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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  Valerian Root  (Valeriana officinalis; Valerianaceae)

Other Names:  Heliotrope, vandal root   (2); Phu (Galen), All-Heal. Great Wild Valerian. Amantilla. Setwall; Setewale. Capon’s Tail.  (35)

Character/Energetics:  spicy, bitter, warm    (6); pungent, slightly bitter, cool, dry   (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  liver, heart (6)  nerves (14)

 (Valerian has) a remarkable influence on the cerebro-spinal system    (35)

Part(s) used:  roots    (6);  In medicine, the root of V. officinalis is intended when Valerian is mentioned. 

It is supposed to be the Phu (an expression of aversion from its offensive odour) of  Dioscorides and Galen, by whom it is extolled as an aromatic and diuretic.   (35)                                                                                            

Identification & Harvesting:     Bright pink or white flowers in panicled cymes;  yellow oblong fruit with a 10-rayed tuft of white hair.  1.5 – 3 ft. high;  short cylindrical rhizome with finger-length bushy round roots.  Erect, unbranched stem.  Grows/cultivated in temperate zones.  Dry carefully below 100F.  Root harvested in September. (2); V. Officinalis native to Europe and Northern Asia  (35); Harvest in the fall  (6)   

Unearth in late autumn;  clean well, and dry in shade.    (8)

The root is at once distinguished by its strong and disagreeable odor.  Consists of a short rootstock, about 3/4 inch long and 1/2 inch in diameter, with nermours short lateral branches, and rootlets 3 or 4 inches long, the crown often showing the lead scales of the stem base.  The transverse section is horny with a very narrow woody ring, and is of a pale grey-brown color.  Old roots are often hollow.  Tastes sweetish, bitter.  Characteristic odor.    (57)

Commercially grown in Europe and US.    (61)

Active  Constituents: Valepotriates:  (valeriana-epoxy-triacylates, iridoide monoterpenes, .2-2%) chiefly isovaltrate up to 46%, isovaleroxyhydroxy didrovaltrate (IVHD-valtrate) 10-20% incl. didrovaltrate, acevaltrate.  Volatile oils .2-1%:  chiefly (-)-bornyl isovalerenate and isovalerenic acid (both are aroma carriers), incl. (-)-bornyl acetate, isoeugenyl valerenate, isoeugeny isovalerenate, also in some strains valerenal, valeranone, cryptofaurinol.  Sesquiterpenes:  valerenic acid .1-.9%, 2-hydroxyvalerenic acid, 2-acetoxy-valerenic acid.  Trace pyridine alkaloids (cat pheromone):  actinidine, valerianine, alpha-methylpyrrylketone.  Caffeic acid derivatives:  chlorogenic acid.  Constituent proportions vary with strain and variety. (2) ; Essential oil, valepotriates, which are special valerian compounds and alkaloids  (6); Volatile oils incl. valerianic acid, isovalerianic acid, borneol, pinene, camphene;  volatile alkaloids.    (8)    Volatile oil (inc. isovalerianic acid, borneol), valepotriates, alkaloids, iridoids   (15)

No single active principle.    (61)

Actions:  Sedative, sleep promoting, antispasmodic, muscle relaxant. (2);   nervine, antispasmodic, carminative, stimulant, anodyne    (6);tranquilizer, antispasmodic, expectorant, diuretic, lowers blood pressure, carminative, mild anodyne.    (15);  …hypnotic, hypotensive    (8)    Primarily antispasmodic, nervine;  also carminative, stimulant.    (14)    Valerian is a powerful nervine, stimulant, carminative and antispasmodic. (35); Nervine. Antispasmodic. Tonic. Warming stimulant in some cases.  (52)

Anodyne, antispasmodic, nervine.    (57)

Shown to depress the central nervous system and relieve spasms.    (61)

Conditions & Uses:    Nervousness, insomnia; Valerian is used for restlessness, sleeping disorders based on nervous conditions, mental strain, lack of concentration, excitability, stress, headache, neurasthenia, epilepsy, hysteria, nervous cardiopathy, menstrual states of agitation, pregnancy, menopause, neuralgia, fainting, nervous stomach, cramps, colic, uterine spasticity, states of angst and tonicity. (2)

Valerian is calming and sedating. It relieves pain, cramps, and spasms, and is a brain stimulant. This herb can have opposite effects on individuals who have a heated condition, since it is heating as well  as sedative. This is a clear example of the necessity of prescribing herbs energetically rather than purely symptomatically. The therapeutic indications as welI as the constitutional energetic balance must be taken into account. Valerian is best for individuals with a cold, nervous condition.    (6)

Internal uses —  afterbirth pain, insomnia, nerve weakness, paralysis:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Nervous tension, convulsions, hangover, hysteria, pain, palsy, stomach pain:  tincture, fluid extract.  Colds:  powder*, decoction*.  Colic:  tincture, fluid extract, decoction.  Fever:  decoction*.  Gas, spasms:  tincture, fluid extract, decoction*.  Measles:  tincture, fluid extract, powder*, decoction*.  Ulcers:  tincture, fluid extract*, powder*, decoction*.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.

