Valerian, also known in Latin as Valeriana officinalis, is a perennial herbaceous plant from the Honeysuckle family, with pink or white, sweet-smelling flowers, numerous roots, and an intense and typical smell. The name of the genus is derived from the Latin verb “valere”, which means “to be strong and healthy”, and the popular name “cat's herb” comes from the fact that the odor of valerian leaves and roots is unusually attractive to cats.
Since ancient times this has been one of the magical plants that can point the way to the afterlife. The valerian was called moon root or elven herb because the elves of the water and the moon danced around it on moonlit nights.
The valerian root (Valerianae radix) is one of the most famous herbal sedatives. With a history that goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, the preparations made from the root of valerian were mainly used to treat sleep disorders, restlessness and tension, nervousness, irritability, and anxiety.
The valerian was already used by the Hippocrates in the 5th and 4th centuries BC., and it played a major role in gynecology. Hippocrates was the first to describe its healing properties, and the Greek physicians Dioscurides and Galen used the medicinal plant as a remedy, while in the Middle Ages it was used to treat epilepsy, as an antihelminthic, to heal trophic ulcers, and to treat wounds.
In Sweden, the plant was put into wedding attire to ward off people's envy. Other legends say that the valerian was used to ward off bad luck and calamity. It was also used to treat mental disorders and nervous stress during WWI and WWII. The medicinal plant was used to scent baths, to make soap and aromatic oils. Valerian root was also recommended as a remedy for wounds and relied on during the plague.
Valerian roots contain chemical compounds, such as valeric acid and isovaleric acid, that improve the quality of sleep and reduce feelings of anxiety. The calming effect of Valerianae radix is based on the ability to reduce the excitability of the nervous system. The influencing of the neurotransmitter balance in the brain is seen as an important mechanism of action. In particular, the inhibitory messenger substance GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is apparently promoted, which reduces feelings of anxiety and the symptoms of chronic stress.
The flowers of Valeriana officinalis are frequently approached by bees, bumblebees, and hoverflies. Bees collect nectar and small amounts of pollen for most of the summer.
An unusual property of valerian is that the essential oil of its rhizome contains the substance actinidine, which acts as an attractant for cats. The reason for this is the similarity of actinidine to a substance found in cat urine.