This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics - Vegetable Kingdom", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia Medica And Therapeutics: Vegetable Kingdom.
Active Ingredients. - The ethereal oil of valerian contains the active ingredients of the plant. There is still much uncertainty as to its precise composition; perhaps the analysis of Pierlot comes nearest to the truth. According to this author, the oil consists of valeren, 25 parts; valerianic acid, 5 parts; valerian-camphor, 18 parts; resin, 47 parts; water, 5 parts. Valeren is a colorless oil, smelling like turpentine, which boils at 160° C, and under the influence of nitric acid is transformed into ordinary camphor. Valerianic acid, C15Hl0O2, is a colorless, oily fluid, with a smell recalling at once the odor of valerian, and that of decayed cheese; it has a strongly acid and burning taste; the specific gravity is somewhere about 0.945; the boiling point about 170° C. It greases blotting-paper, but the mark gradually vanishes. It is soluble, in all its preparations, in alcohol and in ether; but requires about 30 parts of water to dissolve it.
Valerian-camphor, C12H10O, forms white crystals. It is not possible yet to assign their respective shares to these ingredients in the action of valerian oil. Valerianic acid is usually prepared by the oxidation of fusil oil, or amylic alcohol.
Physiological Action. - Valerian oil, procured by distillation of the root with water, may be taken as the representative of the collective virtues of the plant, and hence the recent researches of Grisar upon its action are full of interest and importance. Grisar states that he experimented with the ordinary volatile oil of valerian employed in pharmacy, and mentions that every specimen used was highly charged with the peculiar odor of valerianic acid. The general result of his experiments with valerian oil was similar to that of the trials with chamomile oil, etc.; reflex excitability was always manifestly reduced, and the specific reflex excitement of strychnia-poisoning was antagonized. Valerian oil appears to be one of the most powerful of the group of oils investigated by Grisar. There are many other remarkable effects of valerian, both upon man and some of the lower animals, which are difficult at first sight to reconcile with those above mentioned. Cats, according to Foy, discover it by the smell at a long distance. They are seen rolling themselves upon the plant, and are heard mewing and purring in the most extraordinary manner. After a while they are seized with spasms and convulsions, and at last expire in a kind of voluptuous frenzy.
In mankind, when in health, the powder of the root inhaled by the nostrils excites sneezing. Taken internally, as a medicine, in moderate and continued doses, it improves the digestion and increases the appetite, without interfering with the action of the bowels. Perseverance in its use for too long a period induces a decided tendency to low melancholy and hysterical depression.
Stille says:1 "Two drachms at a single dose generally occasion a sense of heat and weight in the abdomen, eructations, and frequently vomiting, colic, and diarrhoea; and, along with these symptoms, some excitement of the circulation, augmented warmth of the whole body, and either perspiration or an increased flow of urine. The first effects of valerian upon the nervous system," he continues, "are in doses of one to two drachms, to render the mind tranquil, to incline to good humor, and dispose to exertion. But these results are usually accompanied by a lively formication in the hands and feet, and a sensation about the head and spine which has been compared to the aura epileptica"
Berbier, in his "Materia Medica," gives an account of a patient in the Hotel-Dieu of Amiens, who, after taking six drachms of valerian daily for some time, woke up delirious, fancying that the side of the ward opposite to where he lay was in flames. Other patients who had taken the medicine imagined that flashes of fire darted from their eyes.
