Thursday, 16 February 2012
The Magic of Valerian Root
Valerian, Latin name Valeriana officinalis, is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but has been introduced to North America. It is a tall perennial (2 - 4 ft), that flowers in the summer with sweet-scented clusters of pink or white flowers. Other names for this herb are Vandal Root, All-heal, Setwall, Amantilla and Setewale. It grows amongst marshy ground, or along the banks of ditches and rivers. Though farther north, a shorter variety can also be found on heathland and dry, grassy hillsides.
Medicinally the root of this herb has proven use since Classical times, described by Hippocrates and Galen, by the later to be used for insomnia. It is commonly used as a sedative and tranquilizer, to treat anxiety, for mild pain relief or as a muscle relaxant. It was used in England during the air-raids of World War II to counteract the acute stress of these occasions. It can also be used as a stimulant, lowering blood-pressure, stimulating the appetite, and in raising low self-esteem.
There are several methods of taking valerian root - the dried root can be used in a tea or tincture, though not using boiling water as this may destroy the more volatile oils. Or its dried material and extracts can be incorporated into a capsule or tablet. Valerian has a strong odour, which not all find pleasant, so in these cases the latter option of capsule or tablet may be preferable.
Valerian has also been used to treat gastro-intestinal conditions, epilepsy and ADHD. Although in these cases, as with most others, there is little clinical proof as to its effectiveness. There are no proven harmful side-effects, but likewise, there is no proof that prolonged or excessive use is not harmful, though it may cause headaches and dizziness. Accidental use during pregnancy or whilst breast-feeding is probably safe, but as there has been no research into the effects it may have on the foetus, it is probably best avoided during these times.
Culpepper writes in the seventeenth century, 'The root boiled with liquorice, raisons and aniseed is good for those troubled with cough. Also, it is of special value against the plague, the decoction thereof being drunk and the root smelled. The green herb being bruised and applied to the head taketh away pain and pricking thereof.'
The essential oil of valerian is unusual in that it appears to act as a cat-attractor, with similar properties and effects as catnip. It also attracts rats, and has been used as bait in traps, and it is rumoured that the success of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn is attributed to his carrying of valerian about his person. In the Middle Ages, valerian was used in to perfume clothes, placing a root amongst folded clothes. The Saxons used it in salads, and in the North of England, no soup or broth was complete without it.
Sprinkle valerian at the front door to deter unwanted visitors, or hang the leaves around the home to promote harmony amongst loved ones. Combine valerian with other herbs and crystals in sachets or amulets to use for protection, or in a dream-pillow to ward off nightmares. Use in cleansing and consecration, or drink as a tea to purify oneself. In hoodoo, it can be used as a substitute for graveyard dirt. Soak the dried stalks of the valerian plant in tallow or oil, then use as a magical torch.
Planets: Venus, Mercury
Magical Properties: Protection, Calm, Sleep, Love, Purification, Harmony.