This plant (known to the Greeks as Phu, for its smell) is a member of its own familiy, the Valerianaceae. It grows quite tall and bushy, its flower spike reaching up six or seven feet in the early weeks of June. While the flowers smell lovely, the root is a different story. It is acceptable when fresh, but really stinks when dry. It benefits greatly from a large amount of compost and a well-dug, deep and well-drained bed. We harvest the roots in the fall, after the green growth has mostly gone.
Elemental associations: Water
Phytochemistry: Volatile oil, iridoids, alkaloids
Actions: Sedative, hypnotic, relaxant
Specific systems: Nervous
First off, it is important to remember that for about 5% of the population everything about Valerian is the complete opposite than what it is for the other 95% – meaning, it is a stimulant, leaves them agitated and irritable, and should generally be avoided. Always a good idea to start gently with this one, and immediately discontinue its use if any strange symptoms surface.
That said, this herb is probably one of our very best sleep aids available. The dose for sleep is usually a bit higher than the ‘tonic’ dose used for nervous tension and anxiety, and to treat these latter conditions, it should be employed in small doses often repeated.
Another caution with Valerian is that, while it isn’t habit-forming, it can lead to tolerance after prolonged use. Consider switching to another herb for symptoms of insomnia (like Passionflower, or Hops) after a few weeks.
Finally, some people who enjoy Valerian for helping them sleep can develop a mild ‘hangover’ effect for an hour or so the next morning. This can usually be corrected by reducing the dose.
Indications: Insomnia, anxiety
Contraindications: Long-term use, hypersensitivity to Valerian
Preparation/Dosage: I wouldn’t recommend the tea, unless it is blended with other herbs to mitigate the strong taste of this herb. The tincture can be prepared from the fresh roots (the flavor is much more pleasant, almost spicy), using 50% alcohol, at a 1:2 to 1:5. Use 20 drops to ¼ tsp. 3-5 times a day for anxiety, and use ½ – 1 tsp. 45 minutes before bed for insomnia.