Other Names - All-heal, garden heliotrope
Part of the plant used - Rhizome, root-stock
Description - Since ancient Greek times, valerian root has been valued as an antispasmodic and sleep aid. The first known records reported its use in the treatment of epilepsy. The root is still added as a musky tone to perfumes. The plant was named in the 9th or 10th century, and the name is thought to have derived from the Latin verb valere meaning "to be happy."
Today, valerian is widely used throughout Europe as a mild sedative and sleep aid for insomnia, and as a balancing agent for hyperexcitability and exhaustion, calming one and stimulating the other.
Pharmacology - The sedative effects of valerian root are attributed to the valepotriates, a group of unstable esters whose degradation products also possess sedative activity. Other components, particularly those of the pungent essential oil, the valerenic and isovaleric acids have sedative effects and central nervous system (CNS) depressant activity. Researchers have also established that the valepotriates and the other components of valerian possess relaxing and spasmolytic effects on smooth muscle. A mechanism has been proposed for the central nervous system effects involving the metabolism of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Valerian appears the most effective when all its constituents are present. The different activities of valerian appear to be due to a complex mixture of substances.
Medicinal Uses - Numerous clinical trials have been performed with valerian root and have found both subjective and objective improvements and emotional tension disturbances, sleep quality and behavioral disorders without producing a hangover type effect the next morning.
Toxicity, Cautions & Contraindications - No known toxicity. High doses (5g root/day) can lead to minor withdrawal symptoms if taken over a long period of time. Avoid large doses and prolonged use. Studies suggest that valerian is generally safe to use for short periods of time (for example, 4 to 6 weeks). Valerian can cause mild side effects, such as headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, and tiredness the morning after its use.
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