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Common valerian is a perennial plant, about 2-4 feet high, which has escaped from cultivation to inhabit roadsides and thickets from New England south to New Jersey and west to Ohio. Valerian is also very common all over Europe. The yellow-brown, tuberous rootstock produces a hollow, angular, furrowed stem with deeply dissected leaves each bearing 7-10 pairs of lance-shaped leaflets. The resulting smell of the dried, powdered rootstock is reminiscent of dirty socks or unwashed underwear.
Various constituents within the root account for the peculiar smell and the strong sedative properties. The butyl isovalerate present has been used in a synthetic, fermented egg product to attract coyotes and repel deer, while eremophilene has also been detected in ripe African mangoes. The valepotriates exert strong tranquilizing actions on the central nervous system.
German health authorities have indicated that valerian is an effective treatment for restlessness and for sleep disturbances resulting from nervous conditions. Ten controlled clinical studies have been conducted on various valerian preparations, including freeze-dried aqueous extracts, ethanol extracts, and other forms. Two studies involved only one test dose prior to evaluation. A recent German study showed no effects over the short term, but after twenty-eight days of treatment, valerian was shown to be better than a placebo in inducing sleep. This suggests that valerian root preparations may not be suitable for acute insomnia. More studies must be conducted to resolve differences in results with previous research. Valerian is perhaps best characterized as a minor tranquilizer. Valerian may be administered in the form of a tea, a tincture (hydroalcoholic solution), an extract, capsules, or tablets. Valerian is also added to bath water for external application. No significant side effects or contraindications are noted, although rare reports of gastrointestinal complaints or headache have been reported.
VALERIAN ROOT USES
HABITAT AND CULTIVATION
Native to Europe and northern Asia, valerian grows wild in damp conditions. Valerian is cultivated in central and eastern Europe. The plant is grown from seed in spring, and the root and rhizome of 2-year-old plants are unearthed in autumn.
VALERIAN ROOT RESEARCH
Valerian contains volatile oil (inc, isovalerianic acid, borneol), valepotriates, alkaloids, iridoids.
HOW MUCH VALERIAN ROOT TO TAKE
Many people take 300-500 mg of valerian root herbal extract in capsules or tablets one hour before bedtime for insomnia. As an alcohol-based tincture, 5 ml can be taken before bedtime. Combination products with lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and skullcap can also be used. Children aged six to twelve often respond to half the adult dose.
SIDE EFFECTS AND CAUTIONS
Valerian should not be taken with alcohol. Recent research indicates that valerian does not impair ability to drive or operate machinery. Valerian does not lead to addiction or dependence. There are no known contraindications to using valerian during pregnancy or lactation.
HOW VALERIAN ROOT WORKS IN THE BODY
Valerian's usefulness in the nervous system is mainly due to the valepotriates, which have a sedative effect on the mind. One of its main uses is in insomnia, where it both helps the sufferer to fall asleep more quickly and allows them to wake in the morning without feeling stupefied. Valerian is particularly useful for those whose minds are so active they cannot switch off enough to relax. Valerian is helpful for all types of stress-related anxiety as it does not impair the ability to concentrate, but has a calming effect. Valerian is used to treat numerous ailments, for example digestive complaints where there is a contributing stress or tension factor. Valerian is also a muscle relaxant, and is used with other herbs in the cardiovascular system to treat high blood pressure.
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