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Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is one of about 200 members of the Valerianaceae family. Valerian has been valued for its soothing qualities for at least a millennium.
Researchers have identified some of the active ingredients in valerian that are responsible for its medicinal properties. A team of pharmacologists in Argentina reported in the spring of 2003 that they had isolated two new flavonoids, 6-methylapigenin and hesperidin, as compounds with sedative and sleep-enhancing properties. In addition to these flavonoids, valerian contains volatile oil, valepotriates, glycosides, alkaloids, choline, tannins, and resins. Valerian's rhizome and root are the medicinal part of this herb. Fresh root will produce the highest quality of medicinal extract.
Valerian acts as a pain reliever, antispasmodic, sedative, carminative, and can help support nerve tissue. A British study published in 2002 suggests that valerian's effectiveness in relieving stress is related to its ability to lower the body's reactivity in stressful situations. Valerian can also help to promote menstrual flow. A natural tranquilliser, valerian can soothe anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia and headache. It acts on the peripheral nerves and relaxes both the smooth and skeletal muscle tissue to reduce tension. It also strengthens the heart and provides relief from menstrual cramps, stomach cramps, irritable bowel and upset stomach caused by nerves. Valerian has also been shown to lower blood pressure. One study found that valerian tends to sedate the agitated person and stimulate the fatigued person, bringing about a balancing effect on the system. Externally, a lotion prepared with valerian extract will ease irritation of skin rashes and soothe swollen joints.
The plant has been used as a medicinal herb for more than a thousand years, especially for mild cases of insomnia. Research shows that proper use of valerian promotes sleep, reduces night awakenings and increases dream recall in most people. Historically, valerian has been highly regarded as a tranquilliser that acts without narcotic effects. It is particularly popular with women. It is listed in the official pharmacopoeias of Germany, Belgium, and France.
Valerian should not be used in large doses or for an extended period. People should not take it continuously for more than two to three weeks. Users of valerian may become tolerant to its effects with prolonged use. Increasing the dose of the herb to achieve desired effects may result in negative side-effects. Prolonged use, according to some research, could result in liver damage and central nervous system impairment.
Large doses of valerian may occasionally cause headache, muscle spasm, heart palpitations, dizziness, gastric distress, sleeplessness and confusion. Uninterrupted use may cause depression.
Although valerian has been regarded as a relatively safe herb because few interactions with prescription medications have been reported, newer research indicates that it should be used cautiously following surgery. Like St. John?s wort, valerian can interact with anaesthetics and other medications given to patients after surgery. Because valerian has a mild sedative effect, it should not be taken together with alcoholic beverages, benzodiazepines, barbiturates or antihistamines.
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