The medicinal power of valerian

Valerian has several good properties for humans; for example, it helped with fever and plague. The devil was very angry about that. He tore a valerian plant from the ground and bit off a piece of the root in anger. Since then, the root has become blunt and has an unpleasant odor. Valerian has been widely used in folk medicine, homeopathy, phytotherapy and is even still used as a sedative in regular medicine. The great advantage of valerian is that it calms you down without affecting your ability to concentrate. Coordination and mental balance are strengthened because valerian regulates the production and functioning of the correct neurotransmitters. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing of valerian / Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • Naming valerian
  • The many names of valerian
  • Valerian in ancient times
  • Valerian from the Middle Ages to the 20th century
  • Valerian during the First World War
  • Active substances valerian
  • Valerian as a sedative
  • Valerian as a sleep inducing agent
  • Valerian for cramps in the intestines, neck and muscles
  • Other medicinal effects
  • Consult a herbal therapist


Naming valerian

In botanical science, biology and herbal medicine, specially agreed botanical names are usually used, which are always in Latin. The official scientific name of valerian is Valeriana Officinalis . Valere means ‘to be healthy’ or ‘to be strong’ in Latin. The name valeriana is a derivative of this. By the way, this is only the most likely explanation of the word valerian. Others think it originated with the Roman emperor Pliny Lucinus Valerianus, who used the herb as a medicine. Before Emperor Valerian, the Norwegians and Germans knew the god Balder. Many think that valerian is a corruption of ‘Balderian’. In language development you often see the reversal of ‘B’ and ‘V’.

The many names of valerian

‘Officinalis’ means ‘from the workshop of the pharmacist’. All plants used in medicine received this qualification. The cat appears in the folk names of many countries. Cats love valerian root; that is why people used to connect the cat to valerian. In Dutch, this medicinal herb has the following nicknames: Real valerian, Catmint, Baldriaan, Stinkerskruid, Neruwgoed, St. George’s wort, Spearwort, Spearwort Feverroot, Veldcropper, Pijpenkruid, Kattepier, Stinkaard, Fleerjan, Ooghecruyt and Duvelsdrek.

Valerian in ancient times

Valerian was already used in ancient Greece as a sedative and relaxing agent. Hippocrates and Galen recommended it for insomnia. Dioscorides, pioneer of medicine and herbal science, pointed out the unpleasant odor of this medicinal herb. He recommended it for palpitations, digestive problems, epilepsy and inflammation of the urinary tract. Valerian was also used as a cough syrup. It was even recommended to improve eyesight and was included in a blend of herbs used to make perfumes.

Valerian from the Middle Ages to the 20th century

In the Middle Ages, valerian was used against, among other things, epilepsy and excessive stimulation of the senses. Nicholas Culpeper. A celebrated 17th century English botanist and herbalist recommended valerian to women as a menstrual stimulant. The drug had now become a widely praised folk medicine and was used until well into the 20th century, mainly for: nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, hysteria, tension headaches, asthma, menstrual cramps, nervous stomach, spastic colon, high blood pressure. It was also an excellent way to calm overly restless and busy children. The smell of valerian root, which is not liked by humans, is very attractive to cats, rats, mice and other rodents. The story went around about the Pied Piper of Hamelin that he had a piece of valerian root in his jacket pocket.

Valerian during the First World War

During the First World War (1914-1918), which must have been much more terrible than the Second World War, the population was calmed down with valerian. The planes flying over regularly caused panic. Front-line soldiers who had to witness all kinds of horrors up close were also treated with valerian to calm them down.

Active substances valerian

The roots of the valerian plant are the only part used for medicinal purposes. Only the roots of a two- or three-year-old plant are used. The root is harvested when the leaves of the plant have withered; in September and October. You can use the root fresh, but it can also be dried at 40 degrees Celsius. The composition of the active substances can vary enormously between valerian plants. It depends on the age of the plant, the growing location, the growing conditions, the subspecies and the varieties. The most important substances in valerian are: 20 types of essential oils, 10 types of valeprotiates, three types of amino acids and eight types of alkaloids and the furanofuran lignan hydroxypinoresinol. To a lesser extent it contains phenolic acids, flavonoids, sterols, tannic acid, formic acid, acetic acid, malic acid, choline, enzymes, sugars, resin and organic acids.

