What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), a tall perennial Herb with pinkish flowers has long been enlisted to help restless insomniacs get a sound night's sleep. In medicinal use for at least 2000 years, the plant has been used to ease insomnia, stress-related anxiety, and nervous restlessness. Today, this mild, non-addictive sedative is still quite popular as a sleep aid and as an anxiety fighter, particularly in Germany, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. And in recent years its popularity has also grown enormously in the United States; however, scientific evidence in this area is still limited. Research is now beginning to confirm the scientific validity of valerian for these uses, with most evidence focused on its use as a sleep aid.

The graceful valerian plant grows wild in North America, Europe, and Asia. Its underground stems and roots are harvested and used fresh or dried to make healing preparations. Valerian also is commonly added to formulas that contain other calming herbs, such as passionflower, hops, lemon balm, and skullcap.

Health Benefits

Although there has long been controversy over what makes valerian so effective as a relaxant, it is increasingly accepted that this herb does, in fact, work as the ancients once claimed it did. In addition to promoting sound sleep, valerian has a reputation for easing anxiety and relaxing tense muscles. It may also have a role to play in relieving digestive conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Specifically, valerian may help to:

  • Improve sleep. In the brain, at least some of the components of valerian are thought to effect levels of a Neurotransmitter (nerve signaling substance) called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). By increasing GABA levels, the herb seems to shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve the quality of sleep that results. And, unlike some of the more commonly prescribed sleep medications, valerian is not addictive. Nor does it cause morning grogginess or impaired mental function when taken at recommended doses as some prescription drugs do. In addition, some of valerian’s other constituents that do not bind to GABA receptors also seem to produce sedative effects. In studies to date, the whole root compound has been more effective than any identified individual components. Valerian, therefore, may be useful in improving sleep in healthy patients, insomniacs, and in patients who have trouble sleeping as a result of other medical conditions, such as ADHD in children, fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome.

    Initial studies on subjects who did not have insomnia showed extracts of valerian root improved the subjective ratings for sleep quality and sleep latency (the time required to go to sleep) and left no “hangover” in the morning. (1) In one early study, the effects of valerian on sleep were studied in two groups of 18 healthy young subjects, one of which slept at home and the other in a sleep laboratory. Under home conditions, each of two doses (450 and 900 mg) of an aqueous valerian extract reduced perceived sleep latency and re-awake time after sleep onset. In the sleep laboratory, where only the higher dose of valerian was tested, no significant differences from placebo were obtained. However, the direction of the changes in the subjective and objective measures of sleep latency and wake time after sleep onset, as well as in night-time motor activity, corresponded to that observed under home conditions. The results suggested that the valerian extract exerts a mild sedative effect. (2)

    Since these preliminary studies evaluating the efficacy of valerian to improve sleep quality in normal subjects, more than 100 double-blind clinical studies have substantiated its ability to also improve sleep in insomniacs. Numerous studies of insomniacs have shown that those who take valerian fall asleep faster than participants given a Placebo. The quality of sleep improves as well, according to several studies. In a 1989 placebo-controlled trial of 27 people with insomnia, Swedish researchers found that 89% of those who were given a valerian preparation reported improved sleep, with 44% rating their sleep as "perfect." (3)  In a 2000 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study of 16 insomniacs who received either short-term (single doses) or long-term (14 days with multiple doses) treatment of a valerian extract, no significant changes were reported after single doses of valerian. But after multiple-dose treatment, valerian seemed to improve sleep latency and sleep quality – an increase in REM sleep was reported in these subjects. (4) However, a 2006 review and meta-analysis of 16 eligible studies involving a total of 1093 subjects found the valerian doses, preparations and length of treatment varied considerably and most studies had methodologic problems. Future studies assessing the range of doses of standardized preparations and standard measures of sleep quality are needed. (5) Thus far, the greatest benefit has been seen in patients using 400 to 900 mg valerian extract up to two hours before bedtime. (1, 6) Some research suggests valerian may be as effective as some conventional medications. In a 2000 randomized, double-blind study comparing the effects of valerian and the benzodiazepine oxazepam, 75 patients aged 18 to 70 years and diagnosed with non-organic insomnia (insomnia caused by another medical condition) or nonpsychiatric insomnia, received either 600 mg of valerian extract or 10 mg of oxazepam 30 minutes before going to bed nightly for 28 nights. In both groups, all measures of sleep quality improved significantly, but there was no statistically significant difference between groups, indicating valerian was as effective as the conventional drug. (7) In 2002, another study confirmed these findings. In this well-designed double-blind trial, 202 patients aged 18 to 73 years and diagnosed with non-organic insomnia received either 600 mg of valