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Valerian

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  • Botanical: Valeriana officinalis
  • Family: Valerianaceae
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Valerian

Botanical

Valeriana officinalis

Family

Valerianaceae

Known as

Valeriana officinalis, Garden Valerian, Echter Arznei-Baldrian,Katzenkraut, Stinkwurz, Hexenkraut, Augenwurzel, Mondwurz, Bullerjan, Tolljan, Katzenwargel

Parts Used

roots, twigs

Aroma

minty, spicy

Medicinal

bladder weakness, cramps, cramps stomach, flatulence, gastritis, headache, high blood preasure, insomnia, menopausal symptom, migraine, nervousness, pain relief, restlessness, sleep, hyperthyroidism, tension, unrest

Heart & Circulation

circulation, high blood pressure

Hormone & Sexual Organs

cramps, menopausal symptom

Muscle & Joints

tension

Mind & Nerves

anxiety, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, migraine, nervousness, pain relief, restlessness, sleep

Stomach & Intestinal

bladder weakness, flatulence, gastritis, hyperthyroidism, stomach cramps

Properties

anticonvulsive, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, hypotensive, nervine, relaxant, sedative, stimulant

Description

The roots tend to merge into a short, conical root-stock or erect rhizome, the development of which often proceeds for several years before a flowering stem is sent up, but slender horizontal branches which terminate in buds are given off earlier, and from these buds proceed aerial shoots or stolons, which produce fresh plants where they take root.

Only one stem arises from the root, which attains a height of 3 or 4 feet. It is round, but grooved and hollow, more or less hairy, especially near the base. It terminates in two or more pairs of flowering stems, each pair being placed at right angles to those above and below it. The lower flowering stems lengthen so as to place their flowers nearly or often quite on a level with the flowers borne by the upper branches, forming a broad and flattened cluster at the summit, called a cyme.

The leaves are arranged in pairs and are united at their bases. Each leaf is made up of a series of lance-shaped segments, more or less opposite to one another on each side of the leaf (pinnate). The leaflets vary very much in number, from six to ten pairs as a rule, and vary also in breadth, being broad when few in number and narrower when more numerous; they are usually 2 to 3 inches long.

The margins are indented by a few coarsely-cut teeth. The upper surface is strongly veined, the under surface is paler and frequently more or less covered with short, soft hairs. The leaves on the stem are attached by short, broad sheaths, the radical leaves are larger and long-stemmed and the margins more toothed. 

 The flowers are small, tinged with pink and flesh colour, with a somewhat peculiar, but not exactly unpleasant smell. The corolla is tubular, and from the midst of its lobes rise the stamens, only three in number, though there are five lobes to the corolla. The limb of the calyx is remarkable for being at first inrolled and afterwards expanding in the form of a feathery pappus, which aids the dissemination of the fruit.

The fruit is a capsule containing one oblong compressed seed. Apart from the flowers, the whole plant has a foetid smell, much accentuated when bruised.

Properties & Uses

Valerian is a well-known and frequently used medicinal herb that has a long and proven history of efficacy. It is noted especially for its effect as a tranquilliser and nervine, particularly for those people suffering from nervous overstrain. Valerian has been shown to encourage sleep, improve sleep quality and reduce blood pressure. It is also used internally in the treatment of painful menstruation, cramps, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome etc. It should not be prescribed for patients with liver problems. Externally, it is used to treat eczema, ulcers and minor injuries. The root is antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, hypnotic, powerfully nervine, sedative and stimulant. The active ingredients are called valepotriates, research has confirmed that these have a calming effect on agitated people, but are also a stimulant in cases of fatigue The roots of 2 year old plants are harvested in the autumn once the leaves have died down and are used fresh or dried. The fresh root is about 3 times as effective as roots dried at 40° (the report does not specify if this is centigrade or fahrenheit), whilst temperatures above 82° destroy the active principle in the root. Use with caution, see the notes above on toxicity. 

Other Uses

The plant yields about 1% of an essential oil from the roots. It is used in perfumery to provide a 'mossy' aroma, though the scent is considered to be disagreeable by many people. The dried roots are also placed in linen cupboards and clothes drawers in order to scent the clothes. The dried root attracts rats and cats, it can be used as a bait to lure them away from other areas. An ingredient of 'QR' herbal compost activator. This is a dried and powdered mixture of several herbs that can be added to a compost heap in order to speed up bacterial activity and thus shorten the time needed to make the compost. The plant can also be used to make a very good liquid plant feed. It attracts earthworms. The leaves are very rich in phosphorus

Cautions

It is said that prolonged medicinal use of this plant can lead to addiction. A course of treatment should not exceed 3 months. Adverse effects can include: headaches (rare), giddiness, nausea, excitability & agitation, heart palpitations (rare), insomnia (rare). Do not take with other sedatives (e.g. alcohol) or before driving (or alertness required) 

Distribution

Europe, including Britain but excluding the extreme north and south, temperate Asia to Japan.

Constituents

Essential oils, valerenic, valerian acid, sesquiterpenes, Arnikaflavon, hydrophilic lignans, bitters, tannins, resin, alkaloids