Several species of valerian, European, Asiatic, American are used for their hypnotic, calming, sedative, anxiolytic or anti-spasmodic properties.
Valeriana officinalis, valerian, is native to Eurasia but is now present on all continents.
It includes several subspecies of slightly different appearance.
The most common valerian is a plant recognizable by its white or pink corymb-shaped inflorescence carried by a hollow and fluted floral stem which can exceed 1 m.
Its leaves are deeply divided with toothed leaflets.
It flowers in Europe from May to July and likes slightly damp areas such as the slopes of ditches, the edges of woods, wet meadows.
The medicinal part corresponds to the underground parts: root and rhizome with fine stolons with horizontal development.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
Valerian root contains many pharmacologically active substances, the main ones being:
- Iridoids (interesting compounds present in many medicinal plants) called here valepotriates.
They are quite unstable, insoluble in water, and therefore often absent in valerian extracts.
As it decomposes, it gives iso-valeric acid, which is probably responsible for the unpleasant smell for humans of dry valerian root , but which strongly attracts cats (unless it is actinidin, another compound).
Main valepotriates: valtrate and isovaltrate, they bind to benzodiazepine receptors (sedative-anxiolytic synthetics) and participate in the calming action of valerian.
- Terpenes which are now considered the main players in valerian extracts with especially valerenic acid which modifies the metabolism of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA = very important neuromediator).
Valerenic acid binds to GABA receptors and thwarts the action of certain enzymes responsible for destroying it. GABA therefore acts longer and as it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, the activity of the central nervous system is reduced, hence the sedative effect observed.
- Essential oil (about 1%) : this volatile oil is dominated by monoterpenes: bornyl acetate (30 to 40%), camphene and alpha-pinene (10 to 15% each).
Bornyl acetate is sedative and antispasmodic.
Camphene and its isomer alpha-pinene are airway disinfectants and, unlike bornyl acetate, slightly increase body tone.
- Flavonoids : antioxidants but which may potentiate the sedative action of valerenic acid.
We therefore see that pharmacologists are undecided or divided on the nature of the molecules responsible for the sedative, tranquilizing, anxiolytic and antispasmodic action of valerian root.
Clinical trials also give inconsistent results: some show a clear sedative effect against placebo, others do not allow the conclusion that valerian acts as a sedative.
Analysis of these studies reveals that they are disparate: some test extracts, others the whole plant and the daily doses are sometimes too low to obtain a calming effect.
In practice we see that valerian or its extracts soothe, calm and tranquilize in the majority of cases, however some people will react in the opposite way, which may explain the irregular results of clinical tests.
Toxicological studies show that valerian is well tolerated and that it hardly disturbs the functioning of liver enzymes. Rare are the people who are allergic to it.
You can also use dried valerian flowers but their sedative action is moderate and they are not part of the French pharmacopoeia.
Indications of valerian root and valerian essential oil:
Valerian root and its extracts are used:
- to promote the onset of sleep and against insomnia in stressed or slightly anxious people ,
- in the event of minor neurotonic or "psychosomatic" disorders (sensation of respiratory oppression, "lump in the throat", extrasystoles of neurotonic origin),
- in the event of transient anxiety linked to certain stressful circumstances: preparation for exams or competitions, difficulty in expressing oneself in public or during an oral exam, family or professional problems .
They can also be used:
- in the event of pain related to menstruation (dysmenorrhea),
- in the event of digestive disorders increased by the psyche: in particular irritable bowel syndrome and some stomach pains,
- in case of muscle or digestive spasms.
- some therapists, especially in North America, use it in children who are too restless.
Examples of dosage:
- Many pharmaceutical specialties contain valerian often combined with other calming or sedative plants (linden tree, passion flower, escholschtzia) comply with their dosage indication because the dosage of active ingredients varies according to the specialties.
- Valerian officinalis root powder, freeze-ground if possible : 1 to 2 g or 2 to 4 capsules in the evening 1 hour before going to bed (when you take 4 capsules, divide the dose in half and at 1/2 hour intervals).
- Valerian tincture (unpleasant taste but some people get used to it): 50 to 100 drops in the evening, double the dose if necessary (i.e. one to two teaspoons).
If the dose is increased too much, it may be difficult to wake up, and remain "sleepy" part of the morning.
- Valerian officinalis essential oil.
This essential oil is not common in drugstores. It can be used for the same indications as the root: 2 to 3 drops twice a day for a cure of 10 to 15 days with a week of therapeutic rest.
- Infusion or decoction of fresh or dry root , possible but downright undrinkable, not recommended.
At therapeutic doses there are no side effects unlike synthetic hypnotics but it is necessary to avoid mixing with alcoholic beverages and to remain cautious, it is not recommended to take valerian before driving.
Do not combine treatment with valerian and synthetic hypnotics or tranquilizers, there may be potentiation and exaggerated reinforcement of the sedative effect.
Conduct of treatment:
Valerian is considered a plant without notable toxicity, nevertheless it is better not to use it continuously for a long time. It is necessary to take therapeutic breaks of about one to two weeks, especially since its sedative and anxiolytic effect decreases over time and we can see the appearance of an effect opposite to that which we are looking for (excitation or small depressive episode !!).
In children (over 6 years old) the dosage is reduced by half.
Valerian and its extracts are not recommended for pregnant women.
Cultivation and preparation of valerian officinalis:
Valeriana officinalis, valerian,is a hardy plant that grows easily in temperate and even quite cold countries (like Canada).
It is propagated from seed or by fragmenting the plant.
It is preferable to plant it in loose, slightly sandy soil, which makes it easier to dig up the roots.
The roots are harvested in the fall from the second year, and must be dried as quickly as possible once well washed, sometimes fragmenting them to facilitate desiccation.
The alcoholic tincture is made from finely fragmented fresh roots.
Remember the use in gardens of "valerian manure" to limit the number of aphids, as fertilizer and as a compost activator.
Valerian is considered an invasive plant in parts of North America.
Indian valerian, VALERIANA WALICHII originating from the Himalayan regions of India and Nepal has been known and used for a very long time in Asia.
Currently it is recommended in India for the same indications as the European valerian .
The red valerian, CENTRANTHUS RUBER, is a European plant from native to the Mediterranean region, very decorative and often present in gardens.
In the wild it appreciates sunny areas. It is a resistant plant that can be satisfied with an old wall or a little rocky ground.
The bark of its root contains valepotriates such as valerian officinalis, so it could also be used to facilitate sleep.
Red valerian is in some countries considered an invasive plant (example in South Africa).
EUROPEAN VALERIAN A CALMING AND SEDATIVE PLANT
The root of valerian officinale has long been used in cases of insomnia and minor nervous disorders associated with anxiety.
It also reduces the pain of dysmenorrhea, digestive and muscular spasms.
Valerian is generally well tolerated and does not cause significant side effects.
Copyright 2022 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel