The common valerian, often also known as garden heliotrope, is a fragrant perennial plant that usually grows to a height of two to four feet. While valerian is found in abundance throughout Europe, in North America it was initially cultivated and now is even found along the roads and thickets in the region stretching from New England in the south to New Jersey and Ohio in the west.
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The rootstock of the plant is yellowish-brown and it produces a number of hollow, bony and grooved stalks. The stems bear leaves that are deeply divided into a number of segments and each of these leaves possess 7 to 10 pairs of leaflets that are prickly and shaped like lances.
The valerian plants bear rounded clusters of pale pink blooms in early summer. Incidentally, when the valerian rootstock is dried and powdered, it produces a foul smell that reminds one of squalid underwear or unclean socks.
In fact, the valerian rootstock encloses a number of elements that are responsible for its foul smell as well as potent tranquilizing features. The rootstock contains an element called butyl isovalerate which is utilized in preparing a synthetic, brewed egg product to lure coyotes and fend off deer.
Another substance enclosed by the valerian rootstock - eremophilene - has also been found in a variety of ripened mangoes grown in Africa. An element found in the valerian rootstock called valepotriates causes potent sedative actions on the central nervous system.
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The primeval Greeks made use of valerian to cure digestive disorders like nausea and flatulence. In addition, they also used the herb to treat urinary problems as well as to hasten the menstrual period in some women.
It was used as a diuretic, remedy for intestinal as well as menstrual pains and also applied externally to alleviate pain. These uses of the valerian continued till the 16th century. During the medieval period, the herb was also used in culinary to add essence to soups and stews.
During the 18th century, many European herbal medicine practitioners had already started using valerian for treating different types of nervous problems. All through the 1800s, herbalists used valerian particularly to heal 'vapors' or mental depression among women with symptoms varying from 'waves of heat and cold' to fright and horror.
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Basically, the rhizome or the tubular roots of valerian are used for therapeutic purposes. The roots of this herb are dug out during the end of September, as the essential oil enclosed by them is the highest at this time of the year. While the freshly dug out valerian roots do not smell awful, they emit a foul smell as they become dehydrated.
Despite the fact that researchers have isolated several chemicals from the valerian root, they are yet to detect even one active ingredient in the herb. Chemical analysis of the valerian roots has confirmed they enclose around two per cent of essential oil.
This essential oil contains around 10 per cent to 21 per cent of valeranone and additional comparatively steady constituents. When the valerian roots are dried, they are found to enclose around 0.3 per cent to 0.9 per cent of valerenic acid as well as associated amalgams.
In fact, scientists have identified and studied a class of chemicals known as valepotriates for their different actions. Among these chemicals, isovaltrate and valtrate appear to be most significant and often constitute about one per cent of the valerian plant.
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Basically, the root of valerian is therapeutically utilized as a gentle tranquilizer to smoothen restiveness and worries. It is also used for the treatment of sleeplessness or insomnia.
No less than two double-blinded researches have shown that an extract obtained from the herb is able to considerably lower the period of time taken by people to fall asleep provided their usual sleeping stages remain unchanged.
In Europe, herbal medicine practitioners use valerian as an anti-spasmodic, especially to treat cramps in the abdomen owing to anxiety as well as for spasms in the uterine and menstrual disturbance. People enduring emotional stress or tension are also administered valerian in the same manner as any other anti-anxiety medication is prescribed for them.
Some herbal medicine practitioners also use valerian to treat exhaustion or fatigue. In addition, the herb has been often recommended for treating headaches induced by tension, bronchial spasms as well as persistent coughs.
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Many a times, herbalists have also used valerian as a part of a treatment program to help patients stop taking anti-depressants or benzodiazepines. In addition, at times the herb is used for alleviating pain by relaxing the muscles.
According to health authorities in Germany, valerian is a very useful remedy for restiveness as well as sleep disorders induced by nervous conditions. It may be mentioned here that different research groups have undertaken as many as 10 controlled studies on several formulations with valerian - inclusive of ethanol extracts, freeze-dried aqueous extracts as well as other varieties.
