Valerian (Xie Cao)
Botanical Name: Valerian officinalis
Valerian has been used as a medicinal plant since ancient Greek and Roman times. The herb has been used for over 2000 years. It is most frequently used as a sleep aid. Some people use it to withdraw from using pharmaceutical sleeping pills. The herb is also used to calm anxiety and hysteria. Adding valerian to your bath water can help with restlessness and anxiety. The Chinese have also used the herb to heal injuries and treat menses as they define the herb as being able to also ease pain and stop bleeding.
Below is an overview of Valerian (Xie Cao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Valerian (Xie Cao).
Western Name: Valerian
Also Known As: Garden Valerian, All-heal, Garden Heliotrope, Tobacco Root
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Sedative, Antispetic, Anaticonvulsant, Pain Reliever. Insomnia, anxiety, fear of illness, nervous asthma, hysteria, headaches, migraines, stomach upset, 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.
Pin Yin: Xie Cao
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Liver, Heart
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Stop Bleeding/Moves Blood/Alleviates Pain/Tranquilizes: irregular menses, traumatic injury, lumbago, dyspepsia, neurathenia, pain due to blood stagnation. Calms Shen: anxiety, insomnia, palpations.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Dried Root, Flower
Flavors/Temps: Pungent, Bitter, Slightly Sweet, Warm
Caution: Not recommended if you are already using antidepressants, benzodiazepines, kava, barbiturates or antihistamines as valerian has the potiential of increasing the effects of these drugs.
History/Folklore: The ancient Greek and Romans used it as a remedy for insomnia. The ancient Egyptians called it “all-heal.” More recently, the poorer peoples 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, the herb 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 Christ’s feet.
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 by 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 of being used in Ayurvedic medicine in India as an herb to help calm and let you sleep.
The name of the herb, “Valerian,” derives from the Latin verb “valere,” meaning to be strong and healthy.
Dry, stony soil yields roots higher in oils than what will grow in moist and fertile soils. The root is harvested and allowed to dry at temperatures not less than 105 degrees Fahrenheit before using.
In medieval Sweden, it was placed in the wedding outfit of the groom to ward off the “envy” of the elves.
Culpepper said the herb had warming properties. He recommended boiling the root with licorice, raisons and aniseed as a remedy for coughs.
The volatile oils that form the active ingredients 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.
Valerian flowers attract a wide variety of flies and the larvae of butterflies and moth eat the flowers too. The plant is considered so invasive in some areas that it is officially banned, including the state of Connecticut in the U.S.
Like catnip, 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 record of being used medicinally in China. Unlike 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.
Valerenic acids, Isovaltrate, Acetic acid, Ascorbic acid, Beta-ionone, Calcium, Caffeic acid, Magnesium, Manganese, Quercitin.
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.
The valeric acid found in valerian is related to valporic acid, a widely prescribed anticonvulsant.
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