Herbal Supplements
Valerian: the Basics

“Men who begin to fight and when you wish to stop them, give to them the juice of Amantilla id est Valeriana and peace will be made immediately.” This mediaeval recipe illustrates that people have known and used Valerian for ages. These days it is also popular among traditional herbalists as the herb with a powerful soothing effect.

There exist different legends, explaining the name of the well-known plant. Some say it is named after Valerius, a man who was the first to use it in medicine; others derive it from the Latin word “valere”, which means “to be strong” or “to be in health”. Nowadays we are used to name it simply “Valerian”, though, traditional names still remain in many countries: Great Wild Valerian, Amantilla, Setwall, All-Heal, Capon’s tail, Phu.

There exist about 150 species of the given plant (V. sambucifolia, V. celtica, V. Milkanii, V. sitchensis), which differ a little from one another, but herbalists use mainly the sort, called V. officinalis.

The number of sorts of the same genus may be explained by its growing in many parts of the world (in various climatic conditions, soils, etc.). It can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia. Though the plant prefers damp heavy soils, it accommodated itself to all these places.

Valerian is a member of the Valerianaceae family. It is a perennial erect plant, which can be 4 feet high. It has a short, conical, erect yellowish root-stock with multiple long thin roots. Only one stem usually grows from the root. It is round and hollow, with hairs near the base. The main stem then terminates in several flowering stems (though, the plant may not bloom during its first year).

The leaves of Valerian are made up of 6-8 pairs of lance-shaped segments and are attached to the stem by short sheaths.

Valerian is in bloom since June, forming seeds in September. Flowers are small, usually white or pink, with peculiar odor. Actually, the whole plant smells very specifically, and many find that smell unpleasant.

Since ancient times Valerian was used as a medicinal herb, prescribed for insomnia, headaches, heart palpitations, gastro-intestinal disorders, epileptic seizures and hyperactivity. In the mediaeval times this herb was so highly praised that was even called “All-Heal” (this name remained till our days in some countries).

Besides medicine, Valerian was also used to aromatize baths, prepare soap and aromatic oils, and even broths or meats (Scotland).

However, in the 19th century the plant was for some reason considered to be a stimulant, not a sedative, and was thus used rarely.

These days the well-known and widely spread herb is treated as a food supplement by the official medicine, but the majority of people use it as a sedative for insomnia or other sleeping disorders, to smooth the nervous system, and to slow the heart rate. For all these reasons the dried roots of the plant are taken to prepare teas or tinctures. However, the capsules and tablets with the dried plant materials and extracts are also available.

As it often happens to the folk remedies, the scientists know too little about their power and need more research to make official conclusions. The same is the story of Valerian: specialists are still in the process of discovering its pros and contras.

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2006-06-18 14:24:51
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More About Valerian...

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