Valeriana Officinalis. Valerian.

Botanical name: 

Description: Natural Order Valerianaceae. This tall and showy plant is indigenous to Europe; and is at present much cultivated in England for its valuable medicinal root, and also by the Shakers in America. Root perennial, of the character of a rhizome, stoloniferous, giving off numerous long and slender rootlets, yellowish-brown externally, nearly white internally. Stem solitary, annual, herbaceous, erect, round, furrowed, two to four feet high. Leaves opposite, pinnate; leaflets seven to ten pairs, elliptical-lanceolate, entire or serrate; stem leaves on short and broad petioles, radical leaves on long petioles. Flowers in terminal panicled cymes; calyx-limb unfolding into a feathery pappus; corolla flesh-colored or whitish, small, five-lobed, fragrant; somewhat funnel-shaped; stamens three, exserted.

The root of this plant is of a very peculiar and penetrating odor, which increases by age, and is so strong as to be called foetid by some. The taste is warm, somewhat bitter, and slightly nauseous, very persistent, and giving its own peculiar smell and taste to the eructations for many hours after it has been swallowed. Its medical properties depend upon a small percentage of volatile oil; which seems to be a compound produced by the action of water upon the root, as in the case of the volatile oil of mustard, as none is obtained by treating the root with ether. By treating the article with water slightly acidulated with sulphuric acid, a sour, offensive, and acrid fluid may be obtained, called valeric or valerianic acid. This also is volatile; possesses the odor of the root in a most concentrated form; and unites with soda, ammonia, and other salifiable bases to form a series of salts called valerianates. This acid seems not to preexist in the root, but to be a result of oxidation of the above volatile oil; and is obtained by adding the acidulated infusion to carbonate of soda, and then distilling. Water, diluted alcohol, and strong alcohol, extract the medical qualities of the root.

Properties and Uses: This root is largely relaxant and moderately stimulant; somewhat diffusive in action, but impregnating the juices and eructations of the stomach for many hours; and apparently is absorbed, inasmuch as its repeated use will impart the valerianic odor to the breath. Its principal influence is expended upon the nervous system: first the peripheries, whence it is a nervine and antispasmodic in cases of irritability, restlessness, tormina, hysteria, and nearly all forms of acute nervousness; second the brain, inducing quietude and sleep. Many pronounce it a narcotic, but it assuredly possesses no such property; for while large doses will induce heaviness and drowsiness, the sleep procured by its influence is natural, is usually accompanied by a gentle and warm perspiration, and leaves no morbid impressions after it has passed off. Under the influence of the agent, the pulse becomes fuller and softer; but it is not an arterial excitant, as many suppose, though it has enough stimulating power to make it suitable to moderately depressed conditions. The most valuable uses to which it can be put, are cases of nervousness, restlessness, and hysteria. At one time it enjoyed a wide reputation in epilepsy and chorea, but is insufficient for such maladies, though a good adjunct to diffusive stimulants and light tonics. For the convulsions of infants, it is of much service; and also for the subsultus of typhus, and the agitations of delirium tremens; though in nearly all these cases it should be looked upon only as a valuable associate with other suitable remedies, to meet the nervous symptoms. The taste is very disagreeable to many persons, though less so to others. Dose of the powder, twenty to forty grains three times a day. The infusion is more acceptable to the stomach; and may be made by macerating half an ounce of the root in a pint of water for an hour, in a covered vessel. Dose half a fluid ounce to two fluid ounces at intervals of three or two hours.

Pharmaceutical Preparations: I. Tincture. Macerate two ounces and a half of bruised root in twelve ounces of diluted alcohol for two days, with occasional shakings; transfer to a percolator, and use eight ounces more of diluted alcohol; press the dregs strongly, filter, and add enough spirit to make a pint. Dose, one to four fluid drachms. It is too weak a preparation to produce the full effects of the root without using too much spirit.

II. Fluid Extract. "Take of valerian, in fine powder, sixteen ounces; moisten with six fluid ounces of [75 percent] alcohol; introduce into a percolator, press firmly, and gradually pour alcohol upon it until twelve fluid ounces of the tincture have passed. Set this aside, and continue the percolation till two pints more of tincture have been obtained. Evaporate this to four fluid ounces, at a temperature not exceeding 120° mix it with the reserved tincture, and filter through paper." (U. S. P.) This is altogether the most serviceable preparation of this root, and probably will supersede all other forms for its administration. The strength of alcohol used, makes the product ineligible to add to water, on account of the turbidity occasioned, whence it may be preferable to use diluted alcohol, reserve the first eight fluid ounces, and proceed as above. Another method consists of treating the root with equal parts of absolute alcohol and ether, allowing this to evaporate to the consistence of a thin sirup; continuing the percolation with diluted alcohol, adding the previous product, and filtering after ten hours. It is customary to have the strength of eight ounces of roots in each pint of this preparation. The first process yields the most available article, and is the one now commonly followed. Dose, twenty drops to half a fluid drachm, in water, every three or four hours. Essence of anise best conceals its taste; and this fluid extract may be employed in a variety of combinations, of which I would especially commend the following:

III. Nervine Essence. Fluid extract valerian and essence anise, each, six fluid drachms; fluid extract dioscorea, four fluid drachms. Dose, half a fluid drachm or more, in water, every four, three, or two hours, in nervousness, restlessness, hysteria, colic, infantile convulsions, and all similar cases. Prof. J. E. Roop gave me the outline for this formula, in which he used essence of cinnamon instead of the fluid extract of dioscorea; but I prefer the formula here given, as being more effective. The combination of one part of this with two parts of Neutralizing Cordial, makes a preparation of unsurpassed efficacy in diarrhea, tormina, colic, and similar troubles. I have also employed this essence to the greatest advantage, with an equal part of fluid extract polygonum, for painful and tardy menstruation.

IV. Valerianated Tonic. Fluid extract liriodendron, two ounces; fluid extracts valerian and caulophyllum, tincture xanthoxylum, essence anise, each, half an ounce. Dose, half to a whole fluid drachm, in water, three to six times a day. This compound has been a great favorite with me, for the past year or more, in my practice among females, for nervousness, hysteria, uterine neuralgia, painful menstruation, and the entire catalogue of troubles that come under these heads, with feebleness and poor circulation as accompaniments. I warmly commend the compound to the notice of the profession, as one that has proven of rare service in my hands. Twenty grains of gum kino may be added for profuse menstruation.

Valerianate of ammonia is formed by tincturing two and a half ounces of valerian on a pint of aromatic spirit of ammonia; but it is not a sanative compound, nor is at all equal to the above Valerianated Tonic. The acid is occasionally obtained for the purpose of mixing with quinine, when it is desired to form the latter into pills for the treatment of nervous intermittent and periodic difficulties. Valerian may be associated with catnip, (see Nepeta,) and with asafoetida.

The Physiomedical Dispensatory, 1869, was written by William Cook, M.D.
It was scanned by Paul Bergner at