An herbal supplement that is derived from the roots and rhizomes of Valeriana officinalis and is used to treat anxiety and insomnia

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Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as Valerian, is a perennial flowering plant that produces pink or white flowers and is used to treat a variety of symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, seizures, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), menstrual cramps, symptoms of menopause, and depression [i] iivi. Because little research has been done to prove the effectiveness of the herb, valerian is sold in the United States as a dietary supplement rather than as a pharmaceutical drug [ii]. Products containing valerian can be easily found at supermarkets, pharmacies (over the counter), and at specialty health food stores.

Other Names
Valerian is also known as all-heal, vandal root garden heliotrope, capon's tail, setwall, and amantilla. [iii]

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V. officinalis

Related Species
While the following are a part of the Valerianaceae family, they do not provide the same benefits of Valeriana officinalis. The flowers are similar to those of “all-heal”, but it is not to be mistaken. The flowers of the following species are not poisonous, but they do not provide the same relief from insomnia and anxiety as the more acclaimed variety.

  • Plectritis ciliosa (Pink Plectritis)
  • Plectritis macrocera (White Plectritis)
Plants within this family often have beautiful petite flowers that grow from hallow stems and around weedy looking leaves. The species above are much shorter in height (ranging from six inches to twenty-four inches), while Valeriana officinalis grows to be about five feet tall. [iv]
Valerian is native to both Asia and Europe, but can now be found in North America. In North America, valerian can be found in the most northern regions of the heathers_map.jpgUnited States, such as in New England, Washington, Utah, and Illinois. It can also be found in many parts of Canada.

Early Uses
Medicinal- Between the third and fourth century B.C., valerian was discussed by Hippocrates [v] as a therapeutic agent and was later prescribed by Galen [vi] during the second century of the common era to treat insomnia. During World War II, the British used it to treat soldiers for the stress associated with air raids ii.

Recreational- In the sixteenth century, the fragrant flowers were used to make perfume[vii].

Modern Uses
The herb is most commonly used to treat insomnia and anxiety. It is suggested that valerian has also proven to be effective in treating depression, however little scientific research has been done to support that claim.

The Science Behind It
Scientists have not yet confirmed the active element that attributes to the calming properties of the valerian root, but some researchers suggest that the root may interact with the GABA neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. Valerian acts like a pharmaceutical-grade barbiturate, which traditionally calms nerves and aids in restful sleep. [viii]
Administration and Dosing
Valerian is sold in various forms, such as in teas, capsules, tables, and extracts. Examples of teas that contain valerian are Yogi’s Bedtime flavor and Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime Extra® variety.
For Restful Sleeteapot.jpgp: Because little research has been done on valerian as an herbal remedy, proper dosing instructions have not been defined. However, some studies suggest that a single dose of either 450mg or 900 mg improved sleep latency in patients with either insomnia or simple sleep disorders. Some people also mix their regular dose of valerian with hops to enhance the effects of the stand-alone herb. Researchers suggest taking the herbal supplement 30-45 minutes before bed. iiiii It is important to note that valerian does not work as quickly as pharmaceutical drugs; like many herbal remedies, valerian must be taken consistently for two to four weeks before the user notices a difference. [ix]

For Anxiety: While not scientifically proven, some researchers suggest that individuals make an herbal tea by steeping 2-3 grams of dried valerian root in hot water several times per day in order to relieve symptoms of anxiety. Those suffering from anxiety disorders may also opt to take 1-3 ml of tincture several times per day. It is also suggested that individuals take 1-2 ml in a fluid form once per day, as fluid is more heavily concentrated than other forms of the herb. [x]
However, many individuals may find it easier to ingest their daily supplement in caplet form. Therefore, valerian can be purchased at vitamin stores such as GNC and in pharmacies such as CVS at Walgreens. GNC sells a sleep supplement that features 150mg of valerian root extract, combined with other herbs that are known to induce calm mood. The same store also markets pure valerian caplets, which is sold in 500mg doses. Many manufactures produce valerian root liquid, which is administered sublingually via a medicine dropper, and typically contains 1,000mg of valerian root extract per serving. [xi]
It is not recommended that individuals take more than 1,800mg per day for any reason, whether it is for sleep or anxiety. iii
There are many commercially-marketed teas that claim to induce sleep, and feature valerian root extract as one of the “active” ingredients. However, these teas do not typically contain enough of the herb to make a significant impact. For example, Sleepytime Extra® contains only 25mg of valerian root extract, and Yogi Bedtime contains only 20mg (despite it being about twice as expensive!). Because the placebo effect is very real, it is possible that individuals who claim that these teas make a difference in their ability to fall and stay asleep may have fooled themselves into thinking that the nearly trace amount of valerian is the culprit.
Side Effects
Unfortunately as with all substances used for medicinal purposes, side effects may affect some individuals who use valerian. Possible side effects include headache, gastrointestinal problems, sleeplessness, and dizziness. Individuals who took the higher of the recommended dosage (about 900mg) reported feeling tired in the morning, whereas those who took around 450mg felt refreshed and not fatigued after their nighttime sleep.

Additionally, valerian may cause drug interactions, which are most frequently associated with sleep aids and depressants such as Valium and alcohol. It has been noted that individuals who combine valerian with their pharmaceutical-grade sleep medications may experience increased sleep. Additionally, valerian may not be safe for women who are pregnant or nursing.[xii]
While short-term use is generally accepted, researchers warn against long-term use of the herb. If a serious sleep disorder is present in an individual, that person should seek professional medical attention. iii It is also advised that all people consult their physician before taking any herbal supplement.

[i] "Valerian [NCCAM Herbs at a Glance]." National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine [NCCAM] - Home Page. National Institutes of Health, July 2010. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <>.
[ii] "Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet:." Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <>.
[iii] "Valerian." Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.
[iv] "Valerianaceae (Valerian Family)." Montara Mountain Plants Home. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.
[v]Boylan, Michael. "Hippocrates [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 5 July 2005. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <>.
[vi]"Greek Medicine | Galen." National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Health Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <>.
[vii] “Yogi Well-Being." Yogi | Yogi Organic Tea. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <>.
[viii]"Valerian Root for Anxiety." Over The Counter Anxiety Medication. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.
[ix]"Valerian: MedlinePlus Supplements." National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.
[x]"Valerian Root, Herb and Tea Benefits." Natural Health Herbal, Vitamin and Nutritional Supplements | NutraSanus. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.
[xi]GNC: Vitamins, Supplements, Minerals, Herbs, Sports Nutrition, Diet & Energy and More. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.
[xii]Morgenthaler, Timothy. "Valerian: A Safe and Effective Herbal Sleep Aid?" Mayo Clinic. 26 Feb. 2010. Web. 11 Jan. 2012. <>.