Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valeriana officinalis is a member of the Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae), native to Europe and Asia but now grown all over the world (Spinella, 2001). A perennial growing up to one or two meters tall (3–6 feet), it has dark green, pinnately compound leaves with serrated leaflets along the stem and at the base of the plant. It bears white to pinkish flowers in terminal clusters and produces an offensive odor when the roots are dry and exposed (Eadie, 2004). For centuries an ointment from Valerian officinalis has been used in China, Egypt, and Greece, as well as other countries throughout Europe, to treat sleep disorders (Gooneratne, 2008). During the 18th and 19th centuries, valerian was also used in Europe as a popular anticonvulsant remedy to treat epilepsy (Eadie, 2004). One study has shown that the root extract improves the quality of sleep for women who suffer sleep disorders as they progress through menopause (Bent et al. 2006).
Nicholas Culpeper’s English Physician and Complete Herbal published in 1789 includes historical information on the use of Valerian. The root was boiled with licorice and raisins and ingested to treat coughs and remove phlegm. It was boiled in wine to treat a bite or sting from a venomous animal. A drop of boiled Valerian was applied to the eye to remove any dimness of sight and alleviate any eye pain. It was also used to treat any internal or external wounds and remove splinter or thorns.
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Eadie, M. J. (2004). Could valerian have been the first anticonvulsant? Epilepsia, 45(11), 1338-1343. doi:10.1111/j.0013-9580.2004.27904.x
Gooneratne, N. S. (2008). Complementary and alternative medicine for sleep disturbances in older adults. Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, 24(1), 121-138, viii. doi:10.1016/j.cger.2007.08.002
Spinella, M. (2001). Herbal Medicines and Epilepsy: The Potential for Benefit and Adverse Effects. Epilepsy & Behavior, 2(6), 524-532. doi:10.1006/ebeh.2001.0281