Valerian, native to the Americas, Asia, and Europe has been used to ease
insomnia, stress-related anxiety, and nervous restlessness for thousands of
years, with particular popularity in Europe starting in the 17th century. Now,
modern day research, mainly over the last decade, has begun to confirm the
scientific validity of these historic uses. It may also ease menstrual and
stomach cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, some of the restlessness that
accompanies attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and migraine
symptoms. There have also been rare reports for use to treat convulsions from a
seizure disorder. Its most well-researched use, however, is as a calmant to help
Insomnia Valerian is a popular treatment alternative to
benzodiazepines (such as diazepam and alprazolam) and other commonly prescribed
medications for sleep problems because it is considered to be both safe and
gentle. In studies of animals and people, valerian has demonstrated mild
sedative and tranquilizing activity, as well as the ability to relieve anxiety.
Generally, studies have shown that valerian reduces the time it takes to fall
asleep and improves the quality of sleep itself. Plus, unlike many prescription
sleep aids, valerian may have fewer after effects the next day, such as morning
drowsiness. In addition, although not studied scientifically, some experts use
valerian for sleep disturbances related to feelings of depression.
Valerian products are made from the root of a tall, wispy plant, which is
grown to decorate gardens but also grows wild in damp grasslands. Its
umbrella-like heads top grooved, erect, and hollow stems. Its dark green leaves
are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. Small, sweet-smelling white, light
purple, or pink flowers bloom in June. The root is light grayish brown and has a
What's It Made Of?
The manufacture of medicinal valerian products begins with pressed fresh root
or powdered freeze-dried root (frozen below 400°C). Valerian pressed-root juice
added to alcohol or glycerite (sweet, nonalcohol liquid) bases become fluid
extracts or tinctures; powdered root goes into capsules and tablets.
Valerian fluid extracts and tinctures are sold in alcohol or alcohol-free
(glycerite) bases. Powdered valerian is available in capsule or tablet form, and
also as a tea.
Valerian products are commonly added to formulas that contain other calming
herbs, such as passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hops (Humulus
lupulus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), skullcap (Scutellaria
lateriflora), and kava (Piper methysticum). (Note: reports linking
kava with severe liver damage has prompted regulatory agencies in Europe and
Canada to warn consumers of the potential risks associated with this herb and
even remove kava-containing products from the market. Based on these and other
reports in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also issued
a consumer advisory in March of 2002 regarding the "rare," but potential risk of
liver failure associated with kava-containing products.)
How to Take It
Valerian products should be standardized to contain 0.8% valerenic or valeric
acid; standardization helps to assure quality control in herbal products.
Adjust the recommended adult dose to account for the child's weight. Most
herbal dosages for adults are calculated on the basis of a 150 lb (70 kg) adult.
Therefore, if the child weighs 50 lb (20 to 25 kg), the appropriate dose of
valerian for this child would be 1/3 of the adult dosage.
To help bring on sleep, reduce nervousness and anxiety, valerian may be taken
in the following doses an hour or so before retiring, or up to three times in
the course of the day, with the last dose near bedtime. It may take a few weeks
before the effects are felt.
Tea: Pour 1 C boiling water over 1 teaspoonful (2 to 3 g) of dried
root, steep 5 to 10 minutes.
Tincture (1:5): 1 to 1 1/2 tsp (4 to 6 mL)
Fluid extract (1:1): 1/2 to 1 tsp (1 to 2 mL)
Dry powdered extract (4:1): 250 to 500 mg
Valerian extract, standardized to contain 0.8% valerenic acid: 150 to
Once sleep improves, valerian should be continued for two to four weeks. A
total of four to six weeks is usually the length of treatment advised by
herbalists. After six weeks, a two-week break is recommended to see if sleep has
improved. (Note, however, that abruptly stopping valerian has, on very rare
occasions, caused withdrawal symptoms; see
Precautions. Therefore, it is important
to follow the directions of a qualified practitioner when weaning off of
valerian.) If there has been no improvement, another four-to-six week course of
treatment may be started.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and
treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger
side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For
these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a
practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) gives valerian a class 1
safety rating, which indicates that it is a safe herb with a wide dosage range.
Nevertheless, some people have a "paradoxical reaction" to valerian. This
means that instead of feeling calm or sleepy, they suddenly feel nervous,
anxious, and restless after they take valerian and may experience palpitations
(a feeling of a racing heart).
There is also some evidence that in cases where valerian has been used over a
long period of time, serious withdrawal symptoms may occur when it is stopped
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised against using valerian
and, because of its tranquilizing effects, valerian should not be used while
driving, operating heavy machinery, or engaging in other activities that require
alertness. Also, some warn against use if you have liver disease because of a
few reports of liver damage when valerian was used in combination with skullcap,
another herb used for anxiety.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you
should not use valerian without first talking to your healthcare provider.
Anesthesia For those facing surgery, it is important to note
that valerian may increase the effects of anesthesia and, thus, it is important
to discuss the use of valerian with your healthcare providers (particularly the
surgeon and anesthesiologist) well in advance of your planned operation. The
doctors may advise you on how to taper use of valerian prior to the surgery. Or,
they may allow you to continue use up to the time of surgery, making any
necessary adjustments to the anesthesia and giving you medication to avoid
possible withdrawal symptoms from the valerian while in the hospital.
Sedatives and Anti-anxiety Medications There are no reports in
the scientific literature to suggest that valerian interacts with any
conventional medications. However, valerian is a sedative herb that may increase
the effects of alcohol and medications for anxiety and insomnia. Valerian should
not be combined with barbiturates (medications, such as pentobarbital,
prescribed for sleep disorders or seizures), and should be used with caution, if
at all, by people taking benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety and sleep inducing
medications including alprazolam, diazepam, and lorazepam) or other sedative
medications (such as antihistamines).
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Review Date: April 2002
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Steven Dentali, PhD (April 1999),
Senior Director of Botanical Science, Rexall Sundown, Boca Raton, FL; Jacqueline
A. Hart, MD, Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Harvard
University and Senior Medical Editor Integrative Medicine, Boston, MA; Gary
Kracoff, RPh (Pediatric Dosing section February 2001), Johnson Drugs, Natick,
MA; Steven Ottariono, RPh, Veteran's Administrative Hospital, Londonderry, NH;
R. Lynn Shumake, PD (April 1999), Director, Alternative Medicine Apothecary,
Blue Mountain Apothecary & Healing Arts, University of Maryland Medical
Center, Glenwood, MD; David Winston, Herbalist (April 1999), Herbalist and
Alchemist, Inc., Washington, NJ. All interaction sections have also been
reviewed by a team of experts including Joseph Lamb, MD (July 2000), The
Integrative Medicine Works, Alexandria, VA;Enrico Liva, ND, RPh (August 2000),
Vital Nutrients, Middletown, CT; Brian T Sanderoff, PD, BS in Pharmacy (March
2000), Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy;
President, Your Prescription for Health, Owings Mills, MD; Ira Zunin, MD, MPH,
MBA (July 2000), President and Chairman, Hawaii State Consortium for Integrative
Medicine, Honolulu, HI.
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of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage
to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or
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of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds
currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a
guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare
practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts)
regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed