Valerian root is primarily used to help people fall asleep and stay asleep. Other less known indications include muscle and uterine cramping, digestive spasm, and nervous headache. It has a long history of use in Western and Chinese medicine, and was cited for medicinal use by Hippocrates, the father of medicine (ca 460-377 BC.) Valerian root was included in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1820 through 1930, at which time almost all botanical medicines were removed pending clinical trials. Valerian root and valerian root extract are both officially in the current United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary as there has been significant clinical evidence supporting its use for insomnia and anxiety. This herb is also included in several European national pharmacopoeias including Germany, a world leader in botanical medical research. Valerian is on the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list, and allergic reactions are rare.
Valerian root contains more than 150 chemical constituents. Although some supplements are standardized to valerenic acid, no one component has been identified as solely responsible for the sedating effects; instead, it seems to be a synergistic effect of the whole plant that regulates the nervous system and causes sleepiness. However, while 80% of the population will have a relaxing and sleep inducing effect, 20% of people experience the opposite reaction. Therefore, it is a good idea to try valerian root on its own first, rather than in a complex sleep formula, to ascertain your individual response to this botanical treatment.
This herb has a distinctive scent. Some people find it repugnant! It is a distinctive, sharp, earthy smell that comes from the high essential oil content in the herb. These essential oils provide part of the sedative effective on the nervous system and are an integral part of the medicine. If your product does not have the distinctive earthy valerian smell, it may be poor quality.
Valerian can be taken as a capsule, tablet, tea, or tincture. The valepotriates hydrolyze quickly in water, thus some of the effectiveness may be lost in tea/tincture form. These suggested dosages are as follows:
- capsule/tablet: 300-600 mg dried herb before bed. Sleepiness/grogginess the next morning has been reported over 900mg.
- tea: 2 tsp dried valerian root steeped in hot water for 15 minutes
- tincture: 1/2 – 1 tsp before bed, and an additional teaspoon if not falling asleep within 15 minutes.
There are various opinions about when to take sleep supportive herbs. Some experts suggest 1-2 hours before bed to induce sleepiness; others suggest taking it when settled in bed to signal and confirm the “sleep time” message to your body. Ultimately valerian is a very safe herb, and what works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with dosages and dosing strategies and see what works for you. As with all botanical medicine, it is important to take enough of the herb to have a clinical effect, and to continue the treatment for at least 2 weeks to accurately determine response and give your body a chance to respond to the regulatory effects of this ancient sleep restorative. Start with a low dose to test your body’s sensitivity, and increase as needed for clinical response.
*These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration
“Valeriana Officionalis.” Altmedrev.com. Thorne Research, 1 Jan. 2004. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/9/4/438.pdf>.
Blumenthal, Mark. “Valerian.” The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin: American Botanical Council, 2003. 353-355. Print.