Valerian, while a fairly pretty plant to look at has a rather foul smelling root. It’s name was, in historical texts, generally rendered as Phu or Foo, speculated to have been called such, due to the distinctive smell. Pew! This means it is possibly the source of all laser cat powers…
The smell is quite seductive to cats and rats (like Anise for dogs), and was supposedly Valerian was used by the Pied Piper, either rubbed on or secreted about his body, to lead the rats from Hamelin. During most of its historical continental European use, it was thought of more as a spice than a herb and was frequently used for cooking and even used in perfumes! There are supposedly more pleasant smelling versions but that sounds, to me, quite a smelly perfume idea.
It was used in some places to protect a person from thunder and lightening, also for ridding people of “demons.” Which could possibly be taken to mean that it eased symptoms of epilepsy, since possession was often the diagnosis for sufferers of epilepsy and other mental disorders before they were fully understood. Valerian would definitely provide a calming effect for nerve issues, agitated people, those suffering from general nervous disorders, and was often used to treat hysteria. But surprisingly for most of early history medicinally, it was not held in high regard, it was mentioned by Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and others for various complaints and ailments almost in passing. It was only Galen that remarked on its sedative effects, and it took many centuries before that was re-discovered in the West.
Valerian was also known as nard, Amantilla, “Capon’s Tail”, and Setwall (or Setewale). It’s present name is thought to come from the Latin for courage (valere), or possibly strength (valeo) or “good health” (valere), but there is no definitive answer on the name origin. Arab doctors knew of its uses and post-Crusades, as Arab knowledge filtered west, more knowledge of this plant grew and usage grew. A great recipe mentioned in the 14th century capitalizing on its relaxing properties was “Men who begin to fight and you wish to stop them, give them the juice of Amantilla (Valerian) and peace will be made immediately.”
More recent historical usage was for during bleeding to calm the person, and promote healing (bleeding was commonly used up until the 19th century as a treatment for many issues), and as a nervine. It was even used during World War I for the stress trench combat, civilians for air raids constant stress, and was still used during World War II to treat “shell-shock.” It is also widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayerveda, and even the W.H.O. recognizes the nerve relaxing qualities of Valerian.
While Valerian is a pretty little plant, most preparations use the root, which just happens to be the smelliest bit. It generally helps most people sleep, it can reduce anxiety, depression (from stress or nervous tension), works on the central nervous system to help relax the body, and also can help calm the lower intestine smooth muscle and alleviate gas and cramping. The main purpose I find it useful for it, is its antispasmodic properties, this is a great way to treat lady cramps, muscle cramps and pain, and will help with symptoms of cramps and spasms, like tension headaches. Since it helps muscles and nerves to relax, it helps with blood pressure by relaxing the vein and artery walls, improving circulation and reducing blood pressure.
Tea is always a great way to take Valerian, you can prepare the fresh root, or what is more frequently available, dried roots. You can drink this tea about a half hour to two hours before bed time, and it should help bring sleep faster. You can also make a double batch to add to bath water, two cups, will help bring on sleep and help with painful muscles. This is also a great cup of tea (like Fennel Tea, Anise Tea, Ginger Tea, or Peppermint Tea) for this time of year when over indulgence leads to digestive distress. Now, like most good medicine this can be very bad tasting for some people and bitter, others not so much, but if you find it bitter bust out your favorite local honey when you make this.
- 1 teaspoon Dried (or Fresh) Valerian root
- 8 oz Hot water (just before boiling)
Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup, or teapot if you decide to make a bigger batch. Remember covering it helps to keep those essential oils that make this all work in your tea instead of in the air. Again this is great after exercise, to ease spasms, and to help you get restful sleep. Where you don’t feel sedated or fuzzy in the morning.
If you don’t want to have tea in your bath you can always make a relaxing bath salts with Valerian essential oils (remember therapeutic grade only!).
Valerian Epsom Salts
- 5 cups (40 oz) of Epsom Salts
- 5-10 drops Valerian essential oil
- You can add additional oils like Eucalyptus, Lavender, or others to help promote sleep or muscle relaxation. 5-10 drops of any additional oils.
Add a cup at a time to bath water and enjoy a lovely soak, in relaxing goodness.
Valerian is great teamed up with hops, they work well in concert with each other since Valerian is a more mild sedative hops give it that extra punch for a super knock out combo. Hops are thought to work on the body the same way melatonin does, and Valerian acts like adenosine which is a inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps with sleep. So when you combine the two you have a great combination that is non-narcotic, and won’t leave you feeling bad and groggy the next morning.
