One of the most important of these remedies is a herb known as valerian. Valerian has been known since the time of Galen. Back then it was known as the "Phu plant", an expression of the aversion to the strong odour of its dried roots. More recently that smell has been compared to the odour of smelly socks.
Valerian officinalis, is a perennial plant native to Europe that has been naturalized to North America. The strong smelling root of valerian is very attractive to animals, especially cats and rats. According to Mrs. Grieve's Modern Herbal , "it has been suggested that the famous Pied Piper of Hamlin owed his irresistible power over rats to the fact that he secreted Valerian roots about his person."
Fast forwarding to modern times, valerian has been studied in several well designed clinical trials. A placebo controlled study of 128 patients showed that giving 400 to 900mg of valerian root at bedtime resulted in a decrease in sleep latency (time required to fall asleep at night), a reduction in night awakenings as well as in increase in dream recall. All this was accomplished with no hang over effect. The lower dosages of valerian were shown to be as effective as the higher dosages in this study.
A German study found that the combined effect of valerian root and lemon balm on the sleep patterns of 20 volunteers compared favourably with a tranquilizer in the valium family known as triazolam.
Based on this and other research, Seattle naturopathic physician Dr. Donald Brown uses valerian root in combination with lemon balm and passion flower for the treatment of insomnia. He also finds valerian root, "a safe and efficacious tool in the early treatment of anxiety, as well as the long-term management of those unable to use or attempting to withdraw from the benzodiazepines (valium and its cousins)."
In fact, Valerian has been called the herbal valium. It normalizes the nervous system. It acts as a sedative in cases of agitation and as a stimulant in cases of extreme fatigue. It also has a minor action of lowering blood pressure, enhancing the flow of bile and relaxing the intestinal muscles. However, its prime pharmacological effect is that of a sedative.
Although considered to be safe during pregnancy and lactation, to be on the safe side its use is not recommended.
Important supplements that help induce a better sleep include niacinamide, inositol and combined calcium magnesium supplements. Tryptophan, a natural amino acid supplement only available by prescription, is also an excellent sleep aid.
Other herbs traditionally combined with valerian root include hops and skullcap. Hops or humulus lupulus is a native British plant well known for its use in making beer. In the herbal world, hops is also used as a sedative and for its sleep inducing effects. Grieves mentions that it was "formerly much given in nervousness and hysteria and at bedtime to induce sleep. In cases of delirium and inflammation being considered to produce a most soothing effect, frequently procuring for the patient sleep after long periods of sleeplessness in overwrought conditions of the brain."
Skullcap or scutellaria lateriflora grows in Europe and North America, and is well known for its beneficial effect on the nervous system. It has a sedative effect on the nervous system and in the past has been used to treat epilepsy.
These days getting a good night's sleep may be greatly aided by making use of a rich repertory of plant medicines that have been safely used for many centuries.
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