Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Herbal Sedatives Part 2: Kava-Kava & Valerian

High Quality Hawaii Kava
where Paul Strauss works in the winter
      Next we have a very popular sedative herb, Kava-Kava, whose botanical name is Piper methysticum. It is commonly known as a muscle-relaxant, and a traditional social drink among traditional Polynesian people. Having great ritual and cultural significance, it was taken as a daily tonic (Brown, 129), believing it helped them to communicate with their gods. Hawaiian native American tribes chewed the root for sharp, blinding headaches, lung troubles, chills, and to prevent contagious diseases, including: skin diseases and eye troubles, and weakness of body (Moerman, 365). Used in an alcoholic drink for incuding hallucinogenic states during religious cermonies, stimulates than depresses the nervous system (Mabey, 96).
            Piper methysticum’s properties include: analgesic, sedative, euphoriant, antiseptic, anti inflammatory (Balch, 85); Aphrodisiac, diuretic, (Brown, 129). Eases insomnia, fatigue, nervousness, giving a deep restful sleep with vivid, clear and colorful dreams, and also relaxes tense muscles, useful for chronic pain (Brown, 129), and due to it containing kavalactones releases tension in the skeletal muscles, so is a muscle relaxant overall (Balch, 85). The analgesic strength of kava is comparable to procaimadie and even cocaine, also deadens the pain of kidney and urinary tract infections, the painkilling effect is felt for up to 24 hours (Balch, 86).
Paul Strauss, owner of Equinox Botanicals
showing us how to make Kava tea
            Kava doesn’t impair user’s mental alertness, unlike other heavy duty sedatives, though the lactones present in this herb, tend to have a depressant effect on the central nervous system (Brown, 129). Overall, German researchers have found that kava is effective in treating anxiety, based on measured brain waves of people who were subject to anxiety (Keville, 33). Kava is found to improve mental functioning and mood, and contains several chemical constituents which interact with the brains benzodiazepine receprots (also activated by tranquilizers) (Balch, 85).
            In one of several clinical studies, kava helped more than 50 people reduce both depression and high anxiety levels, and this difference was noticed only after a week. Another study, conducted in Germany where kava was given to women who suffered from “anxiety, depression and other symptoms associated with menopause, the symptoms were relieved and women reported and increased sense of well being” (Keville, 32). Lastly, several other studies showing that people with symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety, including “agoraphobia, social phobia, and anxiety disorders, were “significantly reduced in people who took kava versus placebo” (Balch, 85).
            Next we have another favorite gentle-sedative herb of mine, Valerian. Having gotten a bad rap/reputation from being an addictive substance by Hitler, it’s fame can be traced back to the 1300s when it was recommended to cause “truculence, [or] having a truce [from fighting]”. If you gave valerian to two combatants, thought… the writer urged, that they would immediately become tranquil and lay down their weapons (Foster, 193). This interesting smelling root herb was also utilized in 1592 by Fabius Cauna who is said to have cured himself of epilepsy, it was also used for treating shell shocked soldiers throughout WWII (Seymour, 118-120).     
us hand-making kava tea
was very strong but so relaxing
            Valerian, coming from the Latin valere, means “fare well” and was often referred to as all heal in English, (Seymour, 118), not to be confused with the commonly called all heal which is Prunella vulgaris; Valere, was also thought to mean “to be powerful or of well being” (Brown, 144). The Greek philosopher Discorides, referred to this plant, in the 1st Century, as “phu” which accidentally got turned into “phew” and this is where we get the common phrase “pee-you”, meaning something smells …in a bad way…similarly to how valerian root actually smells, like insanely dirty gross socks (Foster, 193).

            Historically, was commonly used for a slew of ailments, including: migraine, hysteria, vertigo, insomnia, and convulsions.  Culinary-wise, the poorer classes of Northern England found it “essential in flavoring soups and broths” stated John Gerard in his 1596 Herball (Foster, 193). Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it was referred to as one of the best ‘tranquilizers’and antispasmodic herbs, and as a sleep aid. William Cullen stated /wrote in 1808 ... “its antispasmodic powers in genera are very wel established: and I trust to many of the reports that have been given of its efficact”(Foster, 193). Later, was officially listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1820-1936 (Foster, 194).
            Presently, valerian is commonly sold in tincture and teas, whose properties include: antispasmodics, anodynes, carminiatives, hypnotics, nerviness; worm expelling. This sedative herb also relieves stress, muscle spasms, cramps, mental depression, despondency, migraines, insomnia, fatigue and nervous conditions. Valerian root affects the central nervous system, stimulating it in fatigue and calming it in agitation (Foster, 193), thus helping to relieve anxiety, encourage sleep and improves quality of sleep (Brown, 144). Relaxes muscles to the digestive tract, soothes that system, and relieves indigestion, constipation, especially when due to nervous tension; valernic acid is believed to be one of the antispasmodic compounds, treating IBS, and cramps (Balch, 139). Valerian root has similar compounds as barberry, goldenseal, Oregon Grape Root (berberine), and Echinacea, thus inhibits candida (Keville, 81), and has been used in dozens of over the counter sleep aid medications (Balch, 139).
part of our group at United Plant Savers'
'Goldenseal Sanctuary' waiting turns to make kava tea
            Experimental data indicates that there is a scientific basis for valerian being a mild sedative, having antispasmodic properties and relieving pain and increasing coronary blood flow (Foster, 194). Related to the latter bit, it might help slow brain damage due to excessive alcohol consumption (Keville, 28). Large studies have confirmed, that as a calmative herb, it helps improves: restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, hysteria, headaches, nervous stomach, menstrual problems, circulation and lower blood pressure (Balch, 138). Overall, one study’s findings were interesting, valerian seems to be what you need it to be, it is “sedative for agitated patients, while it stimulates someone who is suffering from fatigue” (Mabey, 124). Related to this idea, a Germany study amazingly enough, (U.S. take note), successfully treated children that were hyperactive, and found valerian to greatly “improved their learning skills, muscle coordination, and reaction time after taking for [only] a few weeks”, they were also less anxious, aggressive restless and fearful over 25% of the children completely recovered! (Keville, 229-230).
Valerian at Quiet Creek Herbal farm
Brookville, Pennsylvania
            Studies done in Germany, in 1993, concluded that valerian helps you to fall asleep more quickly, especially if you are elderly or habitually are a poor sleeper, and in addition, it helps you to have improved deeper stages of sleep, thought to be due to a similar compound found in the sedative barbiturate, by depressing the nervous system (Keville, 38). Lastly, another similar study (double-blind), done of 128 participants, showed that by taking a water-based extract of valerian this improved subjective ratings of sleep quality, reduced the time in which it took to fall asleep (sleep latency), also relieved insomnia, leaving the participants without the side effects of grogginess or the ‘hangover’ feeling (Balch, 139).

Works Cited Part 2~
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Healing: A Practical A-Z Reference to Using Herbs with Vitamins, Minerals, Nutritional Supplements, Natural Healing Techniques, and Prescription Medications. New York: Avery, 2002. 85-85, & 138-139. Print.
Brown, Kathleen L., and Jeanine Pollak. Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1999. 129 & 144. Print.
Foster, Steven, and Steven Foster. Herbal Renaissance: Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith, 1993. 193-194. Print.
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. 28, 32-33, 38, 81 & 229-230. Print.
Mabey, Richard, and Michael McIntyre. The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation. New York: Collier, 1988. 96 & 124. Print.
Moerman, Daniel E., and Daniel E. Moerman. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. 365. Print.
Seymour, Miranda. A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs. London: John Murray, 2002. 118-120. Print.