More than 200 plant species belong to the genus Valeriana, but the one most commonly used as an herb is Valeriana officinalis. The root is used for medicinal purposes.
Galen recommended valerian for insomnia in the second century AD. From the sixteenth century onward, this herb became popular as a sedative in Europe (and later, the United States). Scientific studies on valerian in humans began in the 1970s, leading to its approval as a sleep aid by Germany's Commission E in 1985. However, the scientific evidence showing that valerian really works remains incomplete.
As with most herbs, we are not exactly sure which ingredients in valerian are most important.
Our understanding of how valerian might function remains similarly incomplete. Several studies suggest that valerian affects GABA, a naturally occurring amino acid that appears to be related to the experience of anxiety.
What Is Valerian Used for Today?
Valerian is commonly recommended as a mild treatment for occasional insomnia
Like other treatments used for insomnia, valerian has also been proposed as a treatment for
Finally, valerian is sometimes suggested as a treatment for a nervous stomach; however, as of yet, there is no supporting scientific evidence for this use.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Valerian?
Overall, the evidence supporting valerian as a sleep aid remains substantially incomplete and self-contradictory.
A systematic review published in 2007 concluded that valerian is probably not effective for treating insomnia.
The best positive study of valerian for insomnia followed 121 people for 28 days.
Although positive, these results are a bit confusing. In another large study, valerian was
more effective than placebo, which is more in keeping with how the herb is typically used. This trial followed 128 subjects who had no sleeping problems.
Furthermore, the more recent and best designed studies have generally failed to find valerian more helpful at all.
A 6-week, double-blind study of 202 people with insomnia compared valerian extract (600 mg at bedtime) with the standard drug oxazepam (10 mg at bedtime) and found equal efficacy.
A study of 184 people tested a standardized combination of valerian and hops, with mixed results.
A much smaller study also found evidence that a combination of hops and valerian extract is more effective as a sleep aid than placebo; the results of this trial also hint that hops plus valerian is more effective than valerian alone, but this possible finding did not reach statistical significance.
A double-blind comparative study that enrolled 46 patients compared the effects of the standard drug bromazepam to a mixture of valerian and
hops with either treatment taken one-half hour before bed.
A combination of valerian and
Valerian has shown some promise for helping people sleep better after discontinuing conventional sleeping pills in the benzodiazepine family.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 36 people with
Valerian has also been tested for possible benefits during
For insomnia, the standard adult dosage of valerian is 2 g to 3 g of dried herb, 270 mg to 450 mg of an aqueous valerian extract, or 600 mg of an ethanol extract, taken 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. 23
Because of valerian's unpleasant odor, European manufacturers have created odorless valerian products. However, these are not yet widely available in the United States.
Valerian is not recommended for children under 3 years old.
Valerian is on the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list and is approved for use as a food. In animals, it takes enormous doses of valerian to produce any serious adverse effects. 25
In a suicide attempt, one young woman took approximately 20 g of valerian (20 to 40 times the recommended dose). Only mild symptoms developed, including stomach cramps, fatigue, chest tightness, tremors, and light-headedness. All of these resolved within 24 hours, after two treatments with activated charcoal.
One report did find toxic results from herbal remedies containing valerian mixed with several other herbal ingredients, including
There have also been about 50 reported cases of overdose with a combination preparation called Sleep-Qik, which contains valerian as well as conventional medications.
There are some safety concerns about valepotriates, constituents of valerian, because in test tube studies they have been found to affect DNA and cause other toxic effects. However, valepotriates are not present to a significant extent in any commercial preparations.
Although no animal studies or controlled human trials have found evidence that valerian causes withdrawal symptoms when stopped, one case report is sometimes cited in support of the possibility that this might occur.
In clinical trials, use of valerian has not been associated with any significant side effects. A few people experience mild gastrointestinal distress, and there have been rare reports of people developing a paradoxical mild stimulant effect from valerian.
Valerian does not appear to impair driving ability or produce morning drowsiness when taken at night.
There have been no reported drug interactions with valerian, and two studies found reasons to believe that valerian should not raise or lower the blood levels of too many medications.
Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking sedative drugs such as benzodiazepines
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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