When taken in these large doses, there can be no doubt that valerian causes headache, hallucinations, with much mental excitement and giddiness. In a case related by Dr. Abell, the pulse became frequent, tremulous, and irregular, and the pupils were extremely and fixedly dilated; the patient fancied himself beset with dangers; he staggered, and had a constant desire to urinate. In addition to the above symptoms, following the use of large doses, there is restlessness, occasionally attended by spasmodic movements of the limbs. The patient is generally troubled with repeated eructations, tasting of valerian, and often with a disposition to vomit. According to Kummer, there is a sense of constriction in the pharynx, accompanied by headache, which last he describes as a pain in the right frontal region, extending to the vertex, and, more decidedly, to the eyes, causing a sensation of pressure when those organs are used. These head symptoms appear and disappear periodically, continuing for a few hours at a time. The headache sometimes appears to shift to the left side, but retains its original character. Guntz adds to the above that there is a feeling of fulness and heaviness in the epigastrium, accompanied by rumbling and cutting pains in the bowels, followed by stools of a diarrhoeic character. The desire to urinate is one of the results of taking valerian in an overdose; micturition not only becomes more frequent and profuse, but the fluid is generally turbid, and deposits a "bran-like sediment,"2 a "brick-red sediment,"3 or "a slimy sediment which seems to dissolve after shaking the vessel."4
Therapeutic Action. - From the time of Galen down to the present day, valerian has had repute in epilepsy. Fabius Colonna thought that he cured himself of this disorder by employing the powdered root, when many other medicines reputed trustworthy had utterly failed. Scopoli relates a case (in the "Flora Carniolica") of supposed epilepsy resulting from fright, which had yielded to the same drug. And Mar-chant, in the "Histoire de l'Acad. Roy. des Sciences," a.d. 1706, mentions several instances of the same kind. But it is probable that some at least of the authors who have commended valerian in this complaint have mistaken the epileptiform convulsions which occur in hysteria for true epilepsy. Convulsions, it must be remembered, are also induced by worms, and such convulsions again often resemble epilepsy. Valerian destroys worms, and might consequently remove convulsions which were referable thereto. Moreover, from all that is known of the general action of valerian, which is not curative, but simply palliative, it would hardly be expected that true epilepsy should be removable by it. Epilepsy, so-called, developing itself from hysteric spasms, is without doubt often relieved, even permanently so, by the use of valerian.
1Vol. it, p. 34.
The most likely opportunities for the advantageous employment of valerian are those in which a nervous excitant is apt to do good, and where stimulants are admissible, in which cases it becomes valuable as an antispasmodic. It is especially serviceable in headaches (hemicrania) of a nervous or hysterical character, and in those which follow profuse or painful menstruation; also to persons of a nervous temperament, especially females, who are subject to attacks of hysterical dyspepsia, and to flushing of the face upon the least excitement, and when the dyspepsia is accompanied by temporal or frontal headache, irritation, and distended abdomen. The flatulent distention which comes on without notice and subsides quite as suddenly, after causing more or less discomfort, is peculiarly well dealt with by the use of valerian.
Valerian, in a word, is useful in most cases of nervous affection occurring in excitable temperaments. In hypochondriasis it calms the nervousness, abates the excitement of the circulation, removes wakefulness, promotes sleep, and induces sensations of quietude and comfort; sadness is removed, and the hypochondriac state of mind in general abates. In globus, in all asthmatical and hysterical coughs, and nervous palpitation of the heart, accompanied by dyspnoea, valerian has likewise proved serviceable; also in facial neuralgia of an hysteric type. In fevers, too, of a nervous type, such as have for their symptoms (among others) morbid sensibility, uncertain movements, rapid respiration with sighing, often accompanied by gaping, sleeplessness, restlessness, fidgets, anxiety, and a profuse flow of limpid urine, this medicine has repeatedly done much good. In Germany it is more valued in this direction than among ourselves. Chorea, likewise, is sometimes very successfully treated with valerian, especially when attributable to worms, to which, as before stated, valerian is fatal. Stimulating the nervous system, valerian is again very usefully employed in combination with guaiacum in strumous enlargements of glandular structures. Some physicians believe that it is prudent to combine it with cinchona or with ammonia when administered in hemicrania and hysteria. Ammonia indeed often appears to be a desirable adjunct to valerian.
The anti-hysteric properties of valerian appear to be in a certain measure confirmed by the employment, in the East Indies, of spikenard (Valeriana Jatamansi), which the females of the country find eligible in cases of hysteria.
In addition to these more ordinarily accepted uses of valerian, will probably have to be added in future (to judge from Grisar's researches) the power of mitigating the spasms of strychnia-poisoning. Indeed, it is probable that the ultimate results of those observations will be to lead therapeutists to style valerian a sedative to reflex excitability, in preference to the vague appellations of "nervine stimulant," "antispasmodic," etc.
Preparations And Dose. - Oleum Valerianae, m ij. - v (.12 - .30); Extr. Valer., gr. x. - xxx. (.65 - 2.); Extr. Valer. Fl., 3 ss. - j. (2. -
4.); Tinct. Valer., 3 j. - iij. (4. - 12.); Tinct. Valer. Ammoniata, 3 j. -ij. (4.-8.).