Valerian is a strong sedative and nerve tonic.  It is especially active when under emotional stress and pain.  The tea or tincture will lessen menstrual cramps, muscle pains, intestinal cramps and bronchial spasms.  It is useful in colic, low fevers, colds and gravel in the bladder.  At first valerian may seem to be a stimulant because the essential oil of valerian must be broken down by body enzymes to valeranic acid (the calming principle) before the sedative effect can be felt.  Large doses can bring on depression.  The dosage of the tincture is usually 1/2 to 1 teaspoon.    (14)

Nature’s tranquilizer, valerian calms the nerves without the side effects of comparable orthodox drugs. It has a distinctive, rather unpleasant smell, and was aptly called  phu  by the Greek physician Galen. In recent years, it has been well researched, with chemicals called valepotriates developing in valerian extracts. These seem to depress the nervous system, and the fresh plant is more sedating.

Root:  Good for nervous tension, especially anxiety and insomnia, the root also strengthens the heart and can sometimes reduce high blood pressure. It encourages healing in wounds and ulcers and is effective, topically, for muscle cramps. It may also be used as an expectorant and can help ticking, nervous coughs.

For inability to relax: Valerian is a very potent tranquilizer; antispasmodic and mild anodyne. Take maceration, infusion, or tincture; also available in 200 mg capsules or tablets. 

Use as a simple or add a small amount of hops if there’s excitability.   (15)

(Valerian) is used as a sedative to the higher nerve centres in conditions of nervous  unrest,  St. Vitis’s dance, hypochrondriasis, neuralgic pains  and the like. The drug allays pain and promotes sleep. 

It is of especial use and benefit to those suffering from nervous overstrain, as it possesses none of the after-effects produced by narcotics. (35); Used for nervousness, pain, insomnia.  (52)

May be given in all cases of nervous debility and irritation, also in hysterical affections.  It allays pain and promotes sleep.  Strongly nervine without any narcotic effects, and enters into various herbal nervine and antispasmodic compounds.    (57)

Widely used as a mild sedative in cases of insomnia, excitability and exhaustion.  Dream recall and nocturnal movement in induced sleep are not affected, nor is there a hangover effect.  One study suggests it must be used for 2-4 weeks before mood and sleep patterns improve.    (61)

Combinations:    For tension relief, combine with scullcap.  For insomnia, combine with passion flower and hops.  For cramps, combine with cramp bark.    (8)

For inability to relax: ...use as a simple or add a small amount of hops if there’s excitability…. Combine with licorice and other expectorants such as hyssop for coughs.     (15)

Enters into various herbal nervine and antispasmodic compounds.    (57)

Precautions:    No known hazards with designated dosages.  Rare gastric complaints, contact allergies.  Long-term use can cause headaches, restlessness, sleeplessness, cardiac disturbances, mydriasis (dilation of pupils).  Where large skin injuries or acute skin illnesses, severe feverish or infectious diseases, cardiac insufficiency or hypertonia are present, whole-body baths with the addition of the volatile oil or of extracts from the herb should be carried out only following consultation with a doctor.    (2)

VALERIAN (Valeriana officinalis; Valerianaceae)

Precautions: (cont)

Do not take for more than 2-3 weeks without a break, as continual use or high doses may lead to headaches and palpitations.

Valerian enhances the action of sleep-inducing drugs, so avoid if taking this type of medication.

Do not confuse with the garden plant, red “American” valerian (Centranthus ruber),

which has no medicinal properties.    (15)

Use caution before using with benzodiazepine drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax), Valium, Librium, Halcion, and Dalmane.    (1b)

Occasional stomach upset.    (61)

Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix–(Speed 5) Marc/menstruum ratio: 1 gr/2.6838235 ml 

  1. Fill dry root just above blade level.
  2. Process: 135 seconds forward
  3. Stir contents in VM container’s bottom; then, process: 30 seconds forward
  4. Alcohol: 70%

Applications:    Decoction:  simmer 5-15 min.;  3 oz., 3 x daily.  Tincture:  1/2-1 tsp, 3 x daily.  Fluid extract:  1/2 tsp, 3 x daily.  Oil:  5 drops, 3 x daily.  Powder:  2-3 #0 capsules (10-15 grains), 3 x daily.(14)


Maceration–Soak 2 tsp. of the chopped, preferably fresh root for 8-10 hours in a cup of cold water. Use as a sedative brew for anxiety and insomnia. Add 2-3 drops of peppermint water (available from pharmacies) to disguise the flavor.

