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Mrs Grieve on Valerian

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010372

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Long but fascinating.

A description of the experience

Extracted and abridged from Mrs Grieve’s herbal

Two species of Valerian, Valeriana officinalis and V. dioica, are indigenous in Britain, while a third, V. pyrenaica, is naturalized in some parts. The genus comprises about 150 species, which are widely distributed in the temperate parts of the world.

In medicine, the root of V. officinalis is intended when Valerian is mentioned. It is supposed to be the Phu (an expression of aversion from its offensive odour) of Dioscorides and Galen, by whom it is extolled as an aromatic and diuretic.  It was afterwards found to be useful in certain kinds of epilepsy. The plant was in such esteem in mediaeval times as a remedy, that it received the name of All Heal, which is still given it in some parts of the country. ………..

Valerian is cultivated for the sake of the drug in England (in Derbyshire), but to a much greater extent in Prussia, Saxony (in the neighbourhood of Colleda, north of Weimar), in Holland and in the United States (Vermont, New Hampshire and New York). English roots have always commanded about four times the price of the imported. In Derbyshire, the cultivation of Valerian takes place in many villages near Chesterfield, the wild plants occurring in the neighbourhood not being sufficient to supply the demand. Derbyshire Valerian plants are of two varieties: V. Milkanii (Syme), on limestone, and V. sambucifolia (Mikan) on the coal measures. The former yields most of the cultivated Derbyshire rhizome.

The derivation of the name of this genus of plants is differently given. It is said by some authors to have been named after Valerius, who first used it in medicine; while others derive the name from the Latin word valere (to be in health), on account of its medicinal qualities. The word Valeriana is not found in the classical authors; we first meet with it in the ninth or tenth century, at which period and for long afterwards it was used as synonymous with Phu or Fu; Fu, id est valeriana, we find it described in ancient medical works of that period. The word Valerian occurs in the recipes of the AngloSaxon leeches (eleventh century). Valeriana, Amantilla and Fu are used as synonymous in the Alphita, a mediaeval vocabulary of the important medical school of Salernum. Saladinus of Ascoli (about 1450) directs the collection in the month of August of radices fu, id est Valerianae. Referring to the name Amantilla, by which it was known in the fourteenth century, Professor Henslow quotes a curious recipe of that period, a translation of which runs as follows: 'Men who begin to fight and when you wish to stop them, give to them the juice of Amantilla id est Valeriana and peace will be made immediately.' Theriacaria, Marinella, Genicularis and Terdina are other old names by which Valerian has been known in former days. Another old name met with in Chaucer and other old writers is 'Setwall' or 'Setewale,' the derivation of which is uncertain. Mediaeval herbalists also called the plant 'Capon's Tail,' which has rather fantastically been explained as a reference to its spreading head of whitish flowers.

Drayton (Polyolbion) mentions the use of Valerian for cramp; and a tea was made from its roots.

---Harvesting and Preparation for Market---The flowering tops must be cut off as they appear, thus enabling the better development of the rhizome. Many of the young plants do not flower in the first year, but produce a luxuriant crop of leaves, and yield rhizome of good quality in the autumn.

In September or early October, all the tops are cut off with a scythe and the rhizomes are harvested, the clinging character of the Derbyshire soil not allowing them to be left in the ground longer.

The drug as found in commerce consists usually of the entire or sliced erect rhizome ….The drug may also consist of small, undeveloped rhizomes about 1/4 inch long, …..

The drug has a camphoraceous, slightly bitter taste and a characteristic, powerful, disagreeable odour, which gradually develops during the process of drying, owing to a change which occurs in the composition of the volatile oil contained in the sub-epidermal layer of cells: the odour of the fresh root, though not very agreeable, is devoid of the unpleasant valerianaceous odour.

The colour and odour of Valerian rhizome distinguish it readily from other drugs.

---Substitutes---Valerian root is often fraudulently adulterated with those of other species, notably with those of V. dioica (Linn.) (Marsh Valerian), which are smaller and of much feebler odour, and not possessed of such active properties. …………It is stated also that in Germany various Ranunculaceous (or Buttercup) roots are a dangerous adulterant of Valerian; they may be readily detected by their want of the peculiar odour of the official root. The Valerian in the markets of Paris is often largely adulterated with the roots of Scabious (Scabiosus succisa, Linn.) and S. arvensis (Linn.).

---Chemical Constituents---The chief constituent of Valerian is a yellowish-green to brownish-yellow oil, which is present in the dried root to the extent of 0.5 to 2 per cent though an average yield rarely exceeds 0.8 per cent. This variation in quantity is partly explained by the influence of locality, a dry, stony soil, yielding a root richer in oil than one that is moist and fertile.
Lindley's Treasury of Botany states: 'What is known to chemists as volatile oil of Valerian seems not to exist naturally in the plant, but to be developed by the agency of water.'

