Soon after I married, I began to take a huge interest in herbs and herbal medicines. I don't know where this interest came from, but it was consuming. I think I checked out every book from the library I could get on the subject and got herbal reference books for a few years after that.
All this study paid off because after our two boys were born and while still babies and toddlers, I began to look for a natural sleep aid. I soon started using Valerian Root to help get through some restless nights. My husband, highly skeptical but very desperate, began to use them as well. We soon discovered that this highly unlikely herb had a permanent place in our medicine cabinet and we've been using it for over 15 years.
Valerian has been used for centuries to help soothe nervous tensions, anxiety and mild insomnia.
Even though we use it mostly as a sleep aid, Valerian is very effective as an overall tension reliever. "It contains some unique substances such as valerenic acid and valeranon that have a central and muscle relaxant action that is particularly effective in treating stress and anxiety. It is one of the first herbs to consider if looking for a remedy to ease anxiety and panic attacks." (Source)
Valerian promotes an overall feeling of calmness and soothes and relaxes the muscular system.
This is what causes you to be able to sleep as well. It's not that it putting you to sleep, as much as it is relaxing you enough that your body is able to calm down and therefore you can go to sleep.
It relaxes the muscular system so well, that when I have a chiropractor's appointment, I always take 2 capsules (400 mg each) a half an hour to an hour before I go. I always have a good adjustment when I do this. If I don't take them, I usually don't adjust nearly as well and have more pain afterwards.
I have also used Valerian to help treat tension headaches that are going into a migraine headache. I will take a few with a pain reliever and then continue to take them every few hours. They have really helped calm muscle spasms. This makes them helpful for menstrual cramps as well.
Valerian is great for cases of mild insomnia. It helps you get a refreshing night's sleep but doesn't leave you with any side effects the next day.
This is important as the whole point of sleeping is to feel refreshed the next day and Valerian can accomplish this without feeling over medicated.
I have found that if I'm am very stressed or having problems sleeping that Valerian can't handle, I will work on exercising, taking some chamomile tea, and overall relaxing more before bedtime. It generally lasts me for four hours a night. If I wake up after that, I will take another capsule which will get me through the rest of the early morning hours.
Like many herbal remedies, Valerian's benefits are gentle and accumulative. This means you'll want to give it some time before you may notice a significant change.
Valerian needs to be taken over the course of a few weeks in order for it to work for mild insomnia.
More Benefits of Valerian:
- It's very easy to find and buy. I love the idea that I can just run to the drugstore and for a little over $3.00 a bottle, can bring a hundred capsules home. You can also make your own capsules from purchased dried powder or your own plants. Of course, if you make your own then you'll have to sacrifice your plant, but it does self sow pretty easily.
- It's gentle and effective and non-habit forming. You won't want to take it every day of your life for sure, but it is thought to be generally safe and even can have some health benefits. We usually take a break from it after using it for a month or so but have never had any side effects from taking it long term. This is one herb that is gentle enough to be considered a tonic.
Any Con's for Taking Valerian?
- It is very odorous and this makes it not good for a tea but a capsule or maybe a tincture. The Greeks named it "phu" because it smells, well, really bad. Yes, this makes it hard to get past the lips, but once done, its benefits far outweigh any off odors. I remember smelling a terrible odor in our bedroom one time. We couldn't figure out where it was coming from and I actually thought something had died in that part of the room. I finally discovered the source...an opened bottle of Valerian. I didn't make that mistake again!
Valerian is too valuable of an herb to let a little bit of an odor get in the way. :)
You can certainly grow your own Valerian, just make sure it's Valerian Officinalis to get the medicinal qualities you are looking for. The upper parts of the plants are healing as well. The plant is also used externally to help with bruising and minor infections.
I have not grown any as the capsules are so easy to find. But it wouldn't be a bad idea to have a plant in the herb bed. Just another note...cats love this plant, so if you live in an area with roaming cats, be aware as they'll pretty much ruin it. I lost a beloved catmint plant this way. You'll want to put it in a place where it can have some protection from the feline species.
So, the next time you're struggling with sleep make sure to check out Valerian...just make sure to plug your nose when you open your first bottle!
Have you used Valerian before? How do you like it and what do you use it for?
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