Although valerian grows wild all over Europe, most of the valerian used for medicinal extracts is cultivated. The root is used in herbal medicine preparations.
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3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
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1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
300 to 600 mg of a concentrated root extract 30 minutes before bedtime
Valerian may help you fall asleep faster and enjoy deeper sleep quality.
Herbal remedies have been used safely for centuries for insomnia. In modern herbal medicine, the leading herb for insomnia is valerian.1 Valerian root makes getting to sleep easier and increases deep sleep and dreaming. Valerian does not cause a morning “hangover,” a side effect common to prescription sleep drugs in some people.2 , 3 , 4 A double-blind trial found that valerian extract (600 mg 30 minutes before bedtime for 28 days) is comparable in efficacy to oxazepam (Serax), a commonly prescribed drug for insomnia.5 In a separate double-blind trial, the same amount of valerian extract was found to improve subjective assessments of sleep quality and certain aspects of brain function during sleep as well.6 A concentrated (4–5:1) valerian root supplement in the amount of 300–600 mg can be taken 30 minutes before bedtime. Alternately, 2 to 3 grams of the dried root in a capsule or 5 ml tincture can be taken 30 minutes before bedtime.
A combination of valerian and lemon balm has been tested for improving sleep. A small preliminary trial compared the effect of valerian root extract (320 mg at bedtime) and an extract of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) with that of the sleeping drug triazolam (Halcion).7 The effectiveness of the herbal combination was similar to that of Halcion, but only the Halcion group felt hung over and had trouble concentrating the next day. A double-blind trial found that a combination of valerian and lemon balm, taken over a two-week period, was effective in improving quality of sleep.8
Another double-blind trial found a combination of 360 mg valerian and 240 mg lemon balm taken before bed improved reported sleep quality in one-third of the participants.9
Combining valerian root with other mildly sedating herbs is common both in Europe and the United States. Chamomile, hops, passion flower, lemon balm, American scullcap, and catnip are commonly recommended by doctors.10 These herbs can also be used alone as mild sedatives for those suffering from insomnia or nervous exhaustion. Chamomile is a particularly good choice for younger children whose insomnia may be related to gastrointestinal upset. Hops and lemon balm are approved by the German government for relieving sleep disturbances.11 In a double-blind trial, the combination of valerian root and hops was significantly more effective than valerian root alone for treating insomnia.12
Anxiety (Passion Flower)
100 to 200 mg valerian and 45 to 90 mg passion flower three times a day
A combination of passion flower and valerian has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety.
Several plants, known as “nervines” (nerve tonics), are used in traditional herbal medicine for people with anxiety, with few reports of toxicity. Most nervines have not been rigorously investigated by scientific means to confirm their efficacy. However, one study found that a combination of the nervines valerian and passion flower reduced symptoms in people suffering from anxiety.13 In a double-blind study, 45 drops per day of an extract of passion flower taken for four weeks was as effective as 30 mg per day of oxazepam (Serax), a medication used for anxiety.14
Refer to label instructions
Valerian has been historically used to relieve pain.
The Greek physician Dioscorides reportedly recommended valerian for a host of medical issues, including digestive problems, nausea, liver problems, and even urinary tract disorders. Use of valerian for insomnia and nervous conditions has been common for many centuries. By the 18th century, it was an accepted sedative and was also used for nervous disorders associated with a restless digestive tract.
Valerian root contains many different constituents, including volatile oils that appear to contribute to the sedating properties of the herb. Central nervous system sedation is regulated by receptors in the brain known as GABA-A receptors. According to test tube studies, valerian may weakly bind to these receptors to exert a sedating action.15 This might explain why valerian may help some people deal with stress more effectively.16
Double-blind trials have found that valerian is an effective treatment for people with mild to moderately severe insomnia.17 , 18 Generally, valerian makes sleep more restful as well as making the transition to sleep easier, but does not tend to increase total time slept, according to these studies. Two trials have also found that a combination with lemon balm is effective in improving quality of sleep and in treating insomnia.19 , 20
For insomnia, some doctors suggest 300–500 mg of a concentrated valerian root herbal extract (standardized to at least 0.5% volatile oils) in capsules or tablets 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.21 Non-standardized dried root products, 1.5 to 2 grams 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, may also be used. As an alcohol-based tincture, 5 ml can be taken before bedtime. Combination products with lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and scullcap can also be used.
