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Cooper's Chronicles: Valerian

By Barry P.W. Cooper

Stress is a part of our everyday life, and if you read Dilbert you might guess that in the corporate world today it is more than a part of life it is the way of life! No longer can the three martini lunch work its magic. Other forms of stress relief must be sought for those harried executives and their underlings.

One that has found increasing favor in the last few years is the herb Valerian. This herb has risen to prominence with good reason. It has an excellent track record as a sleep aid and as a sedative to help all those exhausted executives get a good night's sleep before they return to the next round of downsizing their departments.

Happily, Valerian is approved for food use by the Food and Drug Administration so it does not lurk in the never-never-land of 'unknown safety', but can be used in confidence that its properties are known. Because of this, it is found in the form of teas, capsules, tablets and tinctures, and in such varied locations as airport bookstores, health stores, supermarkets and drug stores. With the aura of being truly 'natural,' Valerian is fast becoming, along with Melatonin, an essential part of every businessman's travel kit.

What is this serendipitous herb that can help chill you out as your flight is delayed for the third time? In North America, V. officinalis has made a very successful transference from Eurasia, while in India, V. Jatamansil grows in the Himalayan region and reigns supreme. In fact, the species Valerian includes about 250 northern temperate species, but these two are the most well known.

India is a major supplier of Valerian to the world's markets along with Belgium, France, the former U.S.S.R and China. Valerian is a perennial herb that grows to be about four feet high with dissected leaves, however it is the root that contains all the jollies that send you off into lala land!

In traditional medicine common Valerian root, either fresh or dried, is used to treat migraine, insomnia, hysteria and fatigue. The most common method of serving Valerian is as a tea and it is here that one slight problem arises. The ying and the yang of life has given Valerian some wonderful attributes coupled with a perfectly foul taste. It is hard to describe, but if you have ever tasted the brew resulting from a pair old dirty socks stewed in pond water you have a good idea of what plain Valerian tastes like.

Despite this severe drawback, Valerian has gained its following because it works! In a study of insomniacs, controlled groups sleeping under laboratory conditions received a placebo or a Valerian preparation. Compared to the placebo, Valerian showed a significant effect with 44% reporting perfect sleep and an astounding 89% reporting improved sleep (The Healing Power of Herbs: Valerian: Clinical applications 341. 1995 ).

In another double blind study, 128 subjects who did not have insomnia were given an extract of Valerian root which improved subject ratings for sleep quality and sleep latency (the time required to go to sleep), but left no 'hangover' the next morning. (The Healing Power of Herbs: Valerian: Clinical applications 340/341. 1995 ). Here is yet another reason for Valerian gaining popularity. It does not leave one with a 'druggy' feeling the next morning. Even Melatonin cannot make this claim, and in the fast paced world of the downsizing executive this is an important attribute.

There is a special combination of herbs that does not just mask the taste of Valerian, but actually converts its characteristics into something acceptable to the human pallet. However, this is not the venue to reveal trade secrets. I can tell you that extracts of Valerian essential oil, produced by steam distillation, are used in many major food products including beer, root beer, gelatins and puddings, but the formulas are closely guarded secrets.

Needless to say, it would help to go to sleep without the taste of boiled socks on your tongue but because of its many other attributes the herb Valerian continues to attract devoted users. These souls are willing to put up with its distinctive taste for the sake of a good nights sleep and the absence of a hangover. The world of alcohol beware! There is a natural alternative gaining ground!


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