I have had an odd relationship with valerian. When I first took it, I used a tincture for sleep. I found that this particular tincture made me feel drunk, and I felt almost hungover in the morning. This was at the beginning of my journey with herbs, and I assumed that the way I felt meant this herb wasn’t for me. I didn’t figure out until much later that I had taken far too much valerian, and this drunken stupor and hangover is, it turns out, a well-known side effect of valerian when taken in large doses.
As with many things, since I had a bad experience, I tended to avoid the herb, thinking it was too powerful to be used lightly. Every time I had experimented with it, I took droppers full of a tincture made of dry plant, and felt terrible. Then, a few years ago, I took an essential oil making intensive with Michael Cottingham, an herbalist in New Mexico. On one of our herb walks, he introduced us to a native southwest variety of valerian, called Valeriana arizonica. This is a smaller variety of valerian that grows in the shaded sloping canyons of the Southwest. It has purple flowers instead of white, and grows about a foot tall. The official valerian has white flowers, does well in the sun, and grows 3-6 feet tall. Both have a sweetly pungent smell that is distinctly valerian in nature.
We made tincture with the whole fresh plant of Valeriana arizonica, and it smells like valerian and tastes like valerian, but it is less hot and aggravating to the liver, and my Pitta (hot) gut preferred it. Since learning that a fresh whole plant tincture is a completely different beast than the dry root tincture, I decided to experiment some more. I then made a fresh tincture with Valeriana officinalis roots, and a fresh whole plant tincture of Valeriana officinalis.
Neither gives me a hangover or a headache like the dry root tincture did. I prefer the fresh whole plant tincture, as it is much less irritating, and has a milder but still quite effective feel to it.
We Americans are so obsessed with the most powerful form of a thing, be it potent alcohol, antibiotics, or herbal extracts like essential oils, that we lose the truth and healing potential in the more subtle remedies. Valerian helps those who are overstimulated, tense, aggravated, and tight, to relax, calm down, and release what is bothering them. The fresh whole plant tincture does this in a gentler way, without causing you to feel like you were bashed on the head with a sledgehammer.
I hope this issue helps you build a new relationship with this herb. Many have experienced it, and it is well researched and frequently used. Hopefully, reading this issue will help learn the intricacies of this commonly used herb; and perhaps it will help you figure out your own reaction to this plant.