“To be anxious…tends to cause weakness and disease. If they will rise above depression and gloom, their prospect of recovery will be better.” —Ministry of Healing, 229
What is Valerian Root?
Valerian root is a medicinal herb best-known for its sharp odor and sedative qualities. It is mainly native to Europe and parts of Asia but has been found occasionally growing wild on the North American continent due to importation.
The valerian plant itself is a perennial flowering plant known by several names, such as all-heal, garden heliotrope, garden valerian, and setwall. While several potent varieties exist, it should not be confused with the red valerian, which is not a true valerian at all and does not boast the same medicinal properties. Merely ornamental, it is distinctly different from true valerians as it exhibits deep red blossoms, whereas true valerians produce only pink, purple, or white blossoms.
The valerian plant’s flowers have such a sweet fragrance that, for centuries, they were harvested for the purpose of creating lingering perfumes. Some describe the scent of certain varieties’ flowers as “foul,” which is why some flowers within teas and other products are sometimes hidden within the aroma of accompanying jasmine, lavender, or ginger.
Regardless, the benefits of the flowers and the root are well-worth the extra effort and cost to disguise their stench. Both provide a powerful remedy against many common health conditions.
Supplemental Forms of Valerian Root
Because the flowers are seasonal and less potent, the root is more widely put to use in most medicinal supplements, which is why the valerian root—not the blossoms—will be the focus here.
Generally, the root is pressed into fresh juice or freeze-dried and formed into powder before being offered to the masses as a tincture, extract, capsule, or tea. The odor of the root does not diminish, despite the processes by which it is prepared for consumption. Often, it is combined with other calming herbs that are more pleasant in smell and taste, such as hops, lemon balm, passionflower, and skullcap. Kava is also an ingredient used for this purpose, but recent studies have revealed its association with liver damage, so any valerian root products containing kava should be avoided.
Lately, the popularity of valerian root’s benefits has inspired many people to grow their own. The process of creating freeze-dried powder or an essential oil from valerian root, however, can be rather difficult. Most choose to use the milder blossoms in a tea, while others wait for the plant to fully mature before using the root as a tea. A single plant can quickly be used up within a short amount of time, which makes the effort in planting it, caring for it, and waiting for its maturity seem unnecessary when commercial supplementation is readily available and inexpensive in forms much more potent than tea. For those suffering from exceptionally chronic or debilitating conditions, growing valerian at home is definitely not the solution.
Valerian Root and Sleep
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans are severely sleep-deprived. This could explain the rise in sleep aid and NSAID sales as people are desperate to rest and overcome the physical pain accompanied by the lack of healing sleep. Sadly, sleep medication and pain relievers are riddled with unnatural, toxic, and addictive substances that damage the vital organs and, eventually, cause the consumer to lose his or her body’s natural ability to fall asleep on their own or fight pain-causing inflammation.
Valerian root, however, is completely natural, non-toxic, and non-addicting. It works with the body’s natural processes—not against them—to induce sleep. Upon waking, the consumer does not experience the grogginess so often accompanied by unnatural sleep aids.
Valerian root’s sedative quality is due to its ability to increase the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) level in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of brain cell communication, namely among the nerve cells. When the GABA level is increased, the activity of the neurons is decreased, making a more conducive physiological state for sleep.
Several studies, especially the double-blind study completed by the Foellinge Health Center, have concluded that valerian root produces faster sleep inducement, improves sleep quality throughout the night, and causes little to no morning drowsiness upon waking. More research is needed to confirm that daily use beyond six weeks is a viable option but, thus far, valerian root has exceeded expectations in both safety and effectiveness when it comes to sleep for all ages, even children and pregnant women.
Valerian Root and Anxiety
Because valerian root so effectively increases the GABA level, which greatly affects the nerves, it is not only beneficial as a sleep aid, but also as a natural anti-anxiety aid. Valerian root’s main chemical components—valerenol and valerenic acid—have a powerful calming effect on the nerves throughout the brain. Nervousness, inability to focus, increased heartrate, nervous sweating, panic, physical fidgeting, and many more symptoms of anxiety are decreased significantly with the use of valerian root.
Several studies have proven valerian root to be just as effective at calming anxiety as some of the more health-compromising and addicting pharmaceuticals, such as Xanax and Valium—without fogging the mind. Still, a surprising amount of people would prefer a prescription for drugs that would not only further complicate their lives with addiction and greater health issues, but also contribute financially to the pocket of an industry that depends on its consumers to be in chronic poor health and an addicted state. Valerian root, on the other hand, is both an inexpensive and benign supplement that can only improve the health of the consumer.
While more research is needed, this could be a possible remedial agent against the effects of attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD), autism, Asperger’s, and several other anxiety-involved conditions suffered by children especially.
Valerian Root and Blood Pressure
The very same GABA-increasing elements of valerian root are also involved in reducing blood pressure, which, in turn, improves heart health and reduces the risk for heart conditions.
No studies have been made to directly observe valerian root and hypertension, but a reduction in blood pressure has been just one of the positive side effects witnessed in several sleep and anxiety studies.
This would make sense since heart complications are induced or further worsened by both anxiety and inadequate sleep. Once valerian root improves both, blood pressure decreases and the heart is able to function more optimally.
Valerian Root and Women
In addition to its anti-anxiety and sedative qualities, valerian root is also prized as an anti-spasmodic. This is particularly helpful just prior and during a woman’s menstruation. It’s been suggested that two servings of valerian tea should be consumed daily—up to three days before the expected period. Consumption of the tea is recommended throughout all of the cycle to reduce anxiety, cramping, fatigue, and irritability.
If a woman experiences more severe symptoms than what is assumed average, the tea form of valerian root may be too mild. Tinctures and other more potent extracts should be considered.
This anti-spasmodic benefit may be an option for women who find it difficult to carry pregnancies full-term, as well. All research conducted has shown valerian root products to pose no threat to women, children, or women and unborn children during pregnancy. Still, further research must be done to determine the length at which valerian root can be safely and effectively taken. Even if valerian root is non-toxic, the body can easily adapt to its use and more of the herb may be needed to create the same desired effects. Going beyond the recommended dosage is not advisable without further study.
When Not To Use Valerian Root
While valerian root is harmless at the recommended dose, it can be a concern if it is coupled with other specific supplements or medications. Never take valerian alongside other sleep aids (i.e. melatonin) or anti-anxiety medications (i.e. Xanax). Alcohol should not be a part of any Christian’s diet, nor should it be considered healthy (even in moderation) for those who are not believers, but for the sake of safety, it should be noted that alcohol, or medicinal products containing alcohol (i.e. cold and flu medicines), should not be consumed alongside valerian either.
The valerian plant has been known for centuries for its sleep and anxiety benefits. In the last century, much has been discovered as to just how precisely it has earned such a reputation, but there is still more to learn. Some claim valerian root is a “heal all,” which is understandable, considering its ability to calm physical and mental anxiety, as well as improve sleep, which science has only now revealed as being the main cause of many health conditions and disorders. Even some diseases and cancers would not advance as quickly or as mightily as they do if adequate sleep was maintained and the body and mind was made free from overwhelming tension, nervousness, and anxiety. The most ideal diet in the world will have little effect on a body and a mind that is under chronic stress and unease.
As the reader considers valerian root as a future option in safeguarding their health, let them also consider the causes of their stress and lack of sleep. What changes can be made to improve the situation long-term? May the powerful valerian root enable the reader to reclaim their vitality and overcome their health-compromising circumstances in a way that glorifies the God so generous to offer natural remedies in a world overwhelmed by deadly pharmaceuticals.