Valerian, also known as Valerian root, garden valerian, tobacco root, garden heliotrope, all-heal, and setewale capon’s tale, is a perennial herb that can reach a height of over 4 feet and blooms every summer. The flowers of the valerian plant have a very potent smell, often described as smelling like aged cheese, spoiled milk, or old socks. The valerian plant is native to Europe, southern Africa, and northern Asia. Though not native to North America, valerian is grown and harvested for its many health benefits.
Valerian has a massive root system, a short rhizome (or underground stems), which contains valerian’s medicinal properties, bears pinnate leaves, and produces pink flower heads. Most valerian plants prefer rich, heavy loam with adequate moisture. In recent times, however, valerian has become a commercially farmed product and no longer requires a damp, rich environment in order to grow. The root and rhizome of valerian is ground and used for treating a wide variety of medical conditions, including insomnia, depression, pain, and stress-related digestive disorders.
History of Valerian
Valerian derives its name from the Latin word “valere” meaning to make strong; the Roman emperor Valerianus and several saints take their name from this Latin derivative. An additional translation of valerian is “to be in good health.” Used since the time of the ancient Egyptians, valerian was so revered for its medicinal benefits that it was referred to as the all-heal. Tenth-century Arab apothecaries in Spain, Africa, and the Middle East combined valerian root with many other herbs and plants to cure pain, induce sleep, and as a general cure.
The use of valerian became widely popularized during medieval times. During World War I and II, valerian root was used in many European hospitals and medical units in treating stress caused by air raids. Valerian root continues to be popular in Chinese medicine. Used for over 2,000 years, valerian has been vital to Chinese medicine because of its pain relieving and calming abilities. Today valerian is a common supplement used to treat a myriad of ailments. It is easily found in groceries, pharmacies, and health food stores.
Legends and Literary References
It is rumored that valerian is spikenard, which is referred to in the Bible. Spikenard was referenced in the parable of when Christ’s feet were washed by Mary Magdalene.
Valerian also appears in many Hindu legends. The most common is the story of a newly married man planting valerian outside of his home for his bride as a symbol of his safe return. Years passed and the valerian flourished. Finally, the man returned home and his bride welcomed him warmly, knowing he was safe because the valerian had remained alive and beautiful.
Chaucer describes valerian as setewale in the Canterbury Tales. Setewale is used as a seasoning to a broth the cook prepares.
Many people believe that valerian will act as a repellant for unfriendly dogs. Centuries ago, gypsies would prepare and sell mixtures containing valerian to protect against unfriendly animals.
It is said that in the second century, the Greek physician Galen would give people dried valerian root as a cure for insomnia and restlessness.
How does valerian root work?
Researchers aren’t sure how valerian root works to ease insomnia and anxiety. They think it subtly increases the levels of a chemical known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA contributes to a calming effect in the body.
Common prescription drugs for anxiety, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium), also increase GABA levels in the brain.
Best known for its tranquilizer and calmative effects, valerian is a popular sleep aid and treatment for anxiety and depression. Valerian has also been used in connection with menstrual cramps, muscle spasms, headaches, stress, nervous restlessness, and stress-related digestive disorders. The root has even been used as a natural treatment for ADHD in children and adults.
Valerian root is a common ingredient sold in dietary supplements. It claims to cure insomnia and nervous tension caused by anxiety. Valerian has been used for centuries as an herbal remedy.
It was used in ancient Greece and Rome to ease:
It may be just what you need to finally get a good night’s sleep. There are several valerian root products on the market today. But the amount of valerian root contained in each capsule varies widely.
Here’s more information about the recommended dosage of valerian root and its potential health benefits.
With no addictive properties, valerian is a safe alternative to calming drugs such as Valium. Scientific studies have shown that valerian works to promote relaxation by working with the nervous system to calm the brain and relax tensed muscles. This allows for sleep, reduced stress, muscle pains, and cramps, and calms the body.
Valerian is effective in relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract, relieving many of the symptoms of stress-related digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
Working to relax the body, valerian has been shown to relieve pain. It is especially effective in the treatment of migraines, arthritis, and muscle pain. Nervous conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, sciatica, and peripheral have all shown positive responses to valerian use.
As a treatment for ADHD in children and adults, valerian has shown some benefits. It works together with the brain to slow down triggers that can cause hyperactivity and help the individual concentrate.
Valerian works to slow the heart, helping to regulate arrhythmias, treat those with tachycardia, and regulate blood pressure. It has also been found to have properties that help prevent blood clotting.
Valerian supplements are very easy to find and rather inexpensive. Most commonly, valerian is found in pill or capsule form but at health food stores it can also be found in teas and liquid droppers.
The recommended dosage of valerian root for sleep
Insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, affects around one-third of all adults at least once during their life. It can have a profound effect on a person’s well-being and daily life.
