What is valerian?
Valerian is an herb that people have used for centuries for anxiety and as a sleep aid. It is also used to ease menstrual and stomach cramps. It comes from the root of the valerian plant, found in areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. Of the more than 200 known species of valerian, the Eurasian variety V. officinalis is the one people use most often as medicine. Valerian root is known for smelling like sweaty socks.
Valerian is sold as a dietary supplement and is available as an extract in powder or liquid form, as a dried herb in tea form, or in pills. As a sleep aid, valerian is most effective if you take it shortly before bedtime. For anxiety, you may take a dose 3 times or more during the day, including before bedtime.
People often use valerian in combination with other herbs, including St. John's wort, passionflower, lemon balm, kava, and hops.
Valerian does not interfere with sleep cycles or with restful REM sleep.
What is valerian root used for?
People use valerian to relieve anxiety, depression, and poor sleep, and also to ease menstrual and stomach cramps. Valerian has a mild calming effect that does not usually result in sleepiness the next day. As a sleep aid, valerian seems to be most effective for people who have trouble falling asleep and who consider themselves to be poor sleepers. It also has had good results for people who wake up during the night. Some studies show that valerian may provide quick relief for poor sleep. But it may take 2 to 4 weeks of daily use to bring improved sleep for people with serious insomnia.1 Other studies show that valerian did not help with insomnia.
Is valerian root safe?
Side effects from valerian are rare but can include mild headache or stomach upset, abnormal heartbeats, and insomnia. Because of valerian's calming effect, you should not take it at the same time as other calming medicines or antidepressants (or do so only under medical supervision). You also should not take valerian if you will be driving or need to be alert.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicine. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works.
Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:
- Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make other health conditions worse.
- Dietary supplements may not be standardized in their manufacturing. This means that how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
- The long-term effects of most dietary supplements, other than vitamins and minerals, are not known. Many dietary supplements are not used long-term.
- Valerian (2010). In A DerMarderosian et al., eds., Review of Natural Products. St. Louis: Wolters Kluwer Health.
Other Works Consulted
- Murray MT (2013). Valeriana officinalis (valerian). In JE Pizzorno, MT Murray, eds., Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th ed., pp. 1086–1089. St. Louis: Mosby.
Last Revised: June 11, 2013
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