In very small quantities, valerian root is used as a seasoning in fruit drinks, pastry products, ice cream and sweets. For the medicinal effect you can make tea from the root.


Valerian as a sedative

Valerian has a calming and relaxing effect on the nervous system. It has a kind of opposite effect in the brain as caffeine. Substances in valerian work as a GABA enhancer. GABA is a neurotransmitter that provides anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects. In addition, other substances in valerian ensure that GABA is produced. This neurotransmitter is not only more active but also more present in the brain after taking valerian. This makes valerian work well to combat fears. Excessively restless nerve impulses from other parts of the brain are reduced by the valerian root. This powerful medicinal effect makes it an effective remedy for a large number of indications. A herbal therapist can prescribe it for:

  • Stress, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, hecticness, being overworked,
  • Valerian leaf / Source: Randy Nonenmacher, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)


  • Tension headaches, migraines, dizziness,
  • Tinnitus, Meniere’s disease,
  • Irritating cough, high blood pressure, asthma, nerve pain,
  • Anxieties, exam anxiety, stage fright, job interview anxiety,
  • Hysteria, panic, exaggerated emotionality,
  • Exaggerated anxiety, becoming easily agitated,
  • Intellectual strain, depression after intellectual overexertion,
  • Concentration problems,
  • Reduced coordination ability,
  • Negative effects of alcohol,
  • ADHD from 4 years,
  • Withdrawal from tranquilizers such as benzodiazepines,
  • Nicotine withdrawal,
  • Increased thyroid function,
  • Menopausal complaints, tension just before menstruation.


Valerian as a sleep inducing agent

Valerian promotes sleep. This effect is best if it is taken for two to four weeks. It is not likely to work properly the first time after taking it. The great thing about valerian is that you just get up clear again; you don’t have a ‘hangover’ like some other sleeping pills. In addition, it does not lead to habituation; you don’t need more and more of it and you can’t become addicted to it. This means it is used for:

  • Problems falling asleep,
  • After hectic days/long monotonous work such as computer work and study periods,
  • Fears,
  • Trouble sleeping through the night or lying awake at night after sleeping for a few hours
  • Waking up often during the night.


Valerian for cramps in the intestines, neck and muscles

This plant is not only good for psychological peace but also has soothing qualities on the physical level. Valerian is an antispasmodic and muscle relaxant. It has a particularly relaxing effect on the neck muscles. In addition, it increases bile production, which improves digestion. Cramps and tension are often the result of stress. For these medicinal effects, valerian is prescribed for:

  • Digestive disorders:
  • Gastrointestinal cramps, nervous stomach, colic,
  • Spastic colon or irritable bowel syndrome,
  • Flatulence, constipation and diarrhea.
  • Muscle cramps and tension:
  • Neck pain,
  • Restless legs, tense muscles, motor restlessness,
  • Menstrual pain.


Other medicinal effects

The soothing and sleep-enhancing properties are most important for valerian. In addition, there are a number of secondary effects that it is good to know about when using valerian. You can of course also use valerian specifically for these indications:

  • Because it dilates the coronary arteries, it is used against nervous heart complaints,
  • Since it is an anaphrodisiac it is used by people with excessive libido,
  • Since it is an expectorant, you can breathe more freely,
  • Due to the diuretic effect, edemas are reduced.


Consult a herbal therapist

Anyone who wants to use valerian as a medicinal product is recommended to consult a herbal therapist. Valerian extracts and medicines in the form of mother tinctures, powders, nebulisate, liquid extract, ointment, cream and capsules should only be used on the prescription of authorized persons. A herbal therapist can tell you more about this, as well as about any side effects and interactions with other medicines or herbs. There are also beneficial combinations with herbs. All medicinal effects of this medicinal herb mentioned in this article are based on scientific research and come from Geert Verhelst’s Large Handbook of Medicinal Plants, a standard work in the field of healing plants. The book is used in phytotherapy.

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