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Valerian (herb)

(Redirected from Valeriana officinalis)

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Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae) is a perennial flowering plant native to Europe and Asia.<ref name="ods">Template:Cite web</ref> In the summer when the mature plant may have a height of Template:Convert, it bears sweetly scented pink or white flowers that attract many fly species, especially hoverflies of the genus Eristalis.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> It is consumed as food by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species, including the grey pug.

Crude extract of valerian root may have sedative and anxiolytic effects, and is commonly sold in dietary supplement capsules to promote sleep.<ref name=ods/>


Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves.<ref>Thorpe, Benjamin (1851) Northern Mythology Template:Webarchive. Lumley. Vol. 2. pp. 64–65.</ref> In the 16th century, the Anabaptist reformer Pilgram Marpeck prescribed valerian tea for a sick woman.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

John Gerard's Herball states that his contemporaries found Valerian "excellent for those burdened and for such as be troubled with croup and other like convulsions, and also for those that are bruised with falls." He says that the dried root was valued as a medicine by the poor in the north of England and the south of Scotland, so that "no broth or pottage or physicall meats be worth anything if Setewale [Valerian] be not there."<ref name="Grieve, Maud 1971">Template:Cite book</ref>

The seventeenth century astrological botanist Nicholas Culpeper thought the plant was "under the influence of Mercury, and therefore hath a warming faculty." He recommended both herb and root, and said that "the root boiled with liquorice, raisons and aniseed is good for those troubled with cough. Also, it is of special value against the plague, the decoction thereof being drunk and the root smelled. The green herb being bruised and applied to the head taketh away pain and pricking thereof."<ref name="Grieve, Maud 1971"/>

Etymology and common names

The name of the herb is derived from the personal name Valeria and the Latin verb valere (to be strong, healthy).<ref>Template:OEtymD</ref><ref>Latin definition for: valeo, valere, valui, valitus Template:Webarchive. latin-dictionary.net</ref> Other names used for this plant include garden valerian (to distinguish it from other Valeriana species), garden heliotrope (although not related to Heliotropium), setwall and all-heal (which is also used for plants in the genus Stachys). Red valerian, often grown in gardens, is also sometimes referred to as "valerian", but is a different species (Centranthus ruber), from the same family but not very closely related.

Valerian extract

Biochemical composition

Known compounds detected in valerian that may contribute to its method of action are:

  • Alkaloids: actinidine,<ref name="phenolics">Fereidoon Shahidi and Marian Naczk, Phenolics in food and nutraceuticals (Boca Raton, Florida, USA: CRC Press, 2004), pp. 313–314 Template:Webarchive Template:ISBN.</ref> chatinine,<ref name="phenolics"/><ref>Although many sources list "catinine" as an alkaloid present in extracts from the root of Valeriana officinalis, those sources are incorrect. The correct spelling is "chatinine". It was discovered by S. Waliszewski in 1891. See: S. Waliszewski (15 March 1891) L'Union pharmaceutique, page 109. Abstracts of this article appeared in: "Chatinine, alcaloïde de la racine de valériane" Répertoire de pharmacie, series 3, vol. 3, pp. 166–167 Template:Webarchive (April 10, 1891) ; American Journal of Pharmacy, vol. 66, p. 285 Template:Webarchive (June 1891).</ref> shyanthine,<ref name="phenolics"/> valerianine,<ref name="phenolics"/> and valerine<ref name="phenolics"/>
  • Isovaleramide may be created in the extraction process.<ref>Isovaleramide does not appear to be a naturally occurring component of valerian plants; rather, it seems to be an artifact of the extraction process; specifically, it is produced by treating aqueous extracts of valerian with ammonia. See: Template:Cite journal</ref>
  • Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)<ref name=ods/>
  • Isovaleric acid<ref>Isovaleric acid does not appear to be a natural constituent of V. officinalis; rather, it is a breakdown product that is created during the extraction process or by enzymatic hydrolysis during (improper) storage. See pp. 22 and 123 Template:Webarchive of Peter J. Houghton, Valerian: the genus Valeriana (Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Harwood Academic Press, 1997) Template:ISBN.</ref>
  • Iridoids, including valepotriates: isovaltrate and valtrate<ref name="phenolics"/>
  • Sesquiterpenes (contained in the volatile oil): valerenic acid,<ref name="pmid14742369">Template:Cite journal</ref> hydroxyvalerenic acid and acetoxyvalerenic acid<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>
  • Flavanones: hesperidin,<ref name="pmid12895671">Template:Cite journal</ref> 6-methylapigenin,<ref name="pmid12895671"/> and linarin<ref name="pmid14751470">Template:Cite journal</ref>