In fact, two studies concerned just one test dose before evaluation. According to a recently conducted research by German scientists, short-term use of valerian did not demonstrate any therapeutic impact, but when it was used continuously for 28 days, compared to a placebo, the herb proved to be an advanced remedy to induce sleep.
The findings of this particular study shows that medications prepared with the herb may not be appropriate for treating severe cases of insomnia. However, findings of some earlier researches were different from this German study and, therefore, there is a need for further researches to sort out the disparities.
In fact, the herb or medications prepared with it may be best described as a mild sedative. There are several ways in which this herb may be administered - as a tincture (hydro-alcoholic solution), tea, an extract, and tablets as well as in the form of capsules.
In addition, valerian is also added to bath water for topical application. Although the use of the herb generally does not result in any adverse side effects, there have been exceptional complaints regarding the use of valerian, such as headaches or gastro-intestinal problems.
Root and rhizome.
Valerian was also called the 'all-heal' during the Middle Ages and was attributed with several features, especially therapeutic properties to heal epilepsy. Way back in 1592, Fabius Calumna published a comprehensive book on herbal medicine where he claimed to have cured himself of epilepsy using the herb.
It is said that valerian is useful in neutralizing excessive active mental conditions as well as excitement induced by nervousness and helps people to soothe their nerves. In fact, the herb is useful in just about all conditions associated with stress and generally brings about a soothing consequence on the mind. It, however, does not expressly function as a tranquilizer.
Valerian is also capable of alleviating a number of symptoms of nervousness, such as quivering, fear, tremor as well as perspiration. In addition, the herb is an effective remedy for sleeplessness or insomnia induced by fretfulness or excessive stimulation.
Valerian also loosens up excessively spasmodic muscles and is particularly beneficial for shoulder and neck stress, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, muscle contractions, colic (paroxysmal pain in the abdomen or bowels) and even painful menstruation.
The valerian plant is indigenous to Europe and the northern regions of Asia and is extensively cultivated in the central as well as eastern regions of Europe. The herb grows well in the nature in soggy situations.
Valerian is propagated from seeds during spring and the root as well as rhizome is dug out or harvested during autumn. Usually, roots and rhizomes of two-year-old plants are harvested for therapeutic purposes.
It does not require much effort to grow valerian plants that thrives well in any common garden soil. However, the plants have a preference for a very fertile heavy loam in damp conditions. Valerian plants are able to survive in places receiving total sunlight as well as those that have partial shade in forest areas.
The valerian is a polymorphic (having several distinct forms) species and several botanist give particular status to the more extreme variants. Usually valerian is grown in herb gardens and occasionally cultivated commercially as a therapeutic herb.
It needs to be mentioned here that when the plant (especially the root or rhizome) is being cultivated for therapeutic purposes, it should not be permitted to blossom. The blooms as well as the dehydrated roots of the valerian plant have a foul smell that reminds one of stale sweat.
It is interesting to not that cats like this plant, especially its pulverized dried roots. When any cat discovers a valerian plant, the animal will endeavor to destroy it by continuously keeling over it.
Another interesting fact about the valerian plant is that it also draws rats towards it and may be used as enticements in mouse traps. In addition, the valerian is considered to be a good cohort for majority of other plants.
Valerian is usually propagated by seeds. It is best to sow the valerian seeds in a cold frame during spring. The seeds need to be sowed shallow as they need light to germinate. When the seedlings have grown big enough to be handled, take them out individually and plant them in their permanent positions outdoors during the summer.
However, this depends on whether the seedlings have grown enough or not. In case the seedlings are very small for being planted outdoors, you need to grow them in a greenhouse or frame during the first winter of their existence. Such plants may be planted outdoors during the ensuing summer.
In case you are propagating the plant by root division, the best time to do so is spring again. If the root divisions are relatively big, they can directly be planted in their permanent positions outdoors.
