Name:Valeriana officinalis

Distribution: Europe and Asia, introduced to U.S.

Uses:mild sedative and sleep aid

Activity: Valerenic acids, possible working together with other compounds may increase GABA in increasing its release at nerve endings, decreasing its reuptake, and breaks down and enzyme that destroys GABA.

Valerian: The Herbal “Chill Pill”

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a bushy plant used to calm the nervous system that might slow heart rate. Native to Europe and Asia, sweet-smelling valerian flowers were used to make perfumes in the 16th century and the root has been used in medicine since the time of ancient Greeks and Romans. The Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the “Father of Western Medicine,” described valerian’s therapeutic uses. It was prescribed in the 2nd century for insomnia (trouble sleeping). Today, herbalists and naturopaths suggest valerian for nervous system disorders including sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. In addition, valerian can be used to help with headaches, trembling, and irregular heartbeat.

Scientists don’t know exactly how valerian works but they think it may increase the amount of a neurotransmitter called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA regulates neurons and tends to calm anxiety. Prescription drugs for anxiety such as Xanax and Valium also increase GABA in the brain. Scientists think that valerian has a similar (although weaker) effect—and are studying this right now!

In this lab, you and your fellow students will study the effects of valerian, black tea, and other plant extracts on Lumbriculus heart rate in the lab. You’ve just learned about valerian’s effects on the nervous system due to its relationship with the neurotransmitter GABA. Black tea contains caffeine, a chemical that acts on the central nervous system to reduce drowsiness and increase alertness.


NIH Factsheet on Valerian