Based on the available research, take 300 to 600 milligrams (mg) of valerian root 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime. This is best for insomnia or sleeps trouble. For tea, soak 2 to 3 grams of dried herbal valerian root in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Valerian root seems to work best after taking it regularly for two or more weeks. Don’t take valerian root for more than a month without talking to your doctor.
The recommended dosage for anxiety
For anxiety, take 120 to 200 mg, three times per day. Your last dose of valerian root should be right before bedtime.
The recommended dosage for anxiety is generally lower than the dosage for insomnia. This is because taking high doses of valerian root during the day can lead to daytime sleepiness.
If you’re sleepy during the day, it might make it difficult for you to participate in your usual daytime activities.
For most individuals, valerian is a very safe supplement with no side effects. Fresh valerian root typically has no smell but dried valerian root can have a very potent and unpleasant aroma. There have been no documented cases of any drug interaction with valerian supplements. For some individuals, valerian can cause sudden nervousness, racing heart rate, and restlessness. There is some evidence that some cases of prolonged use of valerian resulted in withdrawal symptoms.
As it is a calmative, people who take valerian should not drive, operate heavy machinery, or engage in the activity, which requires alertness.
Women who are pregnant or nursing should not take valerian, as the scientific community has not adequately studied its effects on infants and the fetus. Young children should also refrain from taking valerian supplements, as there have not been many studies on its effects.
Valerian root has very few side effects and is proven to help treat insomnia, anxiety, and to calm the body. Because valerian is inexpensive and so accessible, many people can use it as the first line of treatment for their conditions. It does not leave you with a cloudy, foggy feeling when used as a sleep aid and does not contain the potentially harmful side effects of prescription medications.
Who shouldn’t take valerian root?
Although valerian root is generally considered safe, the following people shouldn’t take it:
- Women who are pregnant or nursing: The risk to the developing baby hasn’t been evaluated, though a study in rats determined that valerian root most likely doesn’t affect the developing baby.
- Children younger than 3 years of age: The safety of valerian root hasn’t been tested in children under 3.
Don’t combine valerian root with alcohol, other sleep aids, or antidepressants. Also avoid combining it with sedative drugs, such as barbiturates (e.g., morphine, propofol) and benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium, Ativan). Valerian root also has a sedative effect, and the effect can be addictive.
If you’re taking any medications, ask your doctor if it’s safe to take valerian root. Valerian root may also increase the effects of anesthesia. If you’re planning to have a surgery, inform your doctor and anesthesiologist that you’re taking valerian root.
- Alcohol interacts with VALERIANAlcohol can cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Valerian might also cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Taking large amounts of valerian along with alcohol might cause too much sleepiness.
- Alprazolam (Xanax) interacts with VALERIANValerian can decrease how quickly the liver breaks down alprazolam. Taking valerian with alprazolam might increase the effects and side effects of alprazolam such as drowsiness.
- Sedative medications (Benzodiazepines) interacts with VALERIANValerian might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Drugs that cause sleepiness and drowsiness are called sedatives. Taking valerian along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness. Some of these sedative medications include alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion), and others.
- Sedative medications (CNS depressants) interacts with VALERIANValerian might cause sleepiness and drowsiness. Medications that cause sleepiness are called sedatives. Taking valerian along with sedative medications might cause too much sleepiness. Taking valerian along with sedative medications used in surgery might cause prolonged sedation. Some sedative medications include pentobarbital (Nembutal), phenobarbital (Luminal), secobarbital (Seconal), thiopental (Pentothal), fentanyl (Duragesic, Sublimaze), morphine, propofol (Diprivan), and others.
- Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates) interacts with VALERIANSome medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Valerian might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking valerian along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking valerian, talk to your healthcare provider if you are taking any medications that are changed by the liver. Some medications changed by the liver include lovastatin (Mevacor), ketoconazole (Nizoral), itraconazole (Sporanox), fexofenadine (Allegra), triazolam (Halcion), and many others.
Powdered valerian root is available in capsule and tablet form, as well as a tea. You can purchase valerian root easily online or in drugstores.
Be sure to read the product labels and directions before taking valerian root. Some products contain dosages of valerian root that are higher than the above-recommended amounts. Keep in mind, though, that there is no standard dose of valerian root.
While still safe, it’s unclear whether higher doses are necessary to produce an effect. One study found that taking 900 mg of valerian root at night can actually increase sleepiness and lead to a “hangover effect” the next morning. Ask your doctor if you’re unsure about the dose you should be taking.
Valerian root can make you drowsy. Don’t drive or operate heavy machinery after taking valerian root. The best time to take valerian root for sleep is right before bedtime.
Herbal remedies or medications aren’t always the answer to sleep problems and anxiety. See your doctor if your insomnia, anxiety/nervousness, or stress persists. You might have an underlying condition, like sleep apnea, or a psychological disorder, which requires evaluation.