Mechanism of action

Because of valerian's historical use as a sedative, antiseptic, anticonvulsant, migraine treatment, and pain reliever, most basic science research has been directed at the interaction of valerian constituents with the GABA receptor.<ref name=medscape>Template:Cite journal</ref> Many studies remain inconclusive and all require clinical validation. The mechanism of action of valerian in general, and as a mild sedative in particular, has not been fully elucidated. However, some of the GABA-analogs, particularly valerenic acids as components of the essential oil along with other semivolatile sesquiterpenoids, generally are believed to have some affinity for the GABAA receptor, a class of receptors on which benzodiazepines are known to act.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> Valeric acid, which is responsible for the typical odor of mostly older valerian roots, does not have any sedative properties. Valeric acid is related to valproic acid, a widely prescribed anticonvulsant; valproic acid is a derivative of valeric acid.

Valerian also contains isovaltrate, which has been shown to be an inverse agonist for adenosine A1 receptor sites. This action likely does not contribute to the herb's possible sedative effects, which would be expected from an agonist, rather than an inverse agonist, at this particular binding site. Hydrophilic extractions of the herb commonly sold over the counter, however, probably do not contain significant amounts of isovaltrate.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> Valerenic acid in valerian stimulates serotonin receptors as a partial agonist,<ref name=Patocka-2010>Template:Cite journal</ref> including 5-HT5A which is implicated in the sleep-wake cycle.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>


The chief constituent of valerian is a yellowish-green to brownish-yellow oil present in the dried root, varying in content from 0.5 to 2.0%. This variation in quantity may be determined by location; a dry, stony soil yields a root richer in oil than moist, fertile soil.<ref name="botanical">Template:Cite web</ref> The volatile oils that form the active ingredient are pungent, somewhat reminiscent of well-matured cheese. Though some people remain partial to the earthy scent, some find it unpleasant, comparing the odor to that of unwashed feet.<ref>Harrington, H.D., Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains, The University of New Mexico Press, 1967, LCCN 67-29685, p. 225</ref>

Medicinal use

Valerian (V. officinalis) essential oil

Although valerian is a common traditional medicine used for treating insomnia, there is no good evidence it is effective for this purpose, and there is some concern it may be harmful.<ref name=altrev>Template:Cite journal</ref> Valerian is not helpful in treating restless leg syndrome<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> or anxiety.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> There is insufficient evidence for efficacy and safety of valerian for anxiety disorders.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the health claim that valerian can be used as a traditional herbal medicine to relieve mild nervous tension and to aid sleep; EMA stated that although there is insufficient evidence from clinical studies, its effectiveness as a dried extract is considered plausible.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>


In the United States, valerian extracts are sold as a nutritional supplement under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.

Oral forms, use, and adverse effects

Oral forms

Oral forms are available in both standardized and unstandardized forms. Standardized products may be preferable considering the wide variation of the chemicals in the dried root, as noted above. When standardized, it is done so as a percentage of valerenic acid or valeric acid.

Adverse effects

Because the compounds in valerian produce central nervous system depression, they should not be used with other depressants, such as ethanol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, opiates, kava, or antihistamine drugs.<ref name=Klesper>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name=Wong>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name=Miller>Template:Cite journal</ref> Moreover, non-pregnant adult human hepatotoxicity has been associated with short-term use (i.e., a few days to several months) of herbal preparations containing valerian and Scutellaria (commonly called skullcap).<ref name=MacGreg>Template:Cite journal</ref>

As an unregulated product, the concentration, contents, and potential contaminants in valerian preparations cannot be easily determined. Because of this uncertainty and the potential for toxicity in the fetus and hepatotoxicity in the mother, valerian use is discouraged during pregnancy.<ref name=Klesper/><ref name=Wong/>

Effect on cats

Valerian root is a cat attractant in a way similar to catnip.<ref name="bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com">Template:Cite journal</ref>

Floral symmetry

Valerian is unusual in having flowers with "handedness", that is, having neither radial nor bilateral symmetry.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>


Valerian is considered an invasive species in many jurisdictions including Connecticut, US where it is officially banned<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> and in New Brunswick, Canada where it is listed as a plant of concern.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Image gallery

See also

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External links

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