Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Valerianaceae) is a hardy perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers. The flowers are in bloom in the northern hemisphere from June to September. Valerian was used as a perfume in the sixteenth century.
Other names used for this plant include garden valerian (to distinguish it from other Valeriana species), garden heliotrope (although not related to Heliotropium) and all-heal. The garden flower red valerian is also sometimes referred to as "valerian" but is a different species, from the same family but not particularly closely related.
Valerian, in pharmacology and phytotherapic medicine, is the name of a herb or dietary supplement prepared from roots of the plant, which, after maceration, trituration, dehydration processes, are conveniently packaged, usually into capsules, that may be utilized for certain effects including sedation and anxiolytic effect.
The amino acid Valine is named after this plant.
An explanation for the theory regarding the etymological reference to the strong odor is that the herb was also known as "Phou" or "Fy" in antiquity . «Phou» or «fy» is describing a common expression of the peoples of the European continent when smelling a dried Valerian root. According to folk belief this medicine could turn everything painful into good. It was therefore called "wenderot" or similar in Germanic language groups, meaning the root that could turn things bad to good. Domestic animals, pets, especially cats become ardent when they smell the herb.
Known pharmacologically active compounds detected in valerian extract are:
Because of valerian's historical use as a sedative, anti-convulsant, migraine treatment and pain reliever, most basic science research has been directed at the interaction of valerian constituents with the GABA neurotransmitter receptor system. These studies remain inconclusive and all require independent replication. The mechanism of action of valerian in general, as a mild sedative in particular, remains unknown. Valerian extracts appear to have some affinity for the GABAA (benzodiazepine) receptor, but this activity does not appear to be mediated by valerenic acid, but rather by the relatively high content of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) itself.
In the United States Valerian is sold as a nutritional supplement. Therapeutic use has increased as dietary supplements have gained in popularity, especially after the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed in 1994. This law allowed the distribution of many agents as over-the-counter supplements, and therefore allowed them to bypass the regulatory requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Valerian is used against sleeping disorders, restlessness and anxiety, and as a muscle relaxant. Valerian often seems only to work when taken over longer periods (several weeks), though many users find that it takes effect immediately. Some studies have demonstrated that valerian extracts interact with the GABA and benzodiazepine receptors. Valerian is also used traditionally to treat gastrointestinal pain and irritable bowel syndrome. However, long term safety studies are missing. As valepotriates may be potential mutagens, valerian should only be used after consultation with a physician.
Valerian has uses in herbal medicine as a sedative. The main current use of valerian is as a remedy for insomnia, with a recent meta-analysis providing some evidence of effectiveness. It has been recommended for epilepsy but that is not supported by research (although an analogue of one of its constituents, valproic acid, is used as an anticonvulsant and mood-stabilizing drug). Valerian root generally does not lose effectiveness over time.
While shown to be an effective remedy for the reduction of anxiety, it has also been reported to cause agitation, headaches and night terrors in some individuals. This may be due to the fact that some people lack a digestive conversion property necessary to effectively break down Valerian. One study found that valerian tends to sedate the agitated person and stimulate the fatigued person, bringing about a balancing effect on the system.
Valerian's effect on cats is featured as a clue in two works by Agatha Christie.