ALTERNATIVE DOCTOR, LLC

        

Home Up Chinese Medicine Conditions Drug Interactions Health Care Directory Alt Med Books Hormone Replacement Articles FAQs Health Resources Supplements Therapies Natural Products Medical Terms Site Map About Us The MAY Foundation

VALERIAN

Valerian eases insomnia, stress-related anxiety, and nervous restlessness. It may also ease menstrual and stomach cramps, and some types of headache. Its main use, however, is to help people sleep.

Doctors, researchers, and herbalists recommend valerian for the treatment of sleep problems because it is both safe and gentle. Unlike sleeping aids you may have already tried, valerian will not cause you to feel tired when you wake up, and it has few, if any, side effects.

Plant Description

Valerian products are made from the root of a tall, wispy plant, which is grown to decorate gardens but also grows wild in damp grasslands. Its umbrella-like heads top grooved, erect, and hollow stems. Its dark green leaves are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. Small, sweet-smelling white, light purple, or pink flowers bloom in June. The root is light grayish brown and smells like dirty socks.

What's It Made Of?

The manufacture of medicinal valerian products begins with pressed fresh root or powdered freeze-dried root (frozen below 400°C). Valerian pressed-root juice added to alcohol or glycerite (sweet, nonalcohol liquid) bases become fluid extracts or tinctures; powdered root goes into capsules and tablets. While we don't know all the plant chemicals that cause valerian's activity, valerenic acid and bornyl in its plant essential oils have important roles.

Available Forms

Valerian fluid extracts and tinctures are sold in alcohol or alcohol-free (glycerite) bases. Powdered valerian capsules or tablets are also available, and you can also find valerian tea.

Valerian products are commonly added to formulas that contain other calming herbs, such as passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hops (Humulus lupulus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), and, more recently, kava (Piper methysticum). If you are new to herbal therapy, it's a good idea to use valerian without any other herbs. If your provider has recommended valerian to you, it is most likely because he or she feels valerian is the most specific remedy for your condition.

How to Take It

When you buy valerian, look for labels that say the product is standardized to contain .8 percent valerenic, or valeric, acid. Standardization is the only way to guarantee any level of quality control in an herbal product.

To reduce nervousness, anxiety, or headache or menstrual pain, you may use any of the following. Dosages repeated three times a day will also help you sleep better.

 

bullet2 to 3 g dried root in tea, up to several times daily
bullet1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (1 to 3 ml) tincture up to several times daily
bullet1/4 tsp. (1 to 2 ml) fluid extract (1:1)
bullet150 to 300 mg valerian extract, dried or liquid, standardized to contain 0.8 percent valerenic acid, 1 percent to 1.5 percent valtrate

 

To get to sleep quicker, take one of the dosages at least 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. If your insomnia has been long-term, it may take two weeks before you notice an effect. When you notice a change, continue to take valerian for two to four more weeks. A total of four to six weeks is usually the length of treatment advised by herbalists.

After six weeks, take a two-week break to see how you sleep without valerian. If you still have difficulty sleeping, start another four-to-six week course of treatment, or talk with your health care provider about other herbal medicines that may be helpful.

Precautions

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) gives valerian a class 1 safety rating, which indicates that it is a very safe herb with a wide dosage range. Even so, it is always wise to follow the recommended dosage exactly.

If you are pregnant, you should consult with your physician before taking any medication, including herbs.

Some people have a "paradoxical reaction" to valerian. This means that instead of feeling calm or sleepy, they suddenly feel nervous and anxious after they take valerian. If this happens to you, stop taking valerian, and tell your health care provider. This reaction is rare and not life-threatening.

Possible Interactions

Valerian is a sedative herb that may increase the effects of alcohol and medications for anxiety and insomnia. Do not take valerian with alcohol or sedative medications.

