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Do you have problems falling asleep and staying asleep? If so, you are not alone. 30% of Americans are not getting enough sleep.
Valerian has been used since ancient times to promote tranquility and improve sleep. It is most commonly used for sleep disorders, especially the inability to sleep or insomnia. It can also be used for anxiety and psychological stress. Valerian has been referred to as nature’s valium. While valerian and valium may sound the same, they are not related.
Most studies have shown that valerian can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by 15-20 minutes and improve sleep quality. Continuous use may be needed before the effect is noticeable, however, the timing will vary by person.
The History of Valerian in Medicine
Valerian has a long history of use as a sedative and sleep aid. Hippocrates noted the use of valerian to treat headaches, nervousness, trembling, and heart palpitations. This was almost 2500 years ago.
Dioscorides, a Greek Physician and Pharmacologist who wrote De Materia Medica in 77 a.d., referred to valerian as “Phu” in reference to its strong and offensive odor. Despite the smell, Dioscorides prescribed valerian for headaches and as a diuretic.
The Romans prepared ointments from the young shoots of a variety of valerian.
Valerian is mentioned in writings from the 9th and 10th centuries. It is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon works from the 11th century. It has been used as a drug, a spice and a perfume.
In past centuries, ladies in Germany took valerian with their coffee resulting in a lack of nervousness or irritability.
Valerian has also been used in Indo-China, Guatemala and Argentina.
About the Plant
There are over 250 valerian species found around the world. Valeriana officinalis is the one most commonly used for medicinal purposes. This species of valerian is native to Europe and Western Asia but is now found around the world.
Garden heliotrope is one of the many common names used for valerian. It is grown for ornamental purposes in cottage gardens, borders, and naturalized areas.
Valerian is an herbaceous perennial plant with feather-like leaves and small flowers that are pale pink to white in color. It blooms in June and July, prefers full sun and medium to wet soils, but can be found in drier soils.
The roots and the rhizomes are used in herbal medicine.
How does Valerian Work?
Valerian seems to act like a sedative on the brain and nervous system. It may be the strongest western herbal central nervous system sedative known. The pharmacological effects of valerian have primarily been attributed to valepotriates, baldrinals, volatile oils, monoterpenes, and sesquiterpenes. The primary sesquiterpenes are valerenic acid, valeranone, and kessel glycol.
Valerenic acid has been found to inhibit the breakdown of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain, by blocking an enzyme that destroys GABA, which means more GABA is available for a longer amount of time.
GABA slows down nerve cell activity instead of exciting it, resulting in feelings of calmness and tranquility. Researchers have shown that low GABA levels are related to acute and chronic stress and are linked to anxiety and low-quality sleep.
Valerian root also contains the antioxidants hesperidin and linarin, which appear to have sedative and sleep-enhancing properties. Many of these compounds may inhibit excessive activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes fear and strong emotional responses to stress.
Is Valerian Safe?
Valerian is considered safe by the FDA. Side effects are uncommon however, valerian has been reported to cause headaches, stomach pain, dizziness and rarely, disturbed sleep or a hangover fog the next morning. If you have liver disease or another serious medical condition, it is important to speak with your doctor about whether it is safe for you to take valerian.
Where Can I Find Valerian?
Valerian can be found in Native Remedies® SerenitePlus™ Herbal Supplement. This natural herbal supplement combines certified organic valerian root, certified organic passion flower herb, 5-HTP and melatonin for a good nights’ sleep and refreshing start to your day.
BY MARY ELLEN KOSANKE