Valerian was used as a medicinal herb in ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the “envy” of the elves. While in the sixteenth century the Anabaptist reformer Pilgram Marpeck prescribed valerian tea for a sick woman. Valerian flower extracts were also used as a perfume in the sixteenth century.
Valerian is a powerful nervine, stimulant, carminative and antispasmodic. It has a remarkable influence on the cerebro-spinal system, and is used as a sedative to the higher nerve centers in conditions of nervous unrest, St. Vitus’s dance, neuralgic pains. The herb allays pain and promotes sleep. It is particularly beneficial to those suffering from nervous over-strain, as it possesses none of the after-effects produced by narcotics.
During the World War II, when air-raids were a serious strain on the overwrought nerves of civilian men and women, Valerian, prescribed with other simple ingredients, taken in a single dose, or repeated according to the need, proved wonderfully efficacious, preventing or minimizing serious results. When used in ordinary doses it has a quieting and soothing effect on the brain and nervous system. However, when it is used in large doses or repeated too often it has a tendency to produce pain in the head and heaviness and stupor. It is commonly administered as Tinctura Valerianae Ammoniata, and often in association with the alkali bromides, and is sometimes given in combination with quinine, the tonic powers of which it appreciably increases. Valerian was first brought to notice as a specific for epilepsy in 1952 by Fabius Calumna after he had used it to cure himself of epilepsy.
Valerian plans have straight, hollow stems that are topped by umbrella-like heads. Its dark green leaves are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. The small, sweet-smelling white, light purple or pink flowers bloom in June. The root is light grayish brown and has little odor when fresh. The essential oil is steam distilled from the dried roots with a yield of around 0.5%. The yellow oil has a pungent bitter herbaceous and slightly woody odor. After being exposed to air an ‘unpleasant cheesy feet‘ tone becomes evident. The dry-down is more pleasant, woody, herbaceous, soapy, slightly sweet somewhat violet-like, with none of the cheesy sweaty feet aspects. Valerian Oil is rarely used in perfumery, although it may be used to construct some mossy notes.
Valerian can be difficult to blend with due to its very overpowering aroma however it can blend well with patchouli, oakmoss, pine, lavender, cedarwood, mandarin, petitgrain and rosemary.
Valerian has antispasmodic, carminative, tranquillizing (depressant of the Central Nervous System) muscle relaxant, hypnotic, sedative and stomachic properties.
Valerian’s main component is bornyl acetate and other bornyl esters, while the free isovaleric acid is a major contributor to the odor. Monoterpenes (a-pinene, camphene), Sesquiterpenes (B-caryophllene, axulene, fenchenal), Alcohols (geranoion, a-terpinol, borneol, patchouli alcohol, valeriano), Esters (bornyl acetate; formiate & butyrate, bornyl isovalerate (responsible for odor & therapeutic effects), eugenyl isovalerate), Aldehyde (valerenal), Ketones (valeranone, ionone), Acids (isovaleric, acetoxyvaleria).
Psychologically Valerian has tranquillizing, hypnotic and sedative properties are helpful for insomnia, nervousness, tension and agitation.
On the physiological level, Valerian’s antispasmodic, carminative, muscle relaxant, sedative and stomachic properties are helpful for muscle spasms, palpitations, spasms and neuralgia.
On a subtle level, Valerian comforts the heart and increases love for the Divine.
Contraindications: Generally considered Non-toxic, non-irritant, non-sensitizing and non-phototoxic.
Leung and Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients, John Wiley & Sons, 1996Return to Article Archives