Stress, tension, anxiety…unfortunately words we are all too familiar with. We are not unique to the stress and anxiety of everyday survival, however. Man has been using natural aids to lessen or relieve the effects of this stress for thousands of years. Used in ancient Chinese and Ayurveda medicine, the herb Valerian had a reputation for it’s calming effects. Native to Europe and Asia, “valeriana officianalis,” was also used in Greece and Rome. Growing to about four feet tall with trumpet-shaped flowers, it is it’s root that is used medicinally. Also known as All-heal, Amantilla, Setwall, Setewale, and Capon’s Tail, this root was used as a folk remedy as an aid for sleeping, digestion, nervousness, shaking, tension headaches, and heart palpitations. As prescription sleep medications became more available the use of Valerian decreased. Recently, however, the side effects of some of these prescription drugs have caused medicine to take another look at Valerian which has official pharmacopoeia status in Europe, and especially Germany.
Used as a calmative, Valerian root seems to act as a calmative similarly to Valium. It appears that Valerian may relieve stress by effecting the bioavailabilty of Gamma Aminobutyric Acid, or GABA, though the precise manner in which the constituents of Valerian work are not clear. Unfortunately there have been few clinical trials and though they have shown promise they have been small in nature. Valerian root seems to depress the central nervous system and relaxes the smooth muscle tissue. There have been many anecdotal reports of Valerian reducing nervous tension and stress and creating a calming effect. It is also said to have anti-spasmodic and anti-tremor properties which may be useful in treating epilepsy. In it’s use as a sleep aid, Valerian is not quite as effective as prescription medication but does not have the “hangover” side effect the next day.
Valerian is available as a tea and as an extract but has an odor that is offensive to many so the most common form taken is by capsule. When taken as a sleep aid Valerian root is usually taken an hour before bedtime and will take up to three weeks to become effective. As with all medications or herbal supplements you should follow the guidance of your doctor, but especially so with anything you are using for anxiety. Making an herbal bath with Valerian has also been beneficial to some in relieving nervous exhaustion.
The American Herbal Products Association has given Valerian a Class 1 safety rating but there have been side effects shown in some cases. Most common side effects would include mild indigestion, headaches, dizziness, and palpitations. As is typical with many medications or supplements pregnant or nursing women, as well as children should avoid taking Valerian. If you are taking medications that depress the central nervous system like sedatives or anti-histamines or are on benzodiazepines Valerian root should be avoided as well. Do not take Valerian when driving or operating machinery or consuming alcohol. It is also recommended that Valerian should not be used before or after surgery or by people with liver disease.
Valerian may be helpful in dealing with anxiety in today’s world as it’s use in the past helped throughout history. Education and taking control of your health is the key. Ask questions of your health care provider. Not all modalities work for all people, there are too many variables involved, but Valerian may helpful in your arsenal for good health.
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