Valerian Root as a Medicinal Herb
Valerian, or Valeriana officinalis, is a perennial plant native to Europe and Asia and naturalized in North America. It has a distinctive odor that many people may find unpleasant, especially when consumed in capsule or liquid form. Other common names for valerian include setwall, Valerianae radix, Baldrianwurzel, all-heal and phu. The genus Valeriana includes over 250 species, but Valeriana officinalis is the species most often used in the United States and Europe.
Preparations of valerian marketed as dietary supplements are made from its roots, underground stems and horizontal stems. Dried valerian can be prepared as teas or tinctures, or dried plant materials and extracts can be put into capsules or tablets.
Since the time of ancient Greece and Rome, valerian has been used a medicinal herb. Common uses for the herb, both historically and in modern medicine, include relief of nervousness, trembling, headaches, sleeplessness and heart palpitations. During World War II, residents of Britain often used valerian to relieve the stress associated with bombing raids.
In addition to being useful for sleep problems and anxiety, valerian has also been used for gastrointestinal spasms and distress, epileptic seizures and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Many chemical constituents of valerian have been identified, but researchers are not yet clear on which may be responsible for its sleep-promoting effects in animals and in vitro studies. It is likely that there is no single active compound, and that valerian’s effects result from multiple constituents acting synergistically. One possible mechanism of action, which may be responsible for valerian’s natural sedative properties, is by increasing the amount of the neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) available in the synaptic cleft (the space between nerve cells).
In a recent clinical trial of valerian involving patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) a majority of the patients reported lowered Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAMA) scores. In another study, valerian was combined with kava kava and tested against placebo. Volunteers in this study reported lowered levels of stress.
Valerian root is well known for its effectiveness in stress relief. It may also reduce psychological reactivity and stress severity during stressful situations.
It is important to note that valerian is not intended as a treatment option for anxiety disorders, insomnia or any other illness. As a dietary supplement, though, it can help to provide short-term relief for some individuals.
Although valerian has not been reported to interact with any drugs or to influence laboratory tests, this has not yet been rigorously studied. When combining valerian with a prescription drug, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider first.
*NOTE—Valerian should not be taken as a treatment for an anxiety disorder. Valerian is a dietary supplement that can provide some level of support for occasional anxiety, tension and sleeplessness, but only a qualified medical professional can diagnose and treat an anxiety disorder.
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Emotional Wellness Resources on the Web:
123 Feel Better Life Change System [123FeelBetter.net]
The Wellness Channel [TheWellnessChannel.us]
Health and Wellness Articles, Tips and Resources [InsightJournal.com]
Herbs and Vitamins for Anxiety [InsightJournal.com]
Alternative Medicines That Can Help [TheHealthCenter.info]
Anxiety Resource Center [InsightJournal.com]
Stress Resource Center [InsightJournal.com]
Depression Resource Center [InsightJournal.com]
Social Anxiety Guide to Emotional Wellness [NCHW]
Adapted with permission from The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). NIMH is a component of the National Institutes of Health, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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