomnia, making it dangerous to take when driving, operating machinery or any activity which requires alert behavior. Other side effects can include excitability, dizziness, restlessness, blurry eyesight, and nausea. These are typically only experienced after taking large doses of the root, in combination with alcohol.
Ideally, Valerian should be taken for anywhere between 4 – 8 weeks at a time. The use of Valerian should be immediately stopped if there is nausea, upper stomach pain, itching, loss of appetite, dark urine, or jaundice, as this is an indication of liver problems.
Valerian should not be taken without consulting a doctor if any individual has the following conditions:
- Any type of infection (HIV, malaria, tuberculosis)
- Asthma or allergies
- Anxiety or depression
- Erectile Dysfunction
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol or a heart condition
- A psychiatric disorder
If an individual is currently taking any sedatives, medications which depend on being broken down by the liver, or anesthesia, they should consult their health care provider before taking Valerian. Valerian may slow down how quickly certain drugs are broken down b the liver. Many medications rely on the liver to break them down, so it’s possible that in some cases, too much of these drugs could build up in the body.
What is the dosage of Valerian?
A standard dosage of Valerian is 450 mg. Daytime supplementation should consist of 2 to 3 doses of 300 mg. The capsule should not be crushed, chewed or broken; it should be swallowed whole. Since Valerian is mostly used for insomnia, there are no specific known dosage amounts for anxiety. For the purpose of helping the body sleep, the University Of Maryland Medical Center suggests making a tea by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp or 2 to 3 g of dried root and letting it steep for five to ten minutes. For anxiety, starting with 200 mg three to four times per day is a good decision.
Individuals have stated that they had needed to take valerian for a number of weeks in order to feel its initial effects.
How is Valerian consumed?
The root of the valerian plant is used to make products such as supplements, capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, teas, compresses and bath additives. It is recommended that valerian be taken up to 3 times in the course of a day.