Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a sturdy flowering perennial that has many healthful properties. It derives its name from the Latin "valere," which means ''to be strong or healthy.'' Appropriately named, the root is know for its "strong" smell as well as its "healthy" effects. Valerian is native to various parts of Europe, Asia and South Africa. The plant was introduced to North America via Asia, and given the geography it has traversed, has seen a wide variety of uses across many cultures through many centuries.
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Valerian root, given its sedative properties, is commonly used as a sleep aid. It has been shown to decrease the amount of time it takes for a user with mild insomnia to fall asleep. It works to relax the central nervous system to produce a feeling of calmness throughout the body. Occasionally, valerian root is used in a higher dosage as a tranquilliser.
When used as a digestive aid, valerian root has been shown to alleviate pain caused by cramps, diarrhoea and gas. In addition, it has also been demonstrated to greatly reduce the pain of an ulcer. Also, valerian can cure indigestion due to nervousness by relaxing the lining of the stomach.
With the diuretic properties found in the root, valerian has proved efficacious as a weight-loss herb. It is commonly used in a variety of weight-loss supplements. All diuretics aid in weight loss because they eliminate excess bodily fluids. Ironically, they work best when taken in conjunction with a steady intake of water.
While the most common use of valerian root is as a sedative, it has been shown to have the inverse effect on people who are fatigued. The herb is known to have a balancing affect on the body, which accounts for its ability to be used as both a stimulant and a sedative. In people who use valerian root as a stimulant, headaches and night terrors may occur. Some people have a natural lack of digestive enzymes, which makes it difficult for them to synthesise valerian.
Valerian root has the power to slow the heart rate as it increases the strength of each heartbeat. It has been used to treat cardiac palpitations; that is, mild heart arrhythmias, by relaxing the muscles in the heart that generate the irregular rhythm.
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