Supporting Research

Andreatini R, Leite J. Effect of valepotriates on the behavior of rats in the elevated plus-maze during diazepam withdrawal. Eur J Pharmacol. 1994;260:233–235.

Balderer G, Borbely AA. Effect of valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacol. 1985;87:406–409.

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 1998.

Blumenthal M, Riggins C. Popular Herbs in the U.S. Market: Therapeutic Monographs. Austin, Tex: The American Botanical Council; 1997.

Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. 2nd ed. Sandy, Ore: Eclectic Medical; 1998:133-134.

Brown D. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1996.

DeSmet PAGM,ed. Adverse Effects of Herbal Drugs. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag; 1997:3.

Diefenbach K, et al. Valerian effects on microstructure of sleep in insomniacs. (2nd Congress of the European Assoc. for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Berlin, Germany, Sept. 17-20.) Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1997;52 (suppl):A169.

D’Arcy PF. Adverse reactions and interactions with herbal medicines. Part 2—Drug interactions. Adverse Drug React Toxicol Rev. 1993;12(3):147–162.

Hendriks H, Bos R, Woerdenbag HJ, et al. Central nervous depressant activity of valerenic acid in the mouse. Planta Med. 1985;1:28–31.

Hiller K-O, Zetler G. Neuropharmacological studies on ethanol extracts of Valeriana officinalis L.: behavioral and anticonvulsant properties. Phyto Ther. 1996;10:145–151.

Hobbs C. The Herbal Prescriber. Santa Cruz, Calif. Botanica Press; 1995.

Kowalchik C, Hylton W, eds. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press; 1998:495–496.

Leathwood PD. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1982;17:65–71.

Leung A, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons; 1996.

Leuschner J, Muller J, Rudmann M. Characterization of the central nervous depressant activity of a commercially available valerian root extract. Arzneim-Forsch. 1993;43:638–641.

Lindahl O, Lindwall L. Double-blind study of a valerian preparation. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1989;32:1065–1066.

Lindahl O, Lindwall L. Double–blind study of valopotriates by hairy root cultures of Valeriana officinalis var. sambucifolia. Planta Med. 1992;58:A614.

McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press; 1997:120.

Mennini T, Bernasconi P. In vitro study on the interaction of extracts and pure compounds from Valeriana officianalis roots with GABA, benzodiazepine, and barbiturate receptors. Fitoterapia. 1993;64:291–300.

Murray, MT. The Healing Power of Herbs: The Enlightened Person's Guide to the Wonders of Medicinal Plants. Rocklin, Calif: Prima Publishing; 1995.

Newall CA, Phillipson JD. Interactions of Herbs with Other Medicines. Kings Centre for Pharmacognosy, the School of Pharmacy, University of London. The European Phytojournal. 1998; 1. Available at: www.ex.ac.uk/phytonet/phytojournal.

Petkov V. Plants with hypotensive, antiatheromatous and coronarodilating actions. Am J Chin Med. 1979;7:197–236.

Rasmussen P. A role for phytotherapy in the treatment of benzodiazepine and opiate drug withdrawal. Eur J Herb Med. 1997;3(1):11–21.

Samuelsson G. Drugs of Natural Origin: A Textbook of Pharmacognosy. Stockholm, Sweden: The Swedish Pharmaceutical Press; 1992.

Santos MS. Synaptosomal GABA release as influenced by valerian root extract—involvement of the GABA carrier. Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther. 1994; 327:220–231.

Schultz V, Hansel R, Tyler V. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag; 1998.

Seifert T. Therapeutic effects of valerian in nervous disorders: a field study. Therapeutikon. 1988;2(94).

Schultz H, Stolz C, Muller J. The effect of valerian extract on sleep polygraph in poor sleepers: a pilot study. Pharmacopsychiatry. 1994;27:147–151.

Wagner et al. Comparative studies on the sedative action of valeriana extracts, valepotriates, and their degradation products. Planta Med. 1980;39:358–365.

Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine Communications

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.