Research suggests that valerian does not impair one’s ability to drive or operate machinery.22 There is one case reported of a man experiencing severe cardiac symptoms that may have been due to withdrawing from valerian. This man abruptly discontinued taking valerian, after having used 5–20 times the recommended amount “for many years”.23 However, when taken at recommended amounts, valerian supplementation does not lead to addiction or dependence. In the case of an 18-year old college student who tried to kill herself by ingesting approximately 20,000 mg of valerian root (approximately 40–50 times the recommended amount), the only symptoms reported were fatigue, abdominal pain, and a mild tremor of the hands and feet.24 Valerian does not appear to impair reaction time, alertness, or concentration the morning after use.25 There are no known reasons to avoid valerian during pregnancy or breast-feeding.
1. Taavoni S, Ekbatani N, Kashaniyan M, Haghani H. Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Menopause 2011;18:951-955.
2. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F. Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Med 1985;51:144–8.
3. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1982;17:65–71.
4. Taavoni S, Ekbatani N, Kashaniyan M, Haghani H. Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. Menopause 2011;18:951-955
5. Dorn M. Valerian versus oxazepam: efficacy and tolerability in non-organic and non-psychiatric insomniacs: a randomized, double-blind, clinical, comparative study. Forsch KomplementärmedKlass Naturheilkd 2000;7:79–84 [in German].
6. Donath F, Quispe S, Diefenbach K, et al. Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality. Pharmacopsychiatry 2000;33:47–53.
7. Dressing H, Riemann D, Low H, et al. Insomnia: Are valerian/balm combination of equal value to benzodiazepine? Therapiewoche 1992;42:726–36 [in German].
8. Dressing H, Köhler S, Müller WE. Improvement of sleep quality with a high-dose valerian/lemon balm preparation: A placebo-controlled double-blind study. Psychopharmakotherapie 1996;6:32–40.
9. Cerny A, Schmid K. Tolerability and efficacy of valerian/lemon balm in healthy volunteers (a double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre study). Fitoterapia 1999;70:221–8.
10. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 279.
11. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 147, 160–1.
12. Koetter U, Schrader E, Käufeler R, Brattström A. A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled, prospective clinical study to demonstrate clinical efficacy of a fixed valerian hops extract combination (Ze 91019) in patients suffering from non-organic sleep disorder. Phytother Res 2007;21:847-51.
13. Brown D. Valerian root: Non-addictive alternative for insomnia and anxiety. Quart Rev Nat Med 1994;Fall:221–4 [review].
14. Akhondzadeh S, Naghavi HR, Vazirian M, et al. Passionflower in the treatment of generalized anxiety: a pilot double-blind randomized controlled trial with oxazepam. J Clin Pharm Ther 2001;26:363–7.
15. Mennini T, Bernasconi P, Bombardelli E, et al. In vitro study on the interaction of extracts and pure compounds from Valeriana officinalis roots with GABA, benzodiazepine and barbiturate receptors. Fitoterapia 1993;64:291–300.
16. Kohnen R, Oswald WD. The effects of valerian, propranolol and their combination on activation performance and mood of healthy volunteers under social stress conditions. Pharmacopsychiatry 1988;21:447–8.
17. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1982;17:65–71.
18. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F. Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Med 1985;51:144–8.
19. Dressing H, Riemann D, Low H, et al. Insomnia: Are valerian/balm combination of equal value to benzodiazepine? Therapiewoche 1992;42:726–36 [in German].
20. Dressing H, Köhler S, Müller WE. Improvement of sleep quality with a high-dose valerian/lemon balm preparation: A placebo-controlled double-blind study. Psychopharmakotherapie 1996;6:32–40.
21. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 173–8.
22. Albrecht M, Berger W, Laux P, et al. Psychopharmaceuticals and safety in traffic. Zeits Allegmeinmed 1995;71:1215–21 [in German].
23. Garges HP, Varia I, Doraiswamy PM. Cardiac complications and delirium associated with valerian root withdrawal. JAMA 1998;280:1566–7.
24. Wiley LB, Mady SP, Cobaugh DJ, Wax PM. Valerian overdose: A case report. Vet Human Toxicol 1995;37:364–5.
25. Kuhlmann J, Berger W, Podzuweit H, Schmidt U. The influence of valerian treatment on “reaction time, alertness and concentration” in volunteers. Pharmacopsychiatry 1999;32:235–41.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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