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Traditional Indications

Valerian is antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, hypnotic, nervine, sedative and stimulant. Valerian is noted especially for its effect as a tranquilliser and nervine, particularly for those people suffering from nervous overstrain. Valerian has been shown to encourage sleep, improve sleep quality and reduce blood pressure. It is also used internally in the treatment of painful menstruation, cramps, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome etc.

Valerian is currently one of the most popular orthodox antispasmodic medications in Russia and Germany. Its anticonvulsant action has been useful in treating epilepsy. Valerian is classified as a tonic herb. It can regulate and balance opposite extremes. Recent research has shown it to be a sedative but more research has reported it can also stimulate in a way as to improve coordination, increase concentration and energy. This tonic nature of Valerian allows it to depress or stimulate where necessary depending on the current needs of the nervous system. (1)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Valeriana officinalis is called Xie Cao. Xie Cao is said to enter the Liver and Heart channels and moves Blood to alleviate pain. Xie Cao is a tranquiliser and calms the Shen (spirit) to alleviate anxiety, insomnia and palpitations. (2)

Pharmacognosy

The major constituents include the monoterpene bornyl acetate and the sesquiterpene valerenic acid, which is characteristic of the species, in addition to other types of sesquiterpene. Some of these have been shown to have a direct action on the amygdaloid body of the brain and valerenic acid has been shown to inhibit enzyme-induced breakdown of GABA in the brain resulting in sedation. (3)

A study explains the hypnotic mechanism of extracts of Valeriana officinalis as being anxiolytic and antidepressant effects as opposed to sedative or myorelaxant. (4)

A mixture of valerian and hops extract improves sleep-related behaviours, including sleeping time, by modulating GABAergic/serotonergic signaling. (5)

Another study indicates that mechanism of Valeriana officinalis is to support a GABAergic mechanism of action for valerian and that by decreasing neuronal network excitability valerian consumption may contribute to neuroprotection. (6) Modulation of GABAA receptors by valerian extracts is related to the content of valerenic acid. (7)

Valerian was the first anticonvulsant traditionally prescribed for “Falling Sickness”. A study showed that valerian extract has an anticonvulsant effect and concluded that part of anticonvulsant effect of valerian probably is mediated through activation of adenosine system. (8)

Valerian is antispasmodic and hypotensive. Valerian’s blood pressure lowering effects are mediated through K+ channel activation. (9)

1. PFAF. Valeriana officinalis 2019.
2. Healing WRIo. Valerian (Xie Cao) 2019.
3. Houghton PJ. The scientific basis for the reputed activity of Valerian. The Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology. 1999;51(5):505-12.
4. Hattesohl M, Feistel B, Sievers H, Lehnfeld R, Hegger M, Winterhoff H. Extracts of Valeriana officinalis L. s.l. show anxiolytic and antidepressant effects but neither sedative nor myorelaxant properties. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology. 2008;15(1):2-15.
5. Choi H-S, Ko BS, Kim HD, Hong K-B, Suh HJ. Effect of Valerian/Hop Mixture on Sleep-Related Behaviors in Drosophila melanogaster. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2017;40(7):1101-10.
6. Malva JO, Santos S, Macedo T. Neuroprotective properties of Valeriana officinalis extracts. Neurotoxicity research. 2004;6(2):131-40.
7. Trauner G, Khom S, Baburin I, Benedek B, Hering S, Kopp B. Modulation of GABAA Receptors by Valerian Extracts is Related to the Content of Valerenic Acid. Planta Med. 2008;74(01):19-24.
8. Rezvani ME, Roohbakhsh A, Allahtavakoli M, Shamsizadeh A. Anticonvulsant effect of aqueous extract of Valeriana officinalis in amygdala-kindled rats: Possible involvement of adenosine. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2010;127(2):313-8.
9. Gilani AH, Khan A-u, Jabeen Q, Subhan F, Ghafar R. Antispasmodic and blood pressure lowering effects of Valeriana wallichii are mediated through K+ channel activation. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2005;100(3):347-52.