Valerian is most commonly used as a sedative. During World War I this herb was given to treat shell shock and stress in civilians. In Europe today it is the most common nonprescription sedative; in Germany, it is more likely to be recommended than Xanax or Valium. Valerian calms the nerves, increases blood flow to the heart, and relaxes the muscles. One of its constituents, valerenic acid, has been shown to inhibit the action of the enzyme that breaks down GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), thus contributing to increased levels of calming GABA in the body. Valerian is sometimes referred to as a “daytime sedative” because it can improve performance, concentration, and memory during the day as well as help one to sleep better during the night.
all-heal, Capon’s tail, Setwell, Cutheal, Treacle; Garden Heliotrope; Vandalroot; Phu, Amatilla, Set Well, Capon’s Tailor, St. George’s Herb, Setuale, Cat’s Valerian, English Valerian; Tagara; Walerian, Kozlek Lekarski (Polish); Baldrian (German)
The ‘officinalis’ in its botanical name means that it was used medicinally and sold in the shops of the druggists and apothecaries The Roman name vakere was derived from valour for courage. The root excites some animals, especially rats and cats. It is rumoured that the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin owed his success in leading the rats out of the city to have had his pockets stuffed full of valerian rather than to his music! Valerian is still used by rat catchers. North American Indians snorted valerian powder to calm epileptic seizures.
Antiepileptic, anxiolytic, sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic (muscles), carminative, hypotensive, nervine tonic
Insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, muscular tension, muscular spasm, cramps, hypertension, migraine, intestinal colic, dysmenorrhoea
Anxiety, depression, insomnia, and menopause-related problems.
In a large-scale review of human studies on valerian for anxiety, only one seemed to show promise. One of the most common side effects of anxiety and depression is sleep disorders. In one study, people with depression, anxiety, and sleeping issues benefited from a combination of St. John’s wort and valerian. The optimal combination for reducing anxiety and improving sleep was 600 milligrams of St. John’s wort and 1,000 milligrams of valerian, and the effects took about ten days to manifest.
Most large-scale scientific studies have confirmed valerian’s ability to improve the quality of sleep and relieve insomnia, especially insomnia that sometimes accompanies menopause. These effects occurred without numerous side effects. Dozens of over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids contain valerian. A double-blind study with 128 participants showed that taking a water-based extract of valerian both improved subjective ratings of sleep quality and reduced sleep latency, the time required to fall asleep.
Valerian relieved insomnia without causing grogginess or “hangover” the next morning. A follow-up study found that valerian was as effective in inducing sleep as barbiturates such as pentobarbital and benzodiazepines such as chlordiazepoxide (Librium). These drugs cause morning sleepiness. Valerian, in contrast, reduced morning sleepiness. The difference, apparently, was that valerian appeared to be nonaddictive and its effects seemed to be milder. Valerian has a much more pronounced effect when used by people with chronic insomnia than when used by people whose sleeping difficulties are temporary. It is especially suitable for older adults who fall asleep relatively easily but have trouble staying asleep throughout the night. Also, this herb relieves panic attacks that occur at night.
One clinical study found that using valerian together with St. John’s wort was an effective alternative to diazepam (Valium). Some studies in animals have confirmed that valerian does not show overt sedative or tranquillising effects as compared to diazepam (Valium). Researchers say that a combination of hops and valerian may be as effective as benzodiazepine medications (the group of drugs that includes Valium) for nonchronic and nonpsychiatric sleep disorders.
Valerian has been used safely and effectively in children aged five to fourteen years with sleep difficulties. In one well-controlled trial, where exact measurements of valerian were used daily, children who were intellectually and neurologically deficient (IQ under 70) and their parents slept better and for a more extended period. Do not give valerian to your child without speaking to a paediatrician.
Valerian relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract when under stress. It soothes the digestive system and relieves some types of indigestion, constipation, and stomach cramps, especially when these problems are due to nervous tension.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Naturopathic physicians sometimes prescribe valerian as one of a combination of herbs useful for the treatment of IBS. One of the chemicals produced when Valerian is processed, valerenic acid, not only encourages sleep but also reduces muscle spasms. Although valerenic acid makes sleeping easier, it does not force sleep by inducing drowsiness.
- A randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial demonstrated single or repeated administrations of valerian did not hurt reaction time, alertness, and concentration the morning after intake. The dose used was equivalent to 3 g per day of root and was prescribed for 2 weeks.
- In a randomised, double-blind trial, valerian tablets demonstrated similar efficacy to oxazepam (10 mg/day) for treating insomnia. The daily dose of valerian corresponded to approximately 3 g of the root.
- A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study using valerian extract (equivalent to 3 g/day of root for 14 days) confirmed positive effects on sleep structure and sleep perception in patients with mild psychophysiological insomnia. The impact of Mexican valerian (MV) and valerian (V) extracts were investigated using polysomnographic recordings in a double-blind, crossover trial involving 20 patients with insomnia. Patients received a single dose of extract in tablet form: the MV extract dose contained 2.4 mg valepotriates; the V extract dose contained 0.3 mg valerenic acid.
- In a large, uncontrolled, multicenter trial involving over 11,000 patients, treatment with aqueous valerian extract (equivalent to 0.25 g/day dried root) was rated as successful in treating difficulty in falling asleep (72%), discontinuous sleep (76%), and restlessness and tension (72%).
