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|Valerian is an Old Germanic ritual and healing
plant. It was sacred to the goddess Hertha, who
rode upon the red deer. Wieland, the shamanic
smith of the Germanic mythological world, used
the root to heal diseases. For this reason, valerian
was also known as velandswurt, "Wieland's root"
(Weustenfeld 1995, 13*). In earlier times, valerian
was hung on houses as a protection against
witches and witchcraft, evil spirits, and devils. The
root was also used as a fumigant to keep away the
devil (cf. incense). In the early modern period,
valerian root was regarded as an aphrodisiac and
was used to treat the "sacred disease" (epilepsy)
(Knoller 1996, 12 f.). It was also known as theriac
root, for it was an important ingredient in the
panacea theriac (Weustenfeld 1995, 15*).
Valerian (along with the variety Valeriana
officinalis 1. var. sambucifolia Mikan.) is also called
cat weed and is renowned for the power it has to
attract cats (cf. Nepeta cataria). The sedative
effects that the root has upon the nervous system
are quite well known (Pahlow 1993,64*). Valerian
roots are sometimes characterized as a "legal high"
with psychoactive powers (Schultes and Hofmann
1980, 368*). In particular, a tea made of equal
parts of valerian root and kava-kava (Piper
methysticum) is said to produce "beautiful
dreams" (Schuldes 1995, 76*). When mixed with
hops (Humulus lupulus), valerian yields a potent
tea for inducing sleep (cf. also diazepam).
In South America, Valeriana longifolia H.B.K.
is regarded as a panacea and stimulant for elderly
people suffering from infirmity. There, various
Valeriana species are referred to as contrayerba (cf.
Trichocline spp.). Valeriana adscendens Turz. is
known as hornamo morado in Peru, where it is
used as an additive to San Pedro drinks (cf.
Trichocereus pachanoi). The North American
Blackfeet Indians smoke the roots of Valeriana
sitchensis Bong, known as tobacco root, either
alone or mixed with tobacco (see kinnikinnick)
(Johnston 1970, 320*). In India and Nepal, the
aromatic root of Valeriana jatamansi (DC.) Jones
[syn. Valeriana wallichii DC.], known as samya or
muskbala, is used as a fumigant or as an ingredient in incense for magical and religious rites (Shah
1982, 298*; Shah and Joshi 1971, 421*). The
aromatic root of jatamansi or masi, the closely
related species Nardostachys jatamansi (D. Don)
DC., is even more highly regarded; it is used both
as an incense and to treat epilepsy (Shah 1982,
297*). Whether these two incenses have psychoactive
properties, as is sometimes asserted, remains
an open question. The sesquiterpene ketone
valeranon, which is present in Valeriana officinalis,
Valeriana jatamansi, and Nardostachys jatamansi,
is presumably responsible for the sedative (tranquilizing)
effects (Horster et al. 1977).
The alkaloid actinidine has been found in the
genus (Schultes 1981,42*). Of interest for further
research into a possible psychoactivity beyond the
sedative effects is the finding that an aqueous
extract influences the central nervous system
neurotransmitter GABAGamma aminobutyric acid an amino acid that is found in the central nervous system; acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. ()'-aminobutyric acid;
see Amanita muscaria, ibotenic acid, muscimole)(Santos et al. 1994).
Granicher, E, P. Christen, and 1. Kapetanidis. 1992.
Production of valepotoriates by hairy root
cultures of Valeriana officinalis var. sambucifolia.
Planta Medica 58 suppl. (1): A614.
Horster, Heinz, Gerhard Rucker, and Joachim
Tautges. 1977. Valeranon-Gehalt in den
unterirdischen Teilen von Nardostachys jatamansi
and Valeriana officinalis. Phytochemistry
KnaUer, Rasso. 1996. Baldrian. Niederhausen/Ts.:
Falken Taschenbuch Verlag.
Santos, Maria S., Fernanda Ferreira, Antonio P.
Cunha, Arselio P. Carvalho, and Tice Macedo.
1994. An aqueous extract of Valeriana influences
the transport of GABAGamma aminobutyric acid an amino acid that is found in the central nervous system; acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. in synaptosomes. PlantaMedica 60:278-97.