However, it is advisable to place the smaller root divisions in pots and cultivate them in somewhat shade conditions in the greenhouse or cold frame till they have given rise to shoots that are big enough. Plants grown in this way may be planted outdoors during the ensuing summer or the next spring.
Scientists in Germany as well as Switzerland have carried out wide-ranging researches on valerian and validated that the herb induces sleep, perks up the quality of sleep and reduces blood pressure.
An ingredient of valerian called valeportriate possesses sedative and depressant properties promoting sleep. Although the therapeutic properties of valerian are attributed to a number of other elements present in the herb, scientists are yet to recognize them.
In effect, valerian is said to lower nervousness by extending the activity of an inhibitory neurotransmitter (substances produced and released by the nerve cells in the brain to communicate with each other).
The dosage of valerian may vary from one person to another depending on the condition being treated as well as the patient's response to the therapy. A number of people take 300 mg to 500 mg of valerian root extracts in the form of tablets or capsules an hour before going to bed to treat insomnia or sleep disorders.
An alcohol-based tincture prepared with valerian roots may be taken in dosage of 5 ml before retiring for the day. Valerian is also used in combination with other herbs, such as lemon balm, hops, and skullcap as well as passion flower. The dosage for children between six and 12 years is about half of what is prescribed for adults.
Although use of valerian does not result in any known side effects or the herb does not interact with other medications, it is essential never to take this herb or medications prepared with it simultaneously with alcohol.
Studies conducted by scientists recently suggest that unlike other sedatives, valerian does not weaken the aptitude to drive or use any machinery. Usage of the herb also does not result in addiction or dependence on it. In addition, thus far there are no adverse side effects of this herbal remedy on pregnant and nursing women.
The therapeutic properties of valerian in healing nervous disorders are basically attributed to ingredients called valepotriates that have a tranquilizing impact on the mind.
Healing insomnia is perhaps the most important use of valerian which not only induces sleep quickly, but also enables the persons using the herb or medications prepared with it to rise early without any hangover or confused state of mind. In fact, valerian is especially beneficial for people who endure excessive mental activity and are not able to unwind easily.
Valerian is also useful in virtually all types of anxiety induced by tension since it did not weaken the ability of the patients to keep focused and also has a soothing impact on the mind. In addition, herbal medicine practitioners recommend valerian to heal several conditions, including digestive problems that may be owing to some kind of tension or stress.
The herb also helps to loosen up the contracted muscles. Valerian is also used in combination with other herbs for the cardiovascular system, especially to treat hypertension.
Valerian root is used in several methods - maceration (softening by soaking or steeping in any liquid), infusion, and tincture for internal use. Externally, it is used as a compress and wash to treat numerous conditions.
MACERATION: To prepare maceration with valerian roots, soak two teaspoon of finely sliced, if possible freshly dug out roots, in a cup of cold water for around 8 to 10 hours. Once the brew is prepared add two to three drops of peppermint water, bought from pharmacies, to conceal its taste. Drink the sedative solution to treat insomnia and anxiety.
INFUSION: Infusion prepared with valerian roots is also beneficial for fretfulness and sleeplessness (insomnia).
TINCTURE: Tincture prepared with valerian roots is a useful remedy to treat insomnia and also functions as a tranquilizer. However, the dosage of the valerian tincture is likely to differ from person to person depending on the condition being treated and the patients' response to treatment. While some people may require a high dosage of about 5 ml, this may result in headaches in others. Hence, it is advisable to start with a small dosage of 1 ml to 2 ml. The tincture may also be used in combination with licorice and other expectorants like hyssop to treat coughs. It may also be included in mixtures to heal hypertension caused due to tension or nervousness.
COMPRESS: Prepare a compress with valerian roots by drenching a pad in the tincture and apply it topically to alleviate muscle contractions/ spasms.
Crush the roots in a food processor and combine with the wine. Macerate for 1 month. Strain.
In the case of hypertension or nervousness: 10 drops, taken in the morning on an empty stomach. Repeat as needed at noon and again in the evening. To treat spasms or insomnia: 20 drops, 20 minutes before bed.