Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, also known as Garden Valerian, is an herb native to Europe and Asia that currently grows in most parts of the world. The name is believed to come from the Latin word "valere" meaning to be healthy or strong. Valerian remains popular in North America, Europe, and Japan and is widely used to treat insomnia and anxiety.
Valerian is a perennial herb which grows up to 1 metre in height. Its rootstock is thicker than the stem, producing suckers or shoots rising from the ground. The stems are furrowed, hairy below and smooth above, whereas its lower leaves are long compared to the smaller upper leaves. The plant has small, white flowers in small clusters and small and smooth fruit.
Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Its therapeutic uses were described by Hippocrates, and in the 2nd century, Galen prescribed valerian herb for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves. Valerian was used as a perfume in the sixteenth century.
The herb Valerian has been used for its healing properties for centuries; both as a herb and an essential oil, Valerian has many medicinal uses for today's problems.
Many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of valerian as a sleep aid, especially when combined with St. John's wort or Lemon Balm. And, unlike many pharmaceutical "sleeping pills," valerian won't cause feelings of grogginess upon waking or lead to a chemical dependency. The sedating effect of valerian on the central nervous system may help reduce muscle spasms and prevent convulsions.
While valerian herb is most commonly administered orally, it may also be added to bath water to help relieve nervousness and to induce sleep. Similarly, valerian can be boiled and the resulting steam can be inhaled to produce the same effect. Valerian also appears to be useful in relieving menopausal symptoms and menstrual discomfort.
Some herbalists have also recommended it for tension headaches, bronchial spasms, lingering coughs, and as a muscle relaxant to treat pain.
Cats are attracted to a valerian which has an effect on their nervous system. They find valerian irresistible and will roll in the plant if the leaves have been disturbed or bruised, releasing the scent.