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Synonyms: valerian root, allheal
botanical name: Valeriana



Baldrian ist eine Pflanzengattung, die über 250 Arten umfasst. Allen gemeinsam sind das krautige Erscheinungsbild und der charakteristische Geruch. Dieser wird von manchen Menschen als angenehm zart empfunden, für andere ist er unangenehm und für Katzen sehr verlockend. Daher wird Baldrian auch Katzenkraut genannt. Der wissenschaftliche Name (Valeriana) ist wahrscheinlich vom lateinischen valere = gesund sein, stark sein, abgeleitet, kann aber auch auf dem Namen der römischen Provinz Valeria zurückgehen.

Valeriana is a genus of plants that encompasses over 250 species. Common to all is the herbaceous appearance and the characteristic odour. For some people it is pleasant, for others unpleasant, and for cats it is very tempting, similar to catnip. The scientific name probably derives from the Latin valere = to be healthy, strong, but it may also come from the name of the Roman province Valeria.


Valerian is native to and common in Europe and the temperate zones of Asia. It prefers moist or swampy habitats, such as meadows and the banks of brooks, but it can also be found at forest edges. The valerian used to make medicinal products is cultivated, however.



Valeriana officinalis has long been valued for its medical effect. Other species are also used to a certain extent in the countries where they are grown, but they contain substances which are said to be damaging to cells. It is chiefly the root, the rootstock and its runners that are used. They are dug up prior to florescence, from March to May, or thereafter, in September or October. Valerian is available all year round in pharmacies, as tea or capsules.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The valerian used medicinally (Valeriana officinalis) grows herbaceously, has odd-pinnate leaves, and bears white-to-pink umbels of small blossoms on each of its up to 1.5-m stems in July or August. The blossoms have a delicate scent, but some people find it unpleasant. The roots have no scent after they have been dug up. Their bitter-sweet odour develops only after they have been dried. Valerian tastes sweet-spicy and somewhat bitter.



The medicinal ingredients are: essential oils, valepotriates, mucilages, tannins, bitter constituents and organic acids. However, it is not yet understood what exactly induces the health-promoting effects. It is clear only that they cannot be attributed to one ingredient or its concentration alone, but rather to the combination of all the substances contained in valerian.


Harmful substances

The species Valeriana officinalis used medically in Germany is slightly toxic only when very large amounts are ingested. For some time, the valepotriates were rumoured to be carcinogenic or cytotoxic. Like many suppositions, however, this was neither definitely confirmed nor disproved. As the European valerian contains at most 1% valepotriates, the risk possibly connected with it is very slight. In varieties that grow in Mexico and India, by contrast, from 3 to 8% of this substance was determined. For small children, in any case, valepotriate-poor species should be used.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Valerian roots are harvested from biennial plants. Prior to their use in teas or medical compounds they must be thoroughly cleaned, coarsely chopped and dried. The processing temperature should not reach more than 35°C so as not to destroy the ingredients.


Presumed effect on health

Manifold healthy effects are attributed to valerian, as it has been used traditionally for centuries to cure certain ailments. However, these effects have been neither proven nor refuted scientifically. Some guesses follow the line of thought that valerian simply suggests an effect on the physical condition or the state of mind, instead of really improving it.


The applications for valerian extend to functions of the nervous system and can be divided into three basic areas:

* Nervous states of excitation: valerian has a calming, anxiety- and tension-relieving effect.
* Nervous sleep disturbances: valerian is supposed to promote falling asleep. It is not a sleep-inducing drug, however; i.e. it does not force sleep, rather it puts people in a more relaxed condition that makes it easier to fall asleep.
* Nervous heart palpitations

Moreover, valerian is administered for tension, nervous irritability, general fatigue and painful cramps in the gastrointestinal tract.


When other officinal plants are administered in combination with valerian the effect may be increased or reduced. For example, to increase the soporific effect hops are added, for nervous excitation lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and for nervous heart palpitations lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). In contrast to true sedatives or sleeping pills, valerian cannot be addictive and has no severe side effects. Following the ingestion of large amounts, however, one's speed of reaction can be impaired.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

Pharmacies sell drops, tinctures, capsules and tea blends. A relatively high dose of valerian is necessary to achieve an effect. The usual 10-20 drops of a tincture are normally not sufficient; one to two whole teaspoons per dose are necessary, and this can be repeated if required. To promote sleep with tea at least two teaspoons are needed. Valerian is slightly toxic only in very large amounts, so there is no need to worry about this. It should be kept in mind, however, that valerian does not work right away; it is necessary to take it for at least 2 weeks before any improvement of symptoms is seen.





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