Super Knockout Sleepy Tincture – Hop & Valerian
- 2 parts Valerian root
- 1 part Hops flowers
- Large Mason Jar
- Vodka or other clear alcohol, enough to cover
Fill jar with the Hops and Valerian mixture, with gap at the top for expansion, cover with alcohol and seal tight. Let sit for at least 4 weeks, or up to 6 in a cool, dark, and undisturbed place, but shake once a week. Strain and store in dark bottles. You can take 1/2 teaspoon (6 drops) to 1 teaspoon of this about an hour or so before you want to go to bed.
You could make a straight Valerian tincture, make it the same way just leave out the hops, and you can take 1/2 teaspoon to 3/4 of a teaspoon daily (up to 3 times a day) for anxiety, and to help with circulation and blood pressure. You can take up to 1 teaspoon to assist with sleep.
You can also make a great headache and sleep aid by adding more herbs such as lavender, passion flower and chamomile.
Headache & Sleep Tincture
- 1 part Valerian root
- 1 part Hops flowers
- 1 part Passion Flower
- 1 part Chamomile
- 1 part Lavender
- 1 part Skullcap
Take about a 1/2 teaspoon at onset of migraine and increase if pain does not recede, not recommended taking more than 1 teaspoon. This will alleviate migraine pain and help bring sleep, which is great when you wake up at 2 am like I do with migraines.
With any tincture you can add it to a cup of hot water, or tea, if you are concerned about the alcohol. You can always do the under the tongue delivery, or even just into a cup of water or juice. If the taste is too bitter you can mix this into a tablespoon of honey and take it.
Since it is that holiday time of year! Valerian hot chocolate is a great way to ease the tension and stress that holidays can bring. I love this recipe from James Wong
- 3 tablespoons fresh valerian root
- 3 3/4 cups full-fat milk
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon balm leaves
- 3 teaspoons fresh lavender flowers
- 6 leaves & 3 heads of fresh passion flowers (or 1 teaspoon)
- peel of 1 1/2 oranges
- 1 3/4 oz dark chocolate (min 50% cocoa solids)
- “dash” (1/8th or less of a teaspoon) of vanilla
Chop the top and bottom from the fresh valerian root, and then place in a saucepan with the milk, lemon balm, lavender, passion flower, and orange peel and gently heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain. Pour the infused milk back into the pan, and then add the dark chocolate and vanilla extract and stir until melted. Drink at once.
Colds and coughs are frequent this time of year and if you are sick while you are in pain it only makes things worse. A great cough syrup you can make is a variation of another of James’ recipes but it has my own special touches. Because Valerian works to relax and prevent spasms its great to help suppress coughs.
Valerian Cough Syrup
- 4 tablespoons dried Marshmallow root
- 2 dried Licorice roots, broken up
- 3 heads of fresh elderberries (if you can get them, if not about a tablespoon of dried or you can substitute 2 tablespoons wild cherry bark, or just leave it all out entirely)
- 1 teaspoon cloves
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon Anise seed
- 1 tablespoon Fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons Valerian root
- 2 c water
- 1/2 cup honey
- juice of 1 lime
- 5 tablespoons glycerin
Put everything except the honey and glycerin in a pot with the water and simmer unit liquid reduces by about a fifth. Remove the licorice, and pour mixture into blender and blend until smooth. Pour back into pan and add honey, lime juice and glycerin, stir and simmer for 2 more minutes. Store in bottles. Take 2 tablespoons 3 times a day for no more than 5 days. The Valerian in this helps to relax the smooth muscles helping to suppress the cough. Remember, if your cough persists you need to see a professional, don’t neglect colds and illnesses during the holidays!
You can find Valerian in a lot of prepackaged ways, tinctures, teas, but mostly as capsules. You can purchase these already made, or you can make your own, just like in the turmeric post. You don’t want to exceed 600 mg a day of Valerian, also due to fillers some pre-made pills may work better than others.
ProTip: You should never take any sleep aid for more than 4 weeks straight, or you could have issues sleeping.
Mythbuster Tip: Valium and Valerian while sounding similar are different completely, and Valerian is much safer to use. Remember though, everything in moderation. Too much of anything is bad.
Each person is different and you will need to do your own trails to see what works best for you. Check for interactions with your current medications, and WebMD is a great resource as usual. Make sure you educate yourself on everything you take! If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!