- In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial, a combination of valerian (equivalent to 400 mg of root) with hops and lemon balm demonstrated a significant subjective effect on poor sleep compared with placebo (which also contained hops and lemon balm) over 2 consecutive nights. Good sleep was reported in 44%, and 89% of patients reported improved sleep.
- A Swiss study found that a freeze-dried aqueous valerian extract improved sleep latency and sleep quality without increasing sleepiness the next morning, compared with placebo. The group of participants who rated themselves as good sleepers were mostly unaffected by valerian, but the poor or irregular sleepers reported a significant improvement. Valerian did not increase the frequency of “more sleepy than usual (the next morning)” responses. A dosage of approximately 1.2 g of valerian root per day was given over 3 nonconsecutive nights.
- A randomised, double-blind study was conducted on patients with diagnosed insomnia. Practitioners rated sleep improvement higher following valerian therapy than they did after placebo. Patients preferred valerian, with significant improvement being noted in sleep quality and the feeling of being rested after sleep. The dose was equivalent to approximately 2.4 g of dried root per day and administered for 4 weeks.
- Two randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials compared some herbal extracts, including a dried ethanolic extract of valerian (equivalent to 6 g of root), in sleep-disturbed volunteers. In contrast to diazepam (10 mg), valerian displayed an increase in delta and theta frequencies and a decrease in beta frequency on electroencephalographic recordings. In comparison to placebo, most of the herbal extracts (as with diazepam) induced an increase in subjectively evaluated sleepiness.
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial on healthy volunteers showed valerian tended to normalise the sleep profile, lower periods of wakefulness, and increase the efficiency of the sleep period. Valerian was administered as a single dose (equivalent to 6 g) and as a repeated dose (equivalent to 3 g/day for 14 days).
- A combination of valerian and hops extracts reduced the noise induced disturbance of sleep stage patterns (slow-wave sleep and REM) in sleep-disturbed volunteers. The mixture (equivalent to 1 g/day of valerian root and 2 g/day of hops) was given to volunteers during the second or third of 3 consecutive nights disturbed by heavy traffic noise. A randomised, double-blind, controlled trial demonstrated equivalent efficacy and tolerability for a hops-valerian preparation when compared against a benzodiazepine drug in patients with temporary sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders.
- A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial investigated the use of a combination of dried aqueous ethanol extracts of valerian and lemon balm in ambulatory patients with light insomnia. Improvements in sleep quality, daily condition, time to fall asleep, the total duration of sleep, concentration, and ability to perform occurred with no hangover, withdrawal, or rebound phenomena in the treated group. Doses equivalent to 2.9 g per day of valerian root and 1.7 g per day of lemon balm herb were given for 3 weeks.
- In a randomised, controlled, double-blind study, a combination of valerian and St. John’s wort extracts (containing 0.45 to 0.9 mg/day of TH) was shown to have comparable benefits to the antidepressant amitriptyline (75 to 150 mg/day) in treating depression over 6 weeks. Compared with an improvement rate of 77% in the amitriptyline group, a benefit was observed for 82% of patients in the herbal group, without the high frequency of side effects of amitriptyline such as dry mouth and lethargy.
- In a pilot study, patients with stress-induced insomnia were treated with kava, then valerian, then a combination of kava and valerian, with washout periods in between each treatment. Total stress severity was significantly relieved by kava and valerian single treatments. Stress was measured in the areas of social, personal, and life events. The combination of kava and valerian significantly relieved insomnia.
- In a double-blind, multicenter trial, a valerian-St. John’s wort combination demonstrated a comparable reduction in symptoms of fear and depressive mood compared with amitriptyline (75 to 125 mg). The daily dose was 3 to 6 capsules. Each capsule contained valerian extract corresponding to approximately 0.3 g of dried root and St. John’s wort extract containing 0.15 mg of TH. In another double-blind trial, the same combination demonstrated significant improvement compared with the antidepressant desipramine.
- A double-blind study found that 2 weeks of daily treatment with a valerian-St. John’s wort combination (containing approximately 0.2 g of valerian root and 0.3 to 0.6 mg/day of TH) was more effective than diazepam (2 mg) in patients with moderate anxiety. Fewer side effects were observed in the herbal treatment group (4%) compared with diazepam treatment (14%).
- A double-blind, placebo-controlled technique examining activation, performance, and mood in healthy volunteers showed that valerian extract influenced subjective feelings of somatic arousal, despite high physiologic activation. No sedative effects were demonstrated, and suggestions were that valerian has thymoleptic activity.
Dosage (Divided Daily)
• Dried Powder: 6,000 – 9,000mg
• Ratio Extract 10:1: 1,000 – 3,000mg
• Tincture: 2 – 6 mL (1:2)
Do not administer to children under 3 years.
In some individuals, valerian can aggravate a sensation of tiredness or drowsiness, particularly in higher doses, but this is usually more a case of increased awareness of the body’s needs rather than an adverse depressant effect. A few individuals find valerian stimulating and should avoid its use. Headaches have been reported after overdose with valerian.
Interactions with other drugs
A human study confirmed that simultaneous intake of alcohol with a valerian and St. John’s wort combination did not increase the effects of the herbal product, and a mixture of valepotriates (valtrate, acevaltrate, and didrovaltrate [200 to 400 mg]) combined with ethanol did not cause a reduction of efficiency.
Valerian root extract may attenuate some symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, based on animal models.
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- Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: herbal formulations for the individual patient. St. Louis, MI: Churchill Livingstone.
- Herbalpedia (2013)
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- Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh; London: Churchill Livingstone.
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