Valerian entered the Pharmacopoeia as a tranquilizer in 1820
and remained there until 1942. It was listed in the National Formulary,
the pharmacists' guide, until 1950. All parts of valerian contain
chemicals that appear to have sedative properties known as valepotriates,
but they occur in highest concentration in the roots.
VALERIAN (Valeriana officinalis)
Back in the 13th century, the elders of Hamelin,
Germany, decided to rid their town of rats. They contracted with an
itinerant flute player, one Pied Piper, whose music attracted the rodents,
allowing him to lead them out of town. But when the Pied Piper returned
for his fee, the elders of Hamelin refused to pay him. In revenge, he
used his flute to charm Hamelin's children away forever. In modern versions
of this story, the Pied Piper's powers were entirely musical. But early
German folklore credited him with being an accomplished herbalist as
well. In addition to his hypnotic flute playing, the Pied Piper charmed
both rats and children with hypnotic valerian root.
The term Valeriana first appeared around the
10th century and it is said by some to have been named after Valerius,
who first used it in medicine. Other sources say the name derives from
the Latin valere, to be strong or healthy. Medieval herbalists called
the plant "capon's tail" which has rather fantastically been explained
as a reference to its spreading head of whitish flowers. Valerian has
a disagreeable odor. Ancient Greeks and Romans named the plant phu (which
could be where we got our word to remark on a bad smell). Dioscorides
recommended valerian as a diuretic and antidote to poisons. Pliny considered
it a pain reliever. Galen prescribed it as a decongestant. By the time
the plant name became valerian, early European herbalists considered
it a panacea. The German abbess/herbalist Hildegard of Bingen recommended
the herb as a tranquilizer and sleep aid about a hundred years before
the Pied Piper used it as a hypnotic.
Valerian entered the Pharmacopoeia as a tranquilizer
in 1820 and remained there until 1942. It was listed in the National
Formulary, the pharmacists' guide, until 1950. All parts of valerian
contain chemicals that appear to have sedative properties known as valepotriates,
but they occur in highest concentration in the roots. Some researchers
have compared valerian to benzodiazepines such as Valium; however, valerian
is a much milder and safer sedative. Valerian is not addictive and discontinuation
produces no withdrawal symptoms. Valerian doesn't cause morning grogginess
and, when used by pregnant women, has not been linked to any birth defects.
Animal studies show valerian reduces blood pressure
and suggest that it has anti- convulsant effects. One day it may play
a role in treating epilepsy. Valerian is included in the Food and Drug
Administration's list of herbs generally considered as safe, although
large amounts may cause headache, giddiness, blurred vision, restlessness,
nausea, and morning grogginess. The plant is found throughout Europe
and northern Asia, and is common in England in marshy thickets and along
ditches and rivers, where its tall stems may generally be seen in the
summer towering above the usual herbage.
Other members of its family include spikenard
and Jacob's ladder. Medicinal valerian is a hardy perennial that reaches
about five feet. Its medicinal roots consist of long, cylindrical fibers
from its rhizome. Its stem is erect, grooved, and hollow, and its leaves
are fernlike. Valerian's white, pink, or lavender flowers develop in
umbrella-like clusters, blooming from late spring through summer. It
may be propagated from seeds or root divisions.
Thanks to Andi Metcalfe for this
report on valerian. Her sources were The Healing Herbs by Michael
Castleman, A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, and www.botanical.com.