Valeriana officinalis / Valerian root
|View All Products|
Product Code: GLY-06185
ValerianAlso listed as: Valeriana officinalis
Valerian has been used to ease insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness as far back as the second century A.D., and grew especially popular in Europe in the 17th century. Now research, mainly over the last decade, has begun to confirm the scientific validity of these historic uses. Scientists aren't sure how valerian works, but they believe it increases the amount of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming effect on anxiety. A class of drugs called benzodiazepines, which includes alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) also work by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain, and researchers think valerian may have a similar but weaker effect.
Valerian is a popular alternative to commonly prescribed medications for sleep problems because it is considered to be both safe and gentle. Some studies bear this out, although not all have found valerian to be effective. One of the best designed studies found that valerian was no more effective than placebo for the first 28 days, but after that valerian greatly improved sleep for those who were taking it. That has led researchers to speculate that you may need to take valerian for a few weeks before it begins to work. Other 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 side effects such as morning drowsiness.
Valerian is a perennial plant that is native to Europe and can grow 4 feet tall. It is cultivated to decorate gardens but also grows wild in damp grasslands. Straight, hollow stems are topped by umbrella-like heads. 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 little odor when fresh.
What's It Made Of?
The root of the plant is used medicinally and is pressed into fresh juice or freeze-dried to form powder.
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 root has a sharp odor, and to mask the scent valerian is often combined with other calming herbs, including passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hops (Humulus lupulus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and kava (Piper methysticum). Kava has been associated with liver damage, so it is best avoided.
How to Take It
Valerian is often standardized to contain 0.3 - 0.8% valerenic or valeric acid, although researchers aren't sure that those are the active ingredients.
Although one pilot study found no side effects using valerian in children, you should talk to your doctor before giving valerian to a child.
For insomnia, valerian may be taken an hour or two before bedtime, 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 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoonful (2 - 3 g) of dried root, steep 5 - 10 minutes.
- Tincture (1:5): 1 - 1 1/2 tsp (4 - 6 mL)
- Fluid extract (1:1): 1/2 - 1 tsp (1 - 2 mL)
- Dry powdered extract (4:1): 250 - 600 mg
- For anxiety, 200 mg three to four times per day
Once sleep improves, valerian should be continued for 2 - 6 weeks.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Valerian is generally regarded as safe.
Pregnant and nursing women should avoid taking valerian.
Some people may have a "paradoxical reaction" to valerian, feeling anxious and restless after taking the herb instead of calm and sleepy.
Valerian does not appear to cause dependency or result in withdrawal symptoms for most people when they stop taking it. But there are a few reports of withdrawal symptoms when valerian has been used over very long periods of time. If you want to stop taking valerian, taper your dose gradually rather than stopping all at once.
Valerian should not be used while driving, operating heavy machinery, or during other activities that require you to be alert.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use valerian without talking to your health-care provider.
Sedatives -- Valerian can increase the effect of drugs that have a sedating effect, including
- Anticonvulsants such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and valproic acid (Depakote)
- Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
- Drugs to treat insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and ramelteon (Rozerem)
- Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
The same is true of other herbs with a sedating effect, such as chamomile, lemon balm, and catnip.
Other drugs -- Because valerian is broken down by certain liver enzymes, it may interact with other drugs that are broken down by the same enzymes. Those drugs may include:
- Statins (drugs taken to lower cholesterol)
- Some antifungal drugs
Anesthesia -- Valerian may increase the effects of anesthesia and, thus, it is important to discuss the use of valerian with your doctors (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 use valerian up to the time of surgery, making any necessary adjustments to the anesthesia.
Ang-Lee MK, Moss J, Yuan CS. Herbal medicines and perioperative care. JAMA. 2001;286(2):208-216.
Attele AS, Xie JT, Yuan CS. Treatment of insomnia: an alternative approach.Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(3):249-259.
Balderer G, Borbely AA. Effect of valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1985;87(4):406-409.
Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, Patterson M, Mehling W. Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2006 Dec;119(12):1005-12. Review.
Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000:394-400.
Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed. Sandy, Ore: Eclectic Medical; 1998:133-134.
Cauffield JS, Forbes HJ. Dietary supplements used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders. Lippincotts Prim Care Pract. 1999;3(3):290-304.
Coxeter PD, Schluter PJ, Eastwood HL, Nikles CJ, Glasziou PP. Valerian does not appear to reduce symptoms for patients with chronic insomnia in general practice using a series of randomised n-of-1 trials. Complement Ther Med. 2003 Dec;11(4):215-222.
De Feo V, Faro C. Pharmacological effects of extracts from Valeriana adscendens Trel. II. Effects on GABA uptake and amino acids. Phytother Res. 2003 Jun;17(6):661-664.
Donath F, Quispe S, Diefenbach K, Maurer A, Fietze I, Roots FI. Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2000;33:47-53.
Ernst E, ed. The Desktop Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine: An Evidence-Based Approach. New York, NY: Mosby;2001:160-162.
Ernst E. Herbal medications for common ailments in the elderly. Drugs Aging. 1999;15(6):423-428.
Gyllenhaal C, Merritt SL, Peterson SD, Block KI, Gochenour T. Efficacy and safety of herbal stimulants and sedatives in sleep disorders. Sleep Med Rev. 2000;4(2):229-251.
Heiligenstein E, Guenther G. Over-the-counter psychotropics: a review of melatonin, St John's wort, valerian, and kava-kava. J Am Coll Health. 1998;46(6):271-276.
Leatherwood PD, Chauffard F, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharm Biochem Behavior. 1982;17(1):65-71.
Miller LG. Herbal medicinals: selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions. Arch Intern Med. 1998;158(20):2200-2211.
Miyasaka LS, Atallah AN, Soares BG. Valerian for anxiety disorders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD004515. Review.
Pizzorno JE, Murray MT. Textbook of Natural Medicine. New York: Churchill Livingstone; 1999:997-999, 1355-1356.
Robbers JE, Tyler V. Herbs of Choice: The Therapeutic Use of Phytomedicinals. New York, NY: The Haworth Herbal Press; 1999: 154-157.
Rotblatt M, Ziment I. Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine. Philadelphia, Penn:Hanley & Belfus, Inc. 2002:355-359.
Stevinson C, Ernst E. Valerian for insomnia: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Sleep Med. 2000 Apr 1;1(2):91-99.
Wagner J, Wagner ML, Hening WA. Beyond benzodiazepines: alternative pharmacologic agents for the treatment of insomnia. Ann Pharmacother. 1998;32(6):680-691.
Wong AH, Smith M, Boon HS. Herbal remedies in psychiatric practice. Arch Gen Psychiatr. 1998;55(1):1033-1044.
Ziegler G, Ploch M, Miettinen-Baumann A, Collet W. Efficacy and tolerability of valerian extract LI 156 compared with oxazepam in the treatment of non-organic insomnia--a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 2002 Nov 25;7(11):480-486.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.