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(Valeriana Officinalis)

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Valerian is found in Europe and Asia, and prefers damp places and swamp grounds. It is a perennial plant with a hollow, angular, furrowed, pale-green stem. Valerian grows from two to four feet in height. It bears opposite, pinnate leaves having 7 to 25 lanceolate, sharply pointed leaflets. Small, white or pink flowers grow in terminal clusters from June to August. The fruit is a pale brown capsule, oblong-ovate, containing a single seed. The medicinal part is the rootstock.

Other common names for this plant are:

 All-heal English Valerian German valerian
Great wild valerian Heliotrope Setwall
Vandall root Vermont valerian Wild valerian


 Actinidine Alkaloids Bornyl acetate
Caffeinic acid Caryophyllene Chlorogenic acid
Gum Isovalerate Pinene
Plant acids Sitosterol Tannins
Valepotriates Valeric acid Valerine
Volatile oils    

* For definition of some of the above terms see the dictionary section of this book.


 Choline Magnesium Manganese
Phosphorus Sodium B Complex Vitamins

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Properties and Uses

Antispasmodic - an agent which relieves or prevents spasms, usually of the smooth muscles. Barbiturates and valerian are examples of antispasmodics.

Calmative - a substance that has a soothing or sedative effect.

Carminative - an agent which assists in expelling gas from the intestines.

Hypnotics form a class of drugs which induce sleep when sleeplessness is not due to a stimulus, such as pain or itching. Hypnotic drugs are closely related to sedatives. A single drug may possess both sedative and hypnotic qualities. Agents classified as sedatives and hypnotics have a common mode of action: they induce a nonselective, reversible decrease in central nervous system activity. Examples of drugs in this class include diazepam, mephobarbital and chloral hydrate.

Nervine - a substance which quells nervousness and irritability, either through depression or stimulation of the central nervous system.

Stomachic - a substance which excites, strengthens and tones the stomach.

Valerian is a strong nervine helpful for insomnia. It contains an essential oil and alkaloids which combine to produce a sedative effect. It can be used as a tranquilizer, and will leave one feeling refreshed rather than sluggish. It is safe and non-narcotic and has been recommended for anxiety. Valerian is commonly used with other herbs for nervous tension, and is usually recommended for short term use, as prolonged use can cause mental depression. It is seldom recommended for small children.

Valerian root has been used for centuries to calm nervous disorders. Scientific experiments conducted with laboratory animals in West Germany have demonstrated that valerian root corrects muscle spasms and tremors, reduces excitement and irritability, lowers high blood pressure, and calms the central nervous system.

Valerian has CNS-depressant activities and antispasmodic and equalizing effects. The valepotriates are chiefly responsible for the central nervous system depressant and antispasmodic effects in laboratory animals. In the human body, valepotriates calm and excite nerves and reduce seizures. Valerian lowers blood pressures in laboratory animals. Valerian lowers blood pressure in laboratory animals and protects against liver cell deterioration. In addition, it is antibacterial, especially against gram-positive bacteria (due to the alkaloids) and an anti-diuretic. An ethanol extract of valerian has anti-dandruff properties. Valeric acid emits a disagreeable odor.

Valerian is sometimes used as a substitute for the synthetic prescription drug, Valium. The side effects from both differ drastically; if too many valerian capsules (10 to 12) are ingested, it will only produce a migraine headache, whereas if that many Valium are taken it can lead to coma and death. The root tea can also be used for treating numbness due to rheumatic conditions, colds, hypothermia, fatigue, and, externally as a wash for sores and pimples.

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Toxicity Levels

Long term ingestion of the dried root of valerian in large, chronic doses can result in melancholy and depression, very similar to brominism. The valepotriates in valerian root infiltrate brain tissue and the central nervous system, particularly the spinal column with its many important nerves. This brings about a strong sedative effect on the entire body.

Valerian is known as a safe, nontoxic herbal sedative, usually recommended for short term use. Prolonged or excessive use can cause mental depression. Valerian is usually not recommended for small children.


Known Interactions: None

Possible Interactions: Additive effects may occur between the hypotensive property of valerian and that of dopamine receptor agonists such as bromocriptine mesylate.

Comments: To minimize central nervous system depression and possible synergism, it would be wise to avoid using valerian with procarbazine antineoplastic drugs.

To the extent that valerian's action depends on the presence of cholinergic substances, it will be affected by the decrease in cholinergic receptor stimulation produced by anticholinergics.

In the absence of other hard data, it may still be assumed that observable interactions may occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in valerian.

There is evidence to show that combining bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the bacteriostatic agent. However, how this finding applies to herbal anti-infectives is still unknown.

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