                    Infusion–Use for anxiety and insomnia.

        Tincture–Use as a sedative or for insomnia. The dosage can vary considerably with individuals: up to 5 ml  may be required, but in some people this can cause headaches, so start with low doses of 1-2 ml. Combine with licorice and other expectorants such as hyssop for coughs. Can be added to mixtures for high blood pressure where tension or anxiety is a contributory factor.

        Compress–Soak a pad in the tincture to ease muscle cramps.

        Wash–Use the infusion or maceration for chronic ulcers and wounds, and for drawing splinters.    (15) 

        Oil–Oil of Valerian is employed to a considerable extent in Europe as a popular remedy for cholera, in the form of cholera drops, and also to a certain extent in soap perfumery.   (35) 

Divination:  h e t (p)    (48) 

        Used for nervousness, pain, insomnia. 

                     Nine of Swords

                     Divinatory Meanings: Solitude. Lamentation. Grief. Sickness.

                     Reverse Meanings: Self-examination causing delay in the course of one’s normal                pursuits.    (52)

Dosage:   infusion or 3-9 gms.; tincture, 10-30 drops   (6)

The infusion of an ounce to a pint of boiling water is taken in half-cup doses.    (57)

For products standardized to .5% essential oil, take 300-400 mg daily, 1 hour before bedtime.  Tincture 20-60 drops daily.    (61)

General Notes:   “…for such as he be troubled with the crampe and other convulsions, and for all those that are brused with falles.”   John Gerard, 1597    (15)

Lindley’s Treasury of Botany states: ‘What is known to chemists as volatile oil of Valerian seems not to exist naturally in the plant, but to be developed by the agency of water.’

             Gerard tells us that herbalists of his time thought (Valerian) ‘excellent for those burdened  and for such as be troubled with croup and other like convulsions, and also for those that are bruised with falls.’ He relates that the dried root was held in such esteem as the medicine among the poorer classes in the northern counties and the south of Scotland, that ‘no broth or pottage or physical meats be worth anything if Setewale (the old name for Valerian) be not there.’

Valerian has an effect on the nervous system of many animals, especially cats, which are thrown into a kind of intoxication by its scent. It is scarcely possible to keep it    (Valerian) in the garden after the leaves or root have been bruised or disturbed in any way, for cats are at once attracted and roll on the unfortunate plant. It is equally attractive to rats, used often by rat-catchers to bait their traps. It has been suggested that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin owed his irresistible power over rats to the fact that he secreted Valerian roots about his person.

In the Middle Ages, the root was used not only as a medicine, but also as a spice, and even as a perfume. It was the custom to lay the roots among clothes as a perfume (vide Turner, Herbal, 1568, Pt. lll, p. 56), just as some of the Himalayan Valerians are still used in the East, especially V. Jatamansi, the Nard of the Ancients, believed to be the Spikenard referred to in the Scriptures. It is still much used in ointments. Its odour is not so unpleasant as that of our native Valerians, and this and other species of Valerian are used in Asiatic nations in the manufacture of precious scents. Several aromatic roots were known to the Ancients under the name of Nardus, distinguished according to their origin or place of growth by the names of Nardis indica, N. celtica, N. montana, etc., and supposed to have been derived from different valerianaceous plants. Thus the N. indica  is referred to V. Jatamansi (Roxb.) of Bengal, the N. celtica  to V. celtica (Linn), inhabiting the Alps and the N. montana to V. tuberosa, which grows in the mountains of southern Europe. (35)



(1a) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Valerian Tinctures” file (Herbs drawer)

(1b) ibid Research Data, “Herb/Drug Interactions” by Varro Tyler, PhD, ScD, Prevention, Sept. ’98, p. 97

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 1204-05

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 353

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 238

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 186-87

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 110, 164-65

(35) A Modern Herbal (Vol. 2, I-Z) by Mrs. M. Grieve, pgs. 824-828

(48) The Rulership Book  by Rex E. Bills, pg. 152

(52) The Herbal Tarot–Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantis

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 356-57

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 202-03


PHOTO: Wikipedia