Valeriana officinalis

Herbalists and students of herbal medicine are all familiar with the popular and widely used herb known as valerian. It is said to work like the prescription drug, Valium, without the side effects.

Other Names: Ail-Heal, Amantilla. Setwall, Setewale. Capon’s Tail, Heliotrope, Vandal Root

valerian flowersValerian is the root of a perennial member of the valerian family found in eastern, southeastern, and eastcentral Europe, to south Sweden and the southern Alps. It escaped from cultivation in the northeastern United States and is commercially grown in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.

Valerian, not a major medicinal plant of the ancient classical authors, was best known to them as a diuretic and treatment for menstrual difficulties.

Valerian as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

The medicinal parts are the carefully dried underground parts and the dried roots. The flowers are fragrant and the rhizome smells strongly when dried. The odor is not present in the fresh plant. Hydrolysis of componants in the root form isovaleric acid which is responsible for the offensive smell.

Valerian is approved by Commission E for treating nervousness and insomnia.

The Greek physician Galen used it for epilepsy in children and adults. An Italian nobleman, Fabio Colonna, born in 1567, suffered from epilepsy and found Galen’s reference. He took valerian himself and claimed it completely restored his health. His words stimulated interest in the plant as a sedative.

Use of valerian to relieve spasms and as a sleep aid evolved in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Valerian was an official remedy in the U. S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1936.

Valerian is widely used in Europe as a mild nerve sedative and sleep aid for insomnia, excitability, and exhaustion. Experimental studies have shown that it depresses the central nervous system and relieves muscle spasms.

Folk medicine: Valerian is used for restlessness, sleeping disorders based on nervous conditions, mental strain, lack of concentration, excitability, stress, headache, neurasthenia, epilepsy, hysteria, nervous cardiopathy, menstrual states of agitation, pregnancy, menopause, neuralgia, fainting, nervous stomach cramps, colic, uterine spasticity and states of anxiety.

In the 1980s Swiss researchers studied the effects of valerian water extracts on sleep patterns. The time taken to fall asleep was reduced, especially in older patients and insomniacs. No hangover effect, a common complaint among users of synthetic sedatives, was reported the following morning. German health authorities allow use of valerian in sedative and sleep-inducing preparations for states of excitation and for difficulty in falling asleep due to nervousness.


  • Infusion 1: 1 teaspoon root in 1 pint water and steeped for 2 hours; drink cold. Take one cup one to several times per day
  • Infusion 2: 1 level teaspoonvalerian soaked in 1 cup cold water; cover and place in fridge for 12 to 24 hours; strain and drink 1 hour before bed.

Tea bags: A tea is prepared by adding 1 teaspoonful (3 to 5 g) of herb to 150 ml of hot water and strain after 10 to 15 minutes. Take one cup (150 ml) 2 to 3 times daily and before bedtime.

An extract is prepared by mixing 2 parts root powder to 6 parts spirit of wine and 9 parts water. Take 2 to 3 g one to several times per day.

For external use, 100 g of comminuted drug is mixed with 2 liters hot water; this is then added to the bath.

Culinary Uses of Valerian


Folklore & Magickal Uses

Use valerian in protective sachets; place it under your pillow to help you fall asleep. Powdered valerian root is considered a valid substitute for “graveyard dust.”


Some individuals may experience temporary stomach upset. Despite these findings, valerian is generally considered safe. Gastrointestinal complaints can occur in rare cases, contact allergies in very rare ones.

With long-term administration, the following can occasionally appear: headache, restless states, sleeplessness, mydriasis, disorders of cardiac function.

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