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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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