Valerian is a perennially growing plant found growing in Europe and some parts of Asia and introduced in Northern America. It can grow to a height of just over 6 feet tall and has a strong odor. Its flowers are sweetly scented and are whitish or pink in color, which bloom in the summer months.

The extract of Valerian has been used as a traditional medicine from ancient Greek and Roman times. Its supplement is prepared from the extract of its root and is used mainly as an over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aid for anxiety and insomnia. It is used as an over-the-counter natural sleep aid, which helps to sleep. It is given mainly in the treatment of insomnia.

Valerian e xtract

Valerian extract is a greenish-brown powder, which has an unpleasant odor. It is prepared from the dried roots of the plant. The main constituent of the extract prepared from the plant’s root is a yellowish oil, which has a sedative effect.

It is said that its name is derived from the Latin word valere, which means “all heal” because of its wide array of potential benefits. 

Valerian extract which is non-GMO (non Genetically Modified Organism), vegan, and verified in the lab for potency and purity is available.

The valerian roots, rhizomes (underground stems), and stolons (horizontal stems) are used to make dietary supplements such as capsules, tablets, and tea. 

Valerian Preparations

Valerian, the herbal dietary supplement is prepared from the root of the plant. It is available as tablets, capsules, tea, and tincture.

Valerian tea should not be prepared in boiling water, because this will destroy the oils in the extract. The supplements are available over the counter and do not need a prescription.

Uses and benefits of valerian supplements

Uses of valerian to treat certain disorders are not backed by any scientific evidence but it has proved effective in some cases. It is a common ingredient in drugs sold as mild sedatives and sleep aids. It is used to treat the following conditions:

  • Sleep disorders and more commonly to cure insomnia.
  • Anxiety and emotional stress
  • Hysteria
  • Headaches  and migraine
  • Stomach upset
  • Mild tremors
  • Hypochondria (fear of illness)
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Fatigue of chronic nature
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Symptoms of menopause such as hot flushes and anxiety
  • Oil made from valerian extract is used to add flavor to food and beverages.

How does it work?

Valerian has a sedative action on the brain and the nervous system. Many chemical constituents have been identified but it is not known which one is responsible for its sedative action.

It is possible that a group of them act independently or synergistically to give the sedative effect. Valerian contains a number of compounds that help to calm the brain by increasing the secretion of GABA in the body and interacting with certain receptors involved in mood and sleep.

GABA is a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your nervous system.

It’s one of the main neurotransmitters that regulate sleep and the increased GABA level has sedative effects.

The compounds in valerian may also interact with serotonin and adenosine receptors. These are chemicals that play important roles in the regulation of sleep and mood. However, valerian induces sleep but does not reduce night awakenings. 

Side Effects

Valerian has shown the following adverse effects:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Pruritus (itching)
  • Stomach upsets
  • Liver damage

Safety of use

Clinical studies report that Valerian is considered quite safe for use even in children for up to 4 to 8 weeks.

It should not be taken for more than six months as long-term safety is not yet established. One should not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking this supplement.

Contraindications

Valerian should not be taken

  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding as its safety is not yet established for such conditions
  • Two weeks before any surgery because valerian slows down the nervous system and this combined with anesthesia can have serious complications.
  • By persons with liver damage
  • By children under 3 years of age
  • Before driving or operating machinery.

Drug Interactions

Valerian can cause undesired effects when taken with the following medicines. Always talk to your doctor about your medical history before taking this supplement.

  • Valerian if taken with or after consuming alcohol can cause excessive sleepiness and drowsiness because of the synergistic action of the two.
  • With sedatives such as benzodiazepines, it can increase drowsiness
  • With CNS depressants such as Phenobarbital, thiopental, morphine, and others
  • Alprazolam (Xanax) slows down metabolism by the liver when taken along with valerian. A combination of both these medicines can increase drowsiness. Xanax is used to treat anxiety and panic attacks.

Dosage

For insomnia, valerian is advised to be taken about 30 minutes to 2 hours before going to bed. It is advised in the following doses depending on the severity.

  • 400 to 900 mg before bedtime for 4 to 6 weeks
  • 120 mg with 80 mg of lemon balm extract thrice a day for one month