A potent natural sedative, valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is often prescribed as a herbal remedy for the treatment of anxiety, a disorder characterized by strong negative feelings over future events, people and life in general. The herb has quite strong sedative properties which is why it is often classified as a medicine or medicinal product. The herb is also employed to relieve stress and induce relaxation, treat insomnia and migraines.
Valerian root extract and infusions are said to have anxiety and pain-relieving properties, treat convulsions and improve sleep quality. Also, the herb is recommended for the treatment or management of conditions such as hyperactivity, fatigue, depression, migraines as well as mental and physical restlessness, even abdominal discomfort. Valerian is considered one of the most effective anti-anxiety herbs, with a great potential of calming nervousness and inducing relaxation.
What does valerian look like?
Valerian is a beautiful looking flowering plant with clusters of white and light pink small flowers, somewhat resembling hyacinths. Centranthus ruber, commonly known as red valerian due to its fuchsia flowers, looks very much like valerian, but is a completely different plant with none of the health benefits of the original. The most important part of the valerian plant is its root, from which a potent oil is extracted. The root also serves as the source of anti-anxiety teas and other similar herbal preparations with benefits for mental health.
What does valerian taste and smell like?
As effective as the plant may be in relieving stress and improving nerve disorders, valerian root and extracts and other valerian-based preparations are characterized by a bad taste and especially a bad odor. The smell is comparable with that of a rancid tea, which is quite bad, but, luckily, not everyone possesses the finest sense of smell so chances are you might not find it as disagreeable as it is said to be. My friends and many other people with more sensitive noses all agree that valerian smells like sewer waste or sweaty, make-your-nose-fall-off socks at best. But as long as it helps calm nerves, it is worth enduring the smell.
What is valerian good for?
See below a list of uses of valerian and valerian byproducts (capsules, root extract, oil and herbal infusions):
- Anxiety (especially generalized anxiety disorder)
- Insomnia: poor sleep quality, difficulty falling asleep etc.
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Headaches and migraines
- Mental and physical restlessness
- Restless leg syndrome
- Stress, chronic and acute
- Abdominal cramps or spasms
About taking valerian for health
Valerian is recommended as and adjuvant or complementary therapy to aid with physical and especially mental health, potentially contributing to a reduced dose of traditional medication. It has been proven that taking prescribed medication for prolonged periods of time damages the gastric mucosa causing stomach problems such as gastritis or ulcers, and more, and even causes you to become dependent on them. More important, conventional medication is costly and may do more harm than good with the passing of time.
So if your doctor assures you that it is ok to opt for a more natural treatment plan, you can consider herbal remedies. Certain herbs are almost just as potent as regular medication and have few to no side effects which is why it is recommended to resort to a more natural approach whenever possible. Conventional medication is, after all, a more concentrated mix of plant extracts.
If you wake up constantly during the night, have a hard time falling asleep, experience insomnia frequently, feel anxious, depressed (negative emotions affect your sleep and life quality immensely), stressed or exhausted, then maybe it is time to help you body and mind relax a bit. A cup of valerian tea before going to sleep will help reduce physical and mental excitability (restless legs, hyperactivity, tremors), relieve anxiety and stress, things preventing you from getting a good night’s rest.
Valerian boasts relatively potent sedative effects, acting directly on the nervous system, which is why it is highly efficient in preventing panic attacks, relieving anxiety and negative feelings associated with depression. Because it acts as a sort of mild ‘brain tranquilizer’, it facilitates sleep which, in turn, contributes to improving energy levels, cognitive functions and overall life quality.
Good sleep is a key-factor in stress management as well. Although one cup will provide stress relief and help you sleep through the night, when it comes to improving more serious conditions such as anxiety or depression, you will most likely have to drink the tea regularly for several weeks. In this case, it might be best to consult with your doctor regarding the period of time you are to take valerian.
Side effects of valerian
No more than 2-3 cups of valerian (root) tea should be consumed each day, unless consumption of the herb preparation is contraindicated for you. Even so, some people may be more sensitive to it than others and even various side effects. At its worst, valerian can cause allergic reactions in those allergic to it (allergy symptoms include a skin rash, swelling of the face, mouth, tongue, throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, low blood pressure, fainting etc.) or liver damage (when the herb is consumed in excessive amounts). In otherwise healthy individuals, too much valerian may cause side effects such as headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, lethargy, blurred vision or affect driving capacity or the ability to operate machines and equipment.
Contraindications of valerian
It is a general recommendation that pregnant and nursing women as well as children under the age of 6 not take valerian. According to studies, the herb is not safe for unborn and newborn children or nursing mothers (it can be passed on into the milk). Also, because of its relatively strong sedative properties, it is best to consult a doctor if you are considering taking valerian and have been prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication. The herb can interact with anxiety and depression medication (and others too) and potentiate their effects.