Common name: Heliotrope, Fragrant valerian, European
Botanical name: Valeriana officinalis
© Steven Foster
Parts used and where grown
Although valerian grows wild all over Europe, most of the valerian used for medicinal
extracts is cultivated. The root is used in herbal medicine preparations.
Valerian has been used in
connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual
health concern for complete information):
Historical or traditional use (may
or may not be supported by scientific studies)
The Greek physician Dioscorides reportedly recommended valerian for a host of medical
issues, including digestive problems, nausea, liver problems, and even urinary tract
disorders. Use of valerian for insomnia and
nervous conditions has been common for many centuries. By the 18th century, it was an accepted
sedative and was also used for nervous disorders associated with a restless digestive
Valerian root contains many different constituents, including volatile oils that appear to
contribute to the sedating properties of the herb. Central nervous system sedation is
regulated by receptors in the brain known as GABA-A receptors. According to test tube studies,
valerian may weakly bind to these receptors to exert a sedating action.1 This might
explain why valerian may help some people deal with stress more effectively.2
Double-blind trials have found that valerian is an effective treatment for people with mild
to moderately severe insomnia.3 4 Generally, valerian makes sleep more
restful as well as making the transition to sleep easier, but does not tend to increase total
time slept, according to these studies. Two trials have also found that a combination with lemon balm is effective in improving quality of
sleep and in treating insomnia.5
How much is usually taken?
For insomnia, some doctors suggest
300–500 mg of a concentrated valerian root herbal extract (standardized to at least 0.5%
volatile oils) in capsules or tablets 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.7
Non-standardized dried root products, 1.5 to 2 grams 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, may also
be used. As an alcohol-based tincture, 5 ml can be taken before bedtime. Combination products
with lemon balm, hops,
passion flower, and scullcap can also be
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Research suggests that valerian does not impair one’s ability to drive or operate
machinery.8 There is one case reported of a man experiencing severe cardiac
symptoms that may have been due to withdrawing from valerian. This man abruptly discontinued
taking valerian, after having used 5–20 times the recommended amount “for many
years”.9 However, when taken at recommended amounts, valerian supplementation
does not lead to addiction or dependence. In the case of an 18-year old college student who
tried to kill herself by ingesting approximately 20,000 mg of valerian root (approximately
40–50 times the recommended amount), the only symptoms reported were fatigue, abdominal
pain, and a mild tremor of the hands and feet.10 Valerian does not appear to impair
reaction time, alertness, or concentration the morning after use.11 There are no
known reasons to avoid valerian during
pregnancy or breast-feeding.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions
1. Mennini T, Bernasconi P, Bombardelli E, et al. In vitro study on the
interaction of extracts and pure compounds from Valeriana officinalis roots with
GABA, benzodiazepine and barbiturate receptors. Fitoterapia
2. Kohnen R, Oswald WD. The effects of valerian, propranolol and their
combination on activation performance and mood of healthy volunteers under social stress
conditions. Pharmacopsychiatry 1988;21:447–8.
3. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of
valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol
Biochem Behav 1982;17:65–71.
4. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F. Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency
to fall asleep in man. Planta Med 1985;51:144–8.
5. Dressing H, Riemann D, Low H, et al. Insomnia: Are valerian/balm
combination of equal value to benzodiazepine? Therapiewoche 1992;42:726–36 [in
6. Dressing H, Köhler S, Müller WE. Improvement of sleep
quality with a high-dose valerian/lemon balm preparation: A placebo-controlled double-blind
study. Psychopharmakotherapie 1996;6:32–40.
7. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin,
CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 173–8.
8. Albrecht M, Berger W, Laux P, et al. Psychopharmaceuticals and safety
in traffic. Zeits Allegmeinmed 1995;71:1215–21 [in German].
9. Garges HP, Varia I, Doraiswamy PM. Cardiac complications and delirium
associated with valerian root withdrawal. JAMA 1998;280:1566–7.
10. Wiley LB, Mady SP, Cobaugh DJ, Wax PM. Valerian overdose: A case
report. Vet Human Toxicol 1995;37:364–5.
11. Kuhlmann J, Berger W, Podzuweit H, Schmidt U. The influence of
valerian treatment on “reaction time, alertness and concentration” in volunteers.