Biological Name: Valeriana officianalis
Other Names: English valerian, German valerian, great wild valerian, Vermont valerian, vandal root, all-heal, setwall, American English valerian, Garden valerian, phu, Valerian
Parts Used: Root and rhizome.
Valerian root contains many different constituents, including essential 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. Valerian may weakly bind to these receptors to exert a sedating effect.
The Greek physician Dioscorides recommended valerian for a host of medical problems, 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 eighteenth century, it was an accepted sedative and was also used for nervous disorders associated with a restless digestive tract.
Valerian is the most widely used sedative in Europe, where over one hundred valerian preparations are sold in pharmacies. Valerian is growing in popularity throughout the world because of its reputation for relieving anxiety and insomnia. It has been used for nervousness and insomnia for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine in India and in traditional Chinese medicine. Valerian was a very popular sleep sedative in the United States until it was displaced by synthetic drugs after World War II.
Anticonvulsant – treatment of epilepsy
Clinical studies have shown that people taking valerian had shown significantly improved sleep quality without morning grogginess. Some researchers have compared valerian to benzodiazepines such as Valium. However, valerian is a much milder and safer sedative. Unlike valium, valerian is not addictive or does not promote dependency. Valerian’s sedative effect is not significantly exaggerated by alcohol and barbiturates unlike valium.
Recommended dosage of valerian does not cause morning grogginess. Valerian is not linked to any birth defects, unlike valium.
Blood Pressure: Animal studies have shown that valerian reduces blood pressure.
Valerian is shown to have some anti-tumor effects similar to that of nitrogen mustard. It may play a role in the treatment of cancer. Valerian is shown exhibit anticonvulsant effects that may help in the treatment of epilepsy.
Aromatic, stimulant, tonic, anodyne, antispasmodic, nervine, emmenagogue
Excellent nerve tonic, very quiet and soothing.
Useful in hysteria. Will promote menstruation when taken hot. Useful in colic, low fevers, to break up colds, and also for gravel in the bladder. Healing for stomach ulcers and very good for prevention of fermentation and gas. The tea is very healing when applied to sores and pimples externally, and must also be taken internally at the same time. Relieves palpitation of the heart.
Clinical Trials and Proof of Efficacy:
A 1996 study by Gerhard and associates compared valerian to benzodiazepines and placebo in the treatment of insomnia. Side effects were reported by 50 percent of the subjects in the benzodiazepine-treated group but only 10 percent of the subjects treated with valerian. Valerian and benzodiazepines were similarly effective for alleviating insomnia.
Clinical studies on the use of valerian in insomnia have shown that valerian extract, standardized to 0.8-percent valeric acid, may be effective at a dose of 300 up to 900 mg one hour before bedtime. Valerian, however, does not produce as dramatic a sedative effect as a benzodiazepine sleeping pill. The use of valerian extract can take two to three weeks before significant benefits in sleep are achieved. It may not be an appropriate medicine for acute insomnia because of this delayed onset of action. Once valerian extract takes effect, it does promote natural sleep without any risk of dependence.
Valerian extract at a dose of 50 to 100 mg taken two or three times daily has been shown to relieve performance anxiety and the stress of driving in heavy traffic. Larger doses of valerian extract may be necessary for patients who have been using benzodiazepine prescriptions for anxiety.
Valerian grows wild all over Europe. But most valerian used for medicinal extracts is cultivated.
Valerian is a perennial that reaches about 5 feet. Its medicinal roots consist of long, cylindrical fibers issuing from its rhizome. Its stem is erect, grooved, and hollow. Valerian leaves are fernlike. Tiny flowers – white, pink, or lavender- develop in umbrella-like clusters and bloom from late spring through summer. When dried valerian roots have an unpleasant odor, like that of ‘dirty socks’.
Many people take 300-500 mg of valerian root herbal extract in capsules or tablets one hour before bedtime for insomnia.
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.
Children 6 – 12 yrs old respond to half of the adult dosage.
Valerian has a long history of exceptional safety, which has been confirmed by clinical studies. In 1995 a woman in Utah attempted suicide by taking about twenty times the recommended dose. She was discharged from the hospital the next day, undamaged.
While taking valerian, caution should be used when driving or operating machinery. Unlike Valium- like drugs, valerian is not associated with dependence or addiction. While valerian is not synergistic with alcohol, it is best to be cautious in this regard. Sedatives should never be combined with alcohol.
Although no cases of drug interactions have been reported, animal studies have demonstrated that valerian can potentiate the effect of phenobarbital and benzodiazepines. It can also aid in the withdrawal of benzodiazepine tranquilizers and sleeping pills, but this should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.
There are no known contraindications to using valerian during pregnancy or lactation. Valerian should not be used nightly for longer than six months.
Poisoning may result if large amount of the tea are taken for more than 2 to 3 weeks. Do not boil the root.
Consuming large amounts of valerian may cause headache, giddiness, blurred vision, restlessness, nausea. And morning grogginess.
FDA lists valerian as generally safe. Use only in consultation with a doctor if you are using valerian for therapeutic purposes. If you experience any side effects, stop the use immediately.