Valerian also known as all-heal is found around the globe but was initially native to Europe and Asia.  The medicinal components are found in the roots of the plant.  The roots have been traditionally used for various health issues such as insomnia, nervous tension, headaches, digestive problems and anxiety or general mood swing problems.  It is available in extract form, tea, and capsules.  The extract is concentrated and fast acting.

Key molecular components have been isolated and have found to be:  valerine (alkaloid), GABA (a neurotransmitter), isovaleric acid, sesquiterpenes (volatile oil), and flavones such as hesperidin and apigenin.  And, these appear to account for its medicinal properties.

There is clinical evidence that valerian root helps individuals who have sleeping problems to have a more peaceful sleep and longer sleep time.  This is not meant for serious sleep disorders but the occasional problem.  It has been noted that valerian root does not generate an after effect the next day that over-the-counter or prescription drugs do.  Sleeping pills you buy at the store seem to cause a problem when you go off of them in terms of having sleeping problems again.  Valerian root doesn’t do that.  Nevertheless, it is meant for minor sleep problems and not someone who can’t sleep at all or those who are having nightmares.

A major component in valerian root involves sesquiterpenes.  This group of molecules have great medicinal value.  Sesquiterpenes have the ability to carry oxygen not unlike the way hemoglobin does in the red blood cell and it also has the ability whether directly or indirectly to correct mutated DNA sequences.  This makes sesquiterpenes great candidates in fighting cancer.  Cancer cells are  known to altered DNA sequences and they don’t like a lot of oxygen around.For that reason sesquiterpenes can attack cancer cells and stop their growth.Not only that, sesquiterpenes have the ability to cross the blood-brain-barrier which means it can be used to attack a number of brain problems including tumors.

The flavones, hesperidin and apigenin act as antioxidants but also affect the GABA pathways not to mention that valerian root contains fairly high concentrations of GABA all by itself.  These all have a calming effect on the brain reducing stress and anxiety.  GABA is known as an inhibitory transmitter.  GABA activates a channel that allows chloride to enter the cell.  Chloride being a negative ion makes the inside of the cell more negative essentially turning the neuron off.  Even if excitatory inputs come in the cell can’t fire because it is just to negative.  The major excitatory transmitter happens to be glutamate.  The two transmitter systems tend to be in balance with each other when things are normal.If you don’t have enough GABA around, this sets the brain into an anxious state due to over excitation.  So, if your excitatory and inhibitory transmitters are out of balance, valerian root can help restore lost balance.  Beyond its GABA content it also  contains apigenin.  Apigenin binds to the benzodiazepine site on the GABA channel and this allows the chloride channel to remain open longer allowing more chloride to enter the cell.Again, this essentially turns the neuron off allow for a calming effect over all.  So in this case your killing two birds with one stone.  The increases in inhibitory input also allows for a better sleep state if taken in larger doses and before you go to bed.  The nice thing about the molecular components of valerian root is that they don’t have the side effects that benzodiazepines and barbiturates do.

Nevertheless, valerian root is often used to treat anxiety before taking pharmaceuticals simply because it doesn’t have any side effects.  If a drug becomes necessary, benzodiazepines or its derivatives are often used.  Benzodiazepines are known to generate withdrawal symptoms.  Valerian root can be taken when drug therapy is done to help ease withdrawal symptoms. 

All in all, valerian root contains molecular components that are known to ease anxiety, improve sleep, and fight off cancer.