Family: Valerianaceae, Valeriana officinalis L.
Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984.
Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature
on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate
Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Valerian, Valeriana officinalis L., is a hardy perennial,
native to Europe and western Asia. Also known as common valerian
and garden heliotrope, the plant has become naturalized in Canada
and the southern United States. The valerian of commerce consists
of both rhizomes and roots, collectively called roots. The plant
is cultivated in Belgium, the Federal Republic of Germany, France,
the Netherlands, and several eastern European countries (11.1-74).
Reaching a height of 1 to 1.5 meters, the large herb has an externally
yellow-brown rhizome and root, an erect, hollow stem, and
fragrant, small, white to rose flowers that bloom in the spring.
Valerian will grow in many soil types but thrives in rich, heavy
loam well supplied with moisture (14.1-29). The shade-tolerant
plant is found wild in both damp woods and dry mountainous areas.
Plants are easily cultivated. They are started from seeds or by
dividing roots that are often obtained in the wild. Usually planted
in the autumn, the herb is harvested in fall or winter after two
growing seasons (2.3-12). Tops are often cut to encourage
continued rhizome growth. Roots are dug, washed, and dried with
The essential oil from valerian root contains the alkaloids valerine,
valerianine, and chatinine, as well as tannins and resins (4.9-158,
7.1-91, 7.6-161, 14.1-35). Oil content is 0.5 to
1% of fresh weight. The quality and quantity of volatile oil obtained
by steam distillation depends upon the age of the root and the
environment. Constituents of the volatile oil include valeric
acid, isovaleric acid, l-pinene, l-camphene, l-borneol,
terpineol, and several other acids (14.1-11).
Valerian has several different applications. The root oil is used
to flavor tobacco and beverages. The plant is also an ingredient
of herbal teas and sometimes used as an ornamental, since several
cultivars differing in flower color are available (11.1-96).
Primary applications however, are in the pharmaceutical industry
where the herb is used in the preparation of mild sedatives, carminatives,
and medicinal teas.
Traditional medical usage classifies valerian as an antispasmodic,
calmative, carminative, nervine, stomachic, vermifuge, and tonic.
The herb has been used against fever, fatigue, headaches, insomnia,
hysteria, epileptic seizures, and stress. Chinese herbal medicine
employs valerian for treatment of influenza, rheumatism, neurasthenia,
insomnia, and traumatic injuries (11.1-10). The roots or
the oil of valerian roots depresses the central nervous system
(14.1-11). The many iridoids called valepotriates of valerian
are reported to have a high degree of biological activity with
central depressive action resembling tranquilizers (7.6-161).
Competition from other products has led to a decline in the use
of valerian-based sedatives.
Valeriana wallichii, cultivated in India and other Asian
countries, and Valeriana officinalis L. var. latifolia
Miquel, Japanese valerian, known as kesso, are also marketed as
valerian root. American valerian or ladyslipper is actually Cypripedium
calceolus L. of the Orchidaceae family. The heliotrope of
the Boraginaceae family is Heliotropium arborescens L.,
a hairy, tender perennial with fragrant violet to white flowers,
cultivated as an ornamental, perfume, and medicinal plant.
Valerian rhizomes and roots are generally recognized as safe for
human consumption (21 CFR section 172.515 ).
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997