April is Stress Awareness month so, as well as bringing you a sleep-friendly herb, I thought I would choose a herb that relieves stress, anxiety and nervous tension, and we need look no further than Valerian (Valerian Officianalis).
Valerian known as ‘nature’s valium’ for its calming, sedative effects and was also referred to as ‘mother’s little helper’. It is well-documented that – in it’s pharmaceutical, herbal and homeopathic forms – Valerian helps to reduce feelings of nervous tension and helps to promote sleep. (1,2,3)
Valerian is a perennial plant native to Europe and Asia and cultivated in North America. It has a distinctive odour that some find unpleasant.
The Therapeutic Uses
Historically, it was used therapeutically in ancient Greek and Roman times and Hippocrates is known to have been a fan. Herbalist, Galen prescribed it for insomnia and during WW2 it was used in the UK to relieve the stress of air raids. Today, it is used mainly for insomnia and mild anxiety.
Valerian as a herbal remedy
Valerian is known for its relaxing qualities. It relieves tension, anxiety, over excitability and hysterical states. It is also excellent for insomnia where there is a nervous causation. It is an anti-spasmodic so can help with cramps, intestinal colic and painful periods. It is also used for headaches, heart health and rheumatic pains. 4
Valerian’s main mode of action is via the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a which sends chemical messages through the brain and nervous system. Its role is to inhibit or reduce the activity of neurons or nerve cells. In large enough quantities GABA can cause a sedative effect. Valerian root has been shown to increase GABA levels in the brain which is why it can help relieve so many ailments.
GABA also helps to reduce anxiety by regulating the nerve cells and balancing the central nervous system. Higher GABA levels make it easier for the mind and body to relax and why it is the ultimate stress busting herb.
Valerian as a Homeopathic Remedy
Many homeopathic remedies – including Valeriana – are derived from the plant kingdom and herbs. However, the homeopathic preparations work differently to herbal remedies because they contain minimal amounts of herbal extract (mother tincture) to reduce the risk of side effects. When choosing a homeopathic remedy, Homeopaths refer to the Materia Medica (remedy guide) which includes a section on traditional and herbal usage, so we can draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom, which only increases the scope of breadth of how and when to use the homeopathic remedy.
Valeriana (Valerian Officianalis) is primarily a homeopathic nerve tonic, especially where there are sudden and extreme emotional and physical symptoms. Twitching, jerks and restlessness are marked. Equally, people needing it sometimes have a notable lack of reaction to well-indicated remedies, so it can be a useful intercurrent remedy for stubborn cases! All kinds of spasms, epileptic fits, paralysis and contraction of limbs are indications for use of this remedy.
NB: Always use herbs and homeopathy under the guidance of a professional herbalist or homeopath.
Valerian is sleep-friendly
Valerian’s main mode of action is via the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a which sends chemical messages through the brain and nervous system. Its role is to inhibit or reduce the activity of neurons or nerve cells. In large enough quantities GABA can cause a sedative effect. Valerian root has been shown to increase GABA levels in the brain which is why it is such an effective sleep remedy. 5
The Gut Connection
If you’ve been following me, you’ll know about the holy trinity of sleep, gut health and immunity. Added to that, the bidirectional link between sleep and mental health means that anything that helps you sleep will help your mental health and wellbeing generally. You can read my article here. Alternatively, you might be interested in my short webinar on gut health – webinar.
There is extensive medical research to demonstrate that Valerian is effective for insomnia, to reduce anxiety, stress and tension, as well as help to support heart health through reducing hypertension (high blood pressure).
To create any drug, the pharmaceutical industry focusses on what it considers to be the active component of a plant and uses this component only. The problem with this approach is that traditional therapists and herbalists know it is the symbiotic interaction of the whole plant that brings the full therapeutic effect as a tonic, rendering the herbal remedy less toxic in terms of side effects.
Furthermore, you can’t patent (i.e. commercialise) natural remedies, hence the quest to isolate any active component of a plant and synthesise it in a lab. Once synthesised, it can be mass produced and, more importantly, patented. That is why pharmaceutical industry is so profitable, and why it continues down this path to the exclusion of other health modalities, despite endemic levels of chronic and underlying health problems.
Here’s a reminder from the very wise Hippocrates,
‘…foolish the doctor who despises and negates the knowledge acquired by the ancients.’
How to get your Valerian fix
I do not suggest you rush out and buy the herbal remedy. Always take herbs with the guidance of a qualified herbalist. The purpose of this blog is to share the broad action of the remedy and that it could be used to help manage your health differently.
Herbal teas are a safe and pleasant way to introduce herbs into your health routine. One or two cups daily would be sufficient to benefit gently from its therapeutic effects.
Valerian Essential Oil is an excellent way to benefit from the therapeutic effects of Valerenic acid and Valerenol which are contained in the essential oil. These components relieve anxiety gently and help to stabilise the nervous system. Try diffusing the essential oil in an aromatherapy oil burner or dilute with a pure carrier oil to create a sleep-promoting bedtime massage or bath oil.
Contact me for individualised, professional homeopathic help to optimise your health and wellbeing.
Invest in your rest. Because sleep matters.
Caution: if you are on any medication, please consult your local herbalist for expert advice. Some herbal remedies can interact with medication (because they are effective!) Most proprietary herbal supplements and teas are very low dose
it is recommended that you check before using herbs.
1 1 Hoffman, David, 1990: ‘Holistic Herbal’; Thorsons; ISBN-13 978-0-00-714541-6
2 2013; National Institutes of Health Factsheet – NIH factsheet
3 Murphy, R ND, 2000: ‘Homeopathic Remedy Guide, Second Edition’; H.A.N.A. Press; ISBN: 0-9635764-0-2
5 Lindahl, O & Lindwall, L, 1989: ‘Double blind study of a valerian preparation’ – research