by Katie Shellard
There’s no mistaking the sweet pungent scent of Valeriana officinalis, otherwise known as Valerian.
I recently flew from Vancouver to London and each time my foot knocked my bag under the seat, it released a strong waft of the dried root within. Even enclosed in a paper bag within a plastic bag, Valerian let us know it was present.
The Latin ‘valere’ from which the name Valerian originates means “to be strong or healthy”, which may refer to its healing properties or perhaps to its strong odour!
As luck would have it, I was sitting next to a fellow herb fan, who wasn’t fazed by the smell and indulged me in chewing some of the root to aid our sleep on the ‘red eye’ to London.
Valerian is well known for its relaxing action on the central nervous system, making it an excellent herb for getting to sleep. I prefer to take it as a tincture before bed rather than as a tea, for the simple reason that tea will have me awake and needing the loo in a couple of hours. Its sedative action calms a busy mind and enables a smooth transition into sleep.
It’s a good idea to keep the bottle of tincture by your bed so you can easily take a few drops if you wake in the night. Valerian also relaxes smooth muscle tissue, making it an ‘anti-spasmodic’ herb, and it’s used to ease period cramps, palpitations and other muscular pains that may otherwise keep us awake.
For getting to the root of our agitation
At Sensory Solutions, where I’m in my final year of a Sensory Herb Apprenticeship, they associate Valerian with the word ‘agitation’. Valerian is indeed super helpful for when we feel anxious and agitated, and can be used during the day to calm nervousness without making you drowsy or impairing concentration. It helps to move busy, heady energy downwards, so you can focus on the task at hand.
The festive season can be particularly stressful, with financial and familial pressures, and if the excesses of December have left you feeling anxious, Valerian would be a great herb to have on hand to ease tension, and support body and mind.
On a deeper level, Valerian root can help us to understand the source of agitation. Knowing the root cause of our ‘dis-ease’ means we can make sustainable changes to address it, rather than simply taking herbal medicine to temporarily relieve the tension. Of course the source of agitation might seem obvious, “I can’t get out of debt” or “I’m under stress at work”, but we can ask Valerian to provide insights into these situations, so that we can heal them.
When we feel anxious and agitated, practices such as meditation that would normally help us get clarity can prove difficult! So, another tool we have to access our inner wisdom and guidance is through our dreamworld. I use the Sensory Solutions Meditation Drops before bedtime, along with a few drops of Valerian tincture (capsules or tea would be fine too), and ask for clarity on the root of my agitation. When doing any dreamwork, make sure you have a notepad and pen by your bed to jot your dreams as soon as you wake. Dream messages may be obvious and need no analysis, or they may be symbolic. There is no right or wrong in dreamwork — only what makes sense to you.
There is something so very comforting in the bitter sweet medicine of Valerian root. In a world where over-stimulation is the norm, Valerian root slows down the pace. It restores and nourishes frayed nerves. It encourages us to let go while providing strength and fortification.
Please be aware that Valerian can have an energising action (instead of sedative) in a small percentage of people.
Katie is an holistic therapist based in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire and is in the final year of the Sensory Herbcraft Practitioner training.