In early Greek and Roman writings, valerian is referred to as “Phu” because of it’s strong, offensive smell. This root of this perennial is considered the medicinal part of the plant, and when dried it smells like dirty socks. But don’t let the smell keep you from trying this natural remedy. Most valerian supplements come in capsule form, making the smell a bit more tolerable.
Even those early Greeks and Romans used valerian as a sleep aid and a pain reliever. In 12th Century Europe, Hildegard the Abbess of Bingen used valerian as a tranquilizer and sleep aid. Later, Europeans used valerian in almost every medicinal application, thinking it would heal anything, including epilepsy and migraines. Cats also love valerian. Studies have shown that it lowers blood pressure and helps calm anxiety in some felines. Rats and dogs are also attracted to it.
Although modern herbalists consider valerian to be the natural alternative to prescription benzodiazepines like Valium, it is crucial to always consult your physician before substituting any natural supplement for a prescribed medication. It is also dangerous to combine valerian with any of these drugs as well as most anti-anxiety and depression medication. Valerian should not be used continuously even though it’s not considered habit-forming. Doses should also be reduced gradually instead of stopping suddenly. Pregnant women should consult their physician before trying valerian.