The most popular use of this versatile herb is, without doubt, as a sleep aid. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through the brain and nervous system. Its role is to inhibit or reduce the activity of neurons or nerve cells. In large enough quantities GABA can cause a sedative effect – Valerian root has been shown to increase GABA levels in the brain which can in turn not only reduce the amount of time taken to fall asleep, it can also improve the quality of sleep too.
A double blind study conducted by the Foellinge Health Centre in Sweden found that the effects of Valerian on poor sleep were significant. 44 percent of the participants reported perfect sleep, whilst 89 percent reported improved sleep – none of this group reported any side effects either, including morning drowsiness.
The aforementioned GABA also helps to calm anxiety with its regulation of nerve cells. The valerenic acid and valerenol contained in the Valerian root act as anti-anxiety agents, stabilising the central nervous system. The improved GABA levels make it easier for the mind and body to relax, meaning Valerian root can also help to keep your stress levels down – significantly helping with daily stress management.
Valerian appears to work directly on the nervous system as a natural pain reliever. Researchers from “The Indian Journal of Experimental Biology” found that the whole extract and the isolated essential oil had a significant analgesic effect on rats. In addition to this, the essential oil increased the effectiveness of aspirin.
Naturally sedative and antispasmodic, Valerian root acts as a powerful muscle relaxant and can be especially helpful in easing menstrual cramps. It can effectively calm the severe uterine muscle contractions experienced by some women during menstruation. This was validated by a double-blind, randomised placebo controlled study from the Islamic Azad University in Iran.
Extensive studies have found that GABA also regulates blood pressure. Properly regulated blood pressure has a direct positive impact on the health of the heart, with high blood pressure increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke..
Valerian Essential Oil
Valerian essential oil is most famously used to combat insomnia and treat other sleep related disorders. It is thought that the active components of Valerian coordinate an ideal release of hormones and balance the body’s cycles to stimulate restful, undisturbed sleep.
The same components in this oil that enable sleep can also help to lower anxiety and stress levels, reducing the chemicals in the body that can lead to anxiety and stress. The valerenic acid and valerenol contained in Valerian essential oil act as anti-anxiety agents, stabilising the central nervous system. Diffuse in an aromatherapy oil burner or dilute with a pure carrier oil and create a bedtime massage or bath oil to harness the power of this essential oil.
Folklore and history
Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. The Native Americans used it in healing wounds and ulcers, as well as a cough remedy.
With a history stretching back to at least Ancient Greece and Rome, the Valerian Root has been used as a sleep aid, for anxiety relief and much more through the ages. Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen touted it as a remedy for poison, whilst it was used as a cure for epilepsy in the Middle Ages. However, it is as a treatment for nervous disorders that Valerian has become most noteworthy.
2-4mls up to 3 times per day. or before bed, or as recommended by a herbal practitioner.
Valerian Root Tea
1-2 tsp of cut herb root to one cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes then enjoy before bedtime.
Valerian Essential Oil
Valerian essential oil can be used in the bath, or vaporized in an oil burner. It can be added to a massage oil or cream. Use 6-8 drops per bath and 10 -18 drops per 30ml of carrier oil.
Known pharmacologically active compounds detected in valerian extract are:
Alkaloids: actinidine, catinine, valerianine, and valerine
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) - neurotransmitter connected to the sedative effects of the plant
Valepotriates, acevaltrate, isovaltrate and valtrate
Volatile oil containing active sesquiterpenes (acetoxivalerenic acid, valerenic acid)
Flavanones such as hesperidin, 6-methylapigenin and linarin
Not recommended during pregnancy or breast feeding. Can make some people feel nervous, anxious and experience palpitations. If it has been taken for a long time it can cause withdrawal symptoms if stopped abruptly. Not recommended for those taking barbituates or benzodiazepine medication.