Garden hebs with benefits: Valerian for better sleep

Valerian herb shown up close

What comes to mind when you first hear the word “valerian”? Well, the answer to that question depends on your profession or how you spend your free time.
Those in tune with pop culture will think of fairy tales or stories of adventure and mystery. On the other hand, those who are into plants and herbs will know exactly what valerian is all about. Derby Landscaping is a company focussing on hard and soft landscaping and gardening with herbs is a part of this.
Chances are, that if you are reading this article, you most likely don’t know what valerian is, let’s help you with that. Even if you are familiar with valerian, am sure this article will teach you some new things, read on.

WHAT ARE THEY?

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb that belongs to the family of Valerianaceae, which includes over 200 different species which are mostly referred to as ‘valerian’.
Valerian originates from Europe and Asia but can now be found in other areas of the world. Different species of valerian exist in different parts of the world. The valeriana officinalis variant is popular in Europe and North America.

The name ‘valerian’ comes from the Latin word ‘valere’ which means ‘to be healthy’.
Valerian is known for its ability to calm and induce sleep. The ancients employed valerian roots as a sedative and made perfume out of the flowers. With the help of research and lots of studies, modern medicine has come to appreciate valerian for its natural capabilities.

HOW TO GROW THEM

Requirements
For the most part, valerian thrives in a moist and well-drained loamy soil. As for light, full sunlight or partial shade is fine.
Planting
You can start with seeds or seedlings. If you choose the seeds route, germination can be tricky, but with a little effort and dedication, you can have your very own valerian nursery. On the other hand, working with seedlings will be much easier. If you already have valerians growing in your neighborhood, then all you need do is find younger plants and transplant them to your garden.
For seeds, plant them in a rich mix indoors, then transfer them to your garden in 4 – 8 weeks. For seedlings, keep them inside until bigger leaves start to show. For both seeds and seedlings, when indoors, ensure that they are in well-lit areas.
Spacing of at least 90cm on all sides is required for valerian. Also, an area where they can grow tall (up to 5ft) is key. If rainfall is a common commodity in the area, then you won’t need to ever water your valerian.
Keep an eye on, and nip those flower blooms to keep a valerian invasion away.
Harvesting
Harvesting valerian is done in the fall after a year or two of growth. Preferably, harvesting valerian is done with a garden fork as opposed to a shovel, so as not to damage arguably the most valuable part of a valerian plant; its roots.
After harvesting, wash the roots and leave them to dry. Valerian roots emit a pungent smell as they dry, so air them in a place where their smell won’t be an issue. The leaves can also be useful to brew nighttime tea.

Dry root from the valerian herb in a wooden pot

SHOULD YOU GROW THEM?

Valerians can spread fast, like really fast. A few plants in your gardens can result in clusters of valerian showing up in other neighborhood gardens in just a few years. Even worse is the fact that valerians are resilient. Simply pulling them out of the ground isn’t going to do the trick as their fibrous root ensures that they come back stronger.
Yes, their flowers smell nice and their roots have medicinal properties, but valerians if left unchecked can pretty much alter an ecosystem and change entire landscapes.
So, if you are thinking of growing your own valerian, check with the local authorities to ensure that they are not on the “alien species” list.

BENEFITS OF VALERIAN

Sleep
Research has been done over the years to show that valerian helps make falling asleep easier while also improving the quality of sleep. Compared to other sleep agents, valerian is superior in that it doesn’t have an accompanying ‘hangover effect’.
Stress and Anxiety
Valerian helps alleviate stress and anxiety by boosting the presence of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and reducing cortisol; the stress hormone.
This study shows that valerian can be quite effective in quelling stress and anxiety. Women undergoing a procedure called hysterosalpingography were administered valerian 90 minutes before the procedure. The severity of anxiety for all the women involved in the study was measured before and after the procedure and there was a noticeable difference across the board; a significant reduction.

Brain function
Valerian aids in boosting GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), modulating serotonin and norepinephrine, and activating adenosine receptors. Valerian also acts as a neuroprotectant, helping preserve neuronal structure and function.
Mental ailments
Valerian has proven to be an effective treatment for conditions like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).
Anti-inflammatory
Valerian has anti-inflammatory characteristics. It decreases the presence of nuclear factor kappa-B(NF-kB) which in turn results in improved blood flow and muscle dilation.

HOW TO USE THEM/FORMS

Most of the valerian used in medical practices is gotten from the roots of the valerian plant. Valerian root can be had in the form of tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, and tea. Also of note, is the fact that there are a lot of adulterated valerian supplements in circulation. So, be sure to source yours from a reliable manufacturer.
How often and in what dosage one takes valerian will largely depend on their reason for taking it in the first place, and of course, a physician’s recommendation. According to Healthline, taking valerian (400-900mg) a few minutes before bed is good for insomnia. Three times a day (120-200mg) at mealtime is suitable for anxiety. Avoid taking valerian in conjunction with alcohol, sedatives, or other anti-depressant medications.
SIDE EFFECTS
When taken in the right dosage and in-line with the prescription of a physician, valerian typically doesn’t result in any side effects. However, some side effects can be experienced including headaches, anxiety, heart palpitations, dry mouth, and even insomnia.

Valerian herb extract pills in a glass jar
Medicinal tea from valerian herb leaves whit some leaves on the plate

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