Valeriana Officinalis

A perennial herbaceous plant that grows to approximately 1m (3ft) in height. The stems are hollow and hairy at the base and branch out towards the top. Dark green leaves grow in four to eight pairs on each stem (simple, pinnately lobbed and opposite with hairy leaf veins on the under side). The flowers are white, lavender or pink with three stamen. The fruit is one seeded with rhizomes (ovid, cylindrical and light grey/brown in colour and smell like dirty socks when dried), roots (when fresh taste sweet, spicy and bitter) and with occasional stolons. These are gnarled and light grey/brown in colour. The rootlets have hollow centres.

Family: Valerianaceae

Which probiotic is it in?: Valerian is a key herb in Sustain, Women and Sleep

Habit and cultivation: Native to Europe and Northern Asia, grows well in damp conditions and on the borders of ditches and rivers in most soils but prefers a rich heavy soil. It is propagated from seed in spring and the rhizome must be two years old before it is harvested in the autumn.

Actions (known for): Sedative, hypnotic, anti-spasmodic (muscles), hypotensive, carminative and nervine tonic.


The Romans used Valerian as a sedative and relaxant which may explain its name from the Latin valere, to be well. First recorded in 1st century AD under the name of Phu which reflects its unpleasent smell. It is again referred to under the name of Amantilla in the 14th century in a recipe to stop men from fighting. It has long been used traditionally as a mild sedative to relieve stress.

Parts used:

Rhizome, roots harvested in autumn.

Constituents (bio available chemicals):

Volatile oil up to 3%. Alkaloids up to 1%, Iridoid esters also resins, gums, choline (3%), phenolic acids, flavonoids, sterols, tannins, sugars and fixed oil.

Nutritional constituents:

Minerals: magnesium, potassium, copper and some lead and zinc.


Hypertension (especially related to stress). Colic – intestinal, IBS, dyspepsia. Cramps – muscular spasm and tension, dysmenorrhoea, menopause including hot flushes. Insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns.


Liquid extract (1:2) 15 – 40ml per week. Infusion of dried root: 1 – 3g. Fluid extract 60%: 0.3 – 1ml. For insomnia a single dose half an hour before sleep.

British Herbal Pharmacopoeia

Nervous excitability.

Cautions for therapeutic doses

Can occasionally cause sleepiness, headaches or nightmares. The herb is extremely safe but overdose can cause dizziness, spasms, hallucinations and excitability. Can potentiate other sleeping medications, increasing their effects, and combinations should be avoided altogether.

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