The History of Valerian Root

Identifying Valerian

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) grows 3 to 5 feet in height like a weed. It grows in all kinds of soil. It is indigenous to Great Britain, mainland Europe and parts of Asia, but has become naturalized to North America.

Some describe the leaves as feather shaped and others spearhead shaped, which I think is funny because of the opposite symbology even if the shape is the same. Clusters of small pink or white flowers bloom from May to August and they have an earthy sweet vanilla smell which has been used in the perfume industry.

Valerian is an edible plant and in fact was used in stews and vegetable soups in the middle ages until potatoes hit the scene. The root has a sharp, distinct smell. It doesn't smell as much when it is fresh, but the smell strengthens as the root dries. This is due to the many rich oils and nutritional compounds found in the roots.

A funny aside that most sources mention is that some of the oils are similar to those found in catnip, so cats go crazy for valerian root. Many more of the oils have a good effect on human health.

Valerian Root's History

Valerian was first introduced to North America by the colonists in 1620 and it quickly found its way into the physicians collection of trusted remedies.  They used it to help the nervous system, muscle and bronchial spasms and “women complaints”.  

Valerian root was included in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1820 until 1936 and it was included in another important but less popular publication The National Formulary from 1888 to 1946.  It was an important treatment for shell shock in soldiers of the first world war and in the second world war it was used on civilians who suffered because of the repeated air raids. Until the rise of synthetic sedative drugs in the 1940’s, valerian root was included in medical text books in the US and England.  Presently, it is an approved over-the-counter medicine in Germany, Belgium and France.

Because of its historic use for those things, many jumped to the conclusion that valerian root works the same way as valium and other drugs in the same class.  But there are so many phytochemicals found in valerian root that it is more likely a synergistic effect on more than one pathway.  Valium is a single compound and a hardcore drug and creates a dependency.  Valerian root does not and it has other health enhancing properties that may have been undervalued because of the focus on sedation.  For instance it is something that was used against bone loss.  

Close up of a valerian root on a sidewalk next to some leaves and valerian flowers

Benefits of Valerian Root

I have been hunting down the active ingredients and their effects and although no agreement in science or medicine has been achieved on exactly how valerian works many scientists have shown its usefulness and its effects on relaxation and affecting the sleep cycle due to all different components from the water soluble to the alcohol soluble fractions.  So to me that would indicate that all these things must be working together.

These are some of the beneficial components of Valerian Root:

Beta-carotene - a very powerful antioxidant that is beneficial for the cardiovascular system. In the body, it is transformed into vitamin A for the maintenance of the eyes and good vision, healthy skin, a strong immune system, and healthy hair and nails.

Limonenecommonly found in the oil of citrus peels. It is a terpene which works with other components to do many things in the body too numerous to mention.  An important thing it does is increase the levels of enzymes in the liver that can detoxify preventing all kinds of potential problems in all the body systems. It also helps with fat metabolism and sugar metabolism and digestion in general.

Isoquercitrin- also called bioquercetin, it is a naturally occurring quercetin found in fruits and vegetables such as apples and onions. This compound helps vitamin C work better.  And we all know how beneficial and necessary vitamin C is.

GABA - (gamma-aminobutyric acid) an important active chemical compound vital for brain function.  It is involved with the sleep cycle and inhibits neurotransmitters that jack up the body against adversity when they become too persistent.

Valerenic Acid -studies suggest that valerian extract may cause GABA to be released from brain nerve endings and then block GABA from going back into nerve cells and synergistically valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA.

Valerian is also high in the following nutrients:

  • Calcium
  • Essential Fatty Acids
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorous
  • Potassium
  • Selenium
  • Zinc
  • Vitamins B1, B2 and B3
  • Vitamin C

The most recent studies have isolated a flavonoid called Linalin. Linalin on its own has been studied because it is found in many plants as well as valerian. Like all flavonoids, linalin is an antioxidant.

Linalin has also been shown to be effective on the sleep cycle and beneficial in the health of the central nervous system and it helps the cells that make bone by protecting them which increases their proliferation. It notably protects the heart, especially important in averting major damage in the instance of any kind of oxygen deprivation.  It also protects the tissues of the kidney as well as the rest of the body in general.


Valerian root seems to have a multi-faceted approach to relaxation and sleep.  It is also good for the heart, kidneys, bones and central nervous system.  Some I know avoid valerian thinking it is like valium, but that is not the case.  Valium has one pathway of action and is addictive, valerian enhances health.  Everyone could stand to experience the “side-effects” of valerian root. 

All kidding aside, we provide pure organic valerian root in a vegan capsule with no other ingredients.  Give it a try and see what it does for you.  It might be more than you think.  Click below to get yourself some.

Bottle of Herbal Roots Organic Valerian

*This article is intended for informational purposes. The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


Rosalie Roder got her Bachelors' degrees in Chemistry and Biology from Mary Baldwin University in 1983. After graduation, with that background, her real education on natural health and healing and human potential began. It is a never ending study and she is always happy to share what she has found out so far.