Valerian has been used for centuries as a sedative, muscle relaxant and was popular for a time in the treatment of epileptic seizures. In modern times it is included in some herbal tea blends but most people don’t know what it is or what it does.
Valerian has many benefits. It is on the Commission E list of approved herbs. This is the German regulatory agency for herbs. Although Valerian is generally considered safe, it does have interactions with allopathic medicines which I will lay out at the end of this blog.
How Does It Work?
Valerian’s actions need more study in order to understand how it works. It is thought that Valerian is a Central Nervous System (CNS) depressant. It is believed that Valerian increases the neurotransmitter GABA which in turn has a calming effect on the nervous system. Basically it interacts with the CNS to cause a calming effect in the body. It is both a sedative and a muscle relaxant.
Valerian has been used over time as a sleep inducer. It can be used in place of sleeping pills, has no addictive properties and has even been used to wean those addicted to sleep aids off of the drugs.
Because of its relaxing properties, valerian can be taken as a tea before bed or used in a bath to encourage deep and refreshing sleep. As with all herbal remedies valerian builds in the system and can take a bit of time to have strong effects.
Valerian has been found to produce calming effects in stressful situations. There are studies that show valerian as being effective for use against stress and anxiety and studies that show it has not. The fact that valerian has been used for hysteria, anxiety and stress for centuries tells me that there is definitely an effect. On a personal note I have occasionally used valerian for anxiety and found it effective.
Pain and Cramping
Valerian is effective for easing joint and muscle pain, menstrual cramps and stomach cramps. This action is mainly believed to come from the muscle relaxing properties of valerian
The Down Side
First and foremost Valerian smells very much like an old sock! The smell is not at all pleasant (except to my cats). Get past the smell by using supplements or teas where the herb is mixed with other herbs.
Valerian interacts with drugs which are changed by the liver. These include
- Statins (lower cholesterol)
Valerian can increase the effects of:
- Benzodiazapines (Xanax and Valium)
- Tricyclic antidepressants
Valerian can increase the effectiveness of anaesthesia so do not take it for at least a week prior to having anesthetics. For a more comprehensive list see the University of Maryland Medical Centre website.
Do not take Valerian if you are pregnant.
Valerian is safe but as with all herbs you need to research the interactions with medication you are already taking, even over the counter remedies. When in doubt talk to your doctor, but make sure that you can explain the effects to him or her. Doctors are busy and don’t have time to do all the research on all the herbs. Most doctors I have dealt with have been open to herbal remedies provided I give them the information about the effects of the herbs.
Spinella Marcello PhD, Concise Handbook of Psychoactive Herbs, The Haworth Herbal Press, Binghamton NY