Valerian (Xie Cao)

Botanical Name: Valerian officinalis, V. Wallichii

Valerian has been used as a medicinal plant for over 2000 years, since ancient Greek and Roman times. It is most frequently used as a sleep aid. Some people have claimed that it helps when withdrawing from pharmaceutical sleeping pills and to calm anxiety and hysteria. Adding valerian to a warm bath can soothe away restlessness. The Chinese have also used the herb to heal injuries and treat menses as they have found it to be effective for easing pain and stopping blood flow.

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Below is an overview of valerian, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of valerian.

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Western Name: Valerian

Also Known As: Garden Valerian, All-heal, Garden Heliotrope, Tobacco Root

Organs/Systems: Nervous

Key Actions: Sedative, Antiseptic, Antispasmodic, Analgesic, Carminative, Diuretic, Stimulant

Medicinal Uses: Insomnia, anxiety, fear of illness, nervous asthma, hysteria, headaches, migraines, stomach upset, nausea, croup, bruises, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms of hot flashes and anxiety, mild tremors, tape worm.


Pin Yin: Xie Cao

Also Known As: N/A

Meridians: Liver, Heart

Key Actions: Stops Bleeding, Moves Blood, Alleviates Pain, Tranquilizes, Calms Shen

Medicinal Uses: Irregular menses, traumatic injury, lumbago, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, pain due to Blood Stagnation, anxiety, insomnia, palpitations.

Basic Habitat / Botany:

Valerian is a perennial flowering plant. The flowers are clusters of sweetly scented pink or white. Valerian is unusual in having flowers that are neither radial nor bilateral in symmetry.

Valerian is native to Europe and parts of Asia. It was introduced into North America. It likes moist meadows, ditches, and woodlands.

Parts Most Frequently Used: Dried Root, Flower, Fresh Leaf

Flavors/Temps: Pungent, Bitter, Slightly Sweet, Warm

Caution: Considered toxic when raw, once properly heated it is considered safe in proper doses. Not recommended if you are already using antidepressants, benzodiazepines, kava, barbiturates, or antihistamines as valerian has the potential of increasing the effects of these drugs.

Key Constituents: Valerenic acid, Valerenol, Sovaltrate, Acetic acid, Ascorbic acid, Beta-ionone, Calcium, Caffeic acid, Magnesium, Manganese, Quercitrin

History/Folklore: The Ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a remedy for insomnia. The ancient Egyptians called it “all-heal.” More recently, the poor of Northern England and Scotland valued the herb as an effective and inexpensive medicine because of its many important healing properties.

During World War I and II, valerian was used in many European hospitals and clinics to treat the stress caused by the ongoing air raids and bombings.

There is the suggestion that the plant spikenard, referenced in the Bible, is actually valerian. This was the plant used by Mary Magdalene to wash the feet of Christ.

Valerian also appears in Hindu legends. There is a story of a newly married man who plants valerian outside his home for his bride as a symbol of his safe return. Years pass and the plant continues to flourish. At last, the man returns home and his wife welcomes him, knowing he was safe because the valerian had remained alive and beautiful. The herb has a long history in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as an herb to help calm and let you sleep. The species commonly used in Ayurvedic is V. Wallichi. It has very similar properties to V. officinalis and is also called Indian valerian or tagara or targar in Sanskrit.

The name Valerian derives from the Latin verb “valere,” meaning to be strong and healthy.

Valerian grown in dry, stony soil yields roots higher in oils than those grown in moist and fertile soil. The root is harvested and allowed to dry at temperatures not less than 105 degrees Fahrenheit prior to use, as the raw plant is considered toxic.

In medieval Sweden, it was placed in the wedding outfit of the groom to ward off the “envy” of the elves.

Culpepper, the 17th century English herbalist, said that valerian had warming properties. He recommended boiling the root with licorice, raisins, and aniseed (aka anise) as a remedy for coughs.

Once introduced to North America, the Native Americans used valerian to help heal wounds and ulcers. They would slow-bake the roots for about two days and then eat them as food. The plant is now considered so invasive in some areas that it is officially banned, including the state of Connecticut in the U.S.

The volatile oils that form the active ingredients in the plant are extremely pungent and are said to smell somewhat like well-matured cheese or old socks. Some like the smell and others do not.

Valerian flower extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century. And the fresh leaves are edible and high in vitamin C.

Valerian flowers attract a wide variety of flies and the larvae of butterflies and moths eat the flowers too.

Like catnip (LINK), valerian attracts cats but is also said to attract rats and was used by the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin to lure the rats out of town.

Valerian is one of the few Western herbs to have a written record of being used medicinally in China. Unlike in the West, the Chinese have also used valerian as an herb to Move Blood and Stop Bleeding, making it useful for treating injuries and painful menses.

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Did you know?

Aid Sleep and Anxiety

Extracts of valerian root are sold as dietary supplements in the form of capsules used to aid sleep and anxiety.

Valerian Tea Tip

Do not prepare valerian tea with boiling water as this drives off the lighter oils that contain many medicinal properties.
Fun fact!


The valeric acid found in valerian is related to valproic acid, a widely prescribed anticonvulsant.

How to use Valerian (Xie Cao) and take FULL advantage of it's healing powers!

Find out how to safely use this powerful herb and get specific recipes you can make use of immediately. Dive deep into Eastern and Western perspectives about HOW and WHY this herb works. Includes uses, benefits, essential oils, gardening tips, and much, much more.

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ATTENTION: All material provided on this website is for informational or educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your healthcare professional or physician. Redistribution permitted with attribution. Be Healthy. Be Happy. Be Whole. Be Free.

ATENCIÓN: Todo el material proporcionado en este sitio web es sólo con fines informativos o educativos. No es sustituto del consejo de su profesional de la salud o médico. Esté sano. Sea feliz. Siéntase completo. Sea libre.

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