Valerian- Valeriana Officinalis The essential herb for sleep support that’s specific for both anxious mind and tense muscles Part used– Root Taste– aromatic, pungent, warming Dose– up to 10ml of 1:5 extract made into 60% alcohol, or 2 teaspoons per cup of boiling water of ground root or can be made into a cold infusion by leaving 2 teaspoons of valerian root in cold water covered in the fridge overnight. This European Native is one of the main herbal remedies used for conditions characterized by tension, both nervous and muscular. It has a long use as a remedy for insomnia and is one of the principle herbs used to help with falling asleep and having restorative rest. It has popularly been referred to as “Nature’s Valium” due to its obvious moderate sedative effects and muscle relaxant properties. Valerian is specific for muscular tension associated with stress, and to “calm the nerves”. Valerian is particularly well suited to being used as needed for immediate anxiety relief, to help bring on sleep when struggling with insomnia and to calm down over excited states in the moment. Interestingly in higher doses Valerian can actually be stimulating, and in certain susceptible people and supposedly cats! According to the Herbalist Matthew Wood it is specific for mental states of: Nervousness, Irritation, Restlessness, Suppressed anger and Nervous exhaustion with muscular tension (tension headaches & neck pain are common) It also is useful for digestive issues brought on by nervous tension (gas, cramps and stomach pains linked with being stressed), helps increase cerebral blood flow, can be used for pain relief especially when related to tense muscles and has a variety of other sedative like effects on various organ systems. It has even had some evidence of being useful for hot flashes, ADD and PMS symptoms. This herb should not be used regularly for very long periods of times as there are some reports of it causing a benzodiazepine-like withdrawal effect when it is used long term and suddenly stopped. The mechanism of action of this plant is thought to be its effects in activating GABA receptors (these are essentially the “brakes” of the nervous system that cause a sense of relaxation and relieve feelings associated with overstimulation like anxiety). A well-known GABA receptor activator is alcohol to give an example of the kind of calm it brings on, and this is a large factor of why alcohol is used excessive by those trying to self-medicate themselves out of states of heightened nervous system activity (high stress, fear, anxiety etc.) Constituents:
Volatile oils such as valeron & valerenic acid have a sedative effect on the nervous system while the valepotriates and valerenone relax constricted muscles. “In a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study, administration of an herbal formula, including valerian, 30 minutes before bedtime to 120 subjects with sleep disturbance symptoms not related to medical or psychiatric causes resulted in significant improvement in all sleep assessments.” “A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial with 91 subjects with primary insomnia, administration of *NSF-3, an herbal formula including valerian, for 2 weeks significantly improved total sleep time, sleep latency, number of nightly awakenings, and insomnia severity index scores.” *NSF-3 is a combination of Valerian, Hops and Passionflower. “A meta-analysis of 18 randomized clinical trials on the effectiveness of valerian for insomnia concluded qualitative results suggest effectiveness for subjective improvement of insomnia” This study seems to suggest that some benefit of valerian is from perceiving that sleep is better when taking it. This however can be helpful regardless because of the role of anticipation anxiety that is associated with fears of insomnia. “In an 8-week double blind clinical trial with 68 menopausal women, valerian was shown to significantly reduce frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes at both 4 and 8 weeks.” “A review of controlled trial of herbal medicines with subjects suffering from generalized anxiety disorder concluded Valeriana officinalis exhibited a potential anxiolytic effect.” In general research seems to confirm valerian’s use for insomnia, anxiety, and even hot flashes though some study results are mixed. Personal Experience: I have used valerian many times in all sorts of forms, from herbal extracts found in sleep formulas, to teas and tinctures and have noticed overall that is indeed a very calming and relaxing herb. It has a pungent odor that’s quite distinct, and some really can’t stand it but I don’t mind it. It has a musky scent that is accompanied by a minty aroma. It seems to be helpful in bringing on sleep, especially when I used it in formulas with other nervine herbs that contained melatonin. The most obvious effect I noticed from it was a deep muscle relaxation and have found it very helpful in states where stress led to muscle tension in my body. It seems very well suited to the kind of tension headaches and back aches that accompany long term stress and prevent sleep from a feeling of nervous discomfort. Herbs potentially synergistic with Valerian: A classic naturopathic formula combines equal parts of St. John’s wort and Valerian for depression. Valerian is often paired with other nervine relaxants such as passionflower and hops (the same ones as in your IPA!) to help with sleep Sleep is an incredibly complex phenomena and is not easy to improve, even with the best herbs. However, I have found some benefit, especially in getting me to sleep when I am feeling overstimulated and need a little boost of calm. I will be making numerous articles on different approaches to improving sleep as I believe there are so many factors that lead to insomnia. For most people it is not as simple as getting to bed earlier or waking up earlier and being the night owl that I am insomnia is something that I am very familiar with. The tired body and wide-awake mind, laying for hours thinking of all sorts of plans and things that occurred in the past. Insomnia is really a condition of the whole body, and so much plays into it. I’ve found benefit from various approaches to helping insomnia, the most notable were: -High fat and protein meal within an hour or two of bed; something light like almond butter and an apple -Breathing meditations and relaxation before bed -Reading a story or something light while laying down -Melatonin especially in lower doses like 1 mg seems to help me fall asleep -Avoiding any bright screens for at least an hour before sleep time -Strenuous physical exercise during the day -Being in a dark, cold room with as little sound as I can manage -Having a sleep ritual, doing certain calming activities to prepare for sleep- audiobooks while lying down are one of my favorites and listening to music -Setting an early time to wake up (this one is particularly difficult) -Warm bath or shower immediately before bed -Nervine herbs such as ashwagandha, valerian, chamomile, passionflower, hops and the like. While none of these things alone guaranteed a good night of sleep, when a cluster of them was fulfilled I would sleep like a baby. Especially avoiding stimulating activities at night, strenuous physical activity during the day, and having a mindful day of relaxation seemed to be the biggest hitters. What are some of your favorite ways that you deal with insomnia and get a great night’s rest?