History

Valerian is a perennial herb comprised of grooved hollow stems and saw-toothed green leaves. White, pale pink, or reddish flowers appear from June to August. Valerian grows to heights of 3-5 feet in the temperate climates of North America, western Asia, and Europe, often in moist soil along

*Based, in part, on Chapter 4 from Herbal Products: Toxicology and Clinical Pharmocology, First Edition, edited by Morlea Givens and Melanie Johns Cupp.

From Forensic Science and Medicine: Herbal Products: Toxicology and Clinical Pharmacology, Second Edition Edited by: T. S. Tracy and R. L. Kingston © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

riverbanks. The vertical rhizome and attached roots of valerian are parts used medicinally, and are best harvested in the autumn of the second year (1). Although the fresh drug has no distinctive odor, over time hydrolysis of compounds present in the volatile oil produces isovaleric acid, which has an offensive, somewhat putrid odor (2). Fortunately, the smell can be removed from the skin and utensils by washing with sodium bicarbonate (3). Even though valerian has a disagreeable odor, people in the 16th century considered it a fragrant perfume (2). Traditional uses include treatment of insomnia, migraine headache, anxiety, fatigue, and seizures (4). It has also been applied externally on cuts, sores, and acne. Traditional Chinese uses include treatment of headache, numbness caused by rheumatic conditions, colds, menstrual difficulties, and bruises. The pharmacological effects of valerian have been attributed to the constituents of volatile oils, monoterpenes, valepotriates, and sesquiterpenes (valerenic acid) (5). Some of these constituents have been shown to have a direct action on the brain, and valerenic acid inhibits enzyme-induced breakdown of y-amino butyric acid (GABA) in the brain resulting in sedation (6).

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