….. The valerianic acid present in the oil is not the normal acid, but isovalerianic acid, an oily liquid to which the characteristically unpleasant odour of Valerian is due. It is gradually liberated during the process of drying, being yielded by the decomposition of the chief constituent, bornyl-isovalerianate, by the ferment present. It is strongly acid, burning to the palate and with the odour of the plant. The oil is soluble in 30 parts of water and readily in alcohol and ether. It is found in nature in the oil of several plants, also in small proportion in train oil and the oil of Cetacea (whales, porpoises, etc.), which owe their smell to it. It is also one of the products of oxidation of animal matters and of fat oils, and is secreted in certain portions of animal bodies. Its salts are soluble and have a sweetish taste and fatty aspect.

…. There are also a glucoside, alkaloid and resin all physiologically active, discovered in the fresh rhizome by Chevalier as recently as 1907. He claims that the fresh root is of greater medicinal value than the dry on this account.

The chief preparation of the British Pharmacopoeia is the Tinctura Valerianae Ammoniata, containing Valerian, oil of Nutmeg, oil of Lemon and Ammonia: it is an extremely nauseous and offensive preparation. An etherial tincture and the volatile oil are official in some of the Continental Pharmacopceias, and a distilled water and syrup in the French Codex.

---Medicinal Action and Uses---Valerian is a powerful nervine, stimulant, carminative and antispasmodic.

It has a remarkable influence on the cerebro-spinal system, and is used as a sedative to the higher nerve centres in conditions of nervous unrest, St. Vitus's dance, hypochrondriasis, neuralgic pains and the like.

The drug allays pain and promotes sleep. It is of especial use and benefit to those suffering from nervous overstrain, as it possesses none of the after-effects produced by narcotics.

During the recent War, when air-raids were a serious strain on the overwrought nerves of civilian men and women, Valerian, prescribed with other simple ingredients, taken in a single dose, or repeated according to the need, proved wonderfully efficacious, preventing or minimizing serious results.

Though in ordinary doses, it exerts an influence quieting and soothing in its nature upon the brain and nervous system, large doses, too often repeated, have a tendency to produce pain in the head, heaviness and stupor.

It is commonly administered as Tinctura Valerianae Ammoniata, and often in association with the alkali bromides, and is sometimes given in combination with quinine, the tonic powers of which it appreciably increases.

Oil of Valerian is employed to a considerable extent on the Continent as a popular remedy for cholera, in the form of cholera drops, and also to a certain extent in soap perfumery.

Ettmuller writes of its virtues in strengthening the eyesight, especially when this is weakened by want of energy in the optic nerve.

The juice of the fresh root, under the name of Energetene of Valerian, has of late been recommended as more certain in its effects, and of value as a narcotic in insomnia, and as an anti-convulsant in epilepsy. Having also some slight influence upon the circulation, slowing the heart and increasing its force, it has been used in the treatment of cardiac palpitations.

Valerian was first brought to notice as a specific for epilepsy by Fabius Calumna in 1592, he having cured himself of the disease with it.

---Preparations and Dosages---Fluid extract, 1/2 to 1 drachm. Solid extract, 5 to 10 grains. Tincture, B.P. and U.S.P., 1885, 1 to 2 drachms. Ammoniated tincture, B.P. and U.S.P. 1898, 1/2 to 1 drachm.

Culpepper (1649) joins with many old writers to recommend the use both of herb and root, and praises the herb for its longevity and many comforting virtues, reminding us that it is 'under the influence of Mercury, and therefore hath a warming faculty.' Among other uses, he adds:

'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.'

Gerard tells us that herbalists of his time thought it 'excellent for those burdened and for such as be troubled with croup and other like convulsions, and also for those that are bruised with falls.' He relates that the dried root was held in such esteem as a medicine among the poorer classes in the northern counties and the south of Scotland, that 'no broth or pottage or physicall meats be worth anything if Setewale (the old name for Valerian) be not there.'

…..In the south of England, when once it obtains a hold of the ground, nothing will eradicate it. It was well known to the Anglo-Saxons, who used it as a salad.

Valerian has an effect on the nervous system of many animals, especially cats, which seem to be thrown into a kind of intoxication by its scent. It is scarcely possible to keep a plant of Valerian in a garden after the leaves or root have been bruised or disturbed in any way, for cats are at once attracted and roll on the unfortunate plant. It is equally attractive to rats and is often used by rat-catchers to bait their traps. It has been suggested that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin owed his irresistible power over rats to the fact that he secreted Valerian roots about his person.

In the Middle Ages, the root was used not only as a medicine but also as a spice, and even as a perfume. It was the custom to lay the roots among clothes as a perfume (vide Turner, Herbal, 1568, Pt. III, p. 56), just as some of the Himalayan Valerians are still used in the East, especially V. Jatamansi, the Nard of the Ancients, believed to be the Spikenard referred to in the Scriptures. It is still much used in ointments. Its odour is not so unpleasant as that of our native Valerians, and this and other species of Valerian are used by Asiatic nations in the manufacture of precious scents. Several aromatic roots were known to the Ancients under the name of Nardus, distinguished according to their origin or place of growth by the names of Nardus indica, N. celtica, N. montana, etc., and supposed to have been derived from different valerianaceous plants. Thus the N. indica is referred to V. Jatamansi (Roxb.), of Bengal, the N. celtica to V. celtica (Linn.), inhabiting the Alps and

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