Classified as Valeriana officinalis, valerian is native to North America, Europe and Asia. Valerian is a tall perennial herb with hollow stems that bear white or reddish flowers. The name Valerian is from the Latin word valere, meaning ‘to be in health’. The root stock of valerian harbors many active compounds and many herbalists believe it is what gives this plant its amazing medicinal value. Healing oils found in valerian root include valeranone, valereal, borneol, and azulene. These oils have nerve-calming, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects. Valerian extract, derived from the dried rhizomes and roots of the plant, has been used for thousands of years to treat several disorders including restlessness, nervousness and insomnia. Valerian has been used around the world for centuries. During the middle ages it was used as a perfume. Native Americans used the valerian plant as a substitute for flour, as well as to treat horses with distemper.
In the early 19th century, Shakers grew valerian as a principle cash crop. It was given to soldiers and civilians during World War I, to assist with stress and anxiety. German women used valerian as a coffee substitute and the British used valerian as a soup base. Today, valerian is the most common non-prescription sedative used in Europe. One the most well-known affects of valerian is its ability to promote sleep and aid with insomnia. Valerian is not an addictive substance and does not leave one feeling tired and disoriented like some sleep aids. Another health benefit of valerian is its ability to help alleviate the effects of stress and anxiety. Valerian has also proven useful in alleviating headaches, reducing pain, improving menstrual flow and cramps, and as an aid with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Valerian has a grounding, calming and relaxing affect on the body. Numerous clinical studies in the United States and Europe have found valerian root to be effective in relieving stress and anxiety, as well as improve sleep quality. It has also been shown to decrease headaches in adults and improve sleep in children.
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