Valerian root comes from the Latin "valere," which means "to be in good health." The plant grows in damp places throughout Europe, northern Asia, the U.S. and South America. It is well-known for its odor during drying, which is akin to smelly socks or rotten cheese.
Records of valerian's use go back more than 1,000 years. It was used as a coffee substitute by German women, as a condiment during medieval times, and as a perfume during the 16th century. The roots have been used for food by many cultures. The Piute Indians ground them for flour and the British used the roots in soups. Cats and other small animals are fond of the plant.
In addition to its many historical uses, modern herbalists use the root primarily to support special needs of the central nervous system.
Valerian root may help alleviate pain and is often used to promote sleep. It especially benefits those suffering from nervous over-strain, because it does not possess any of the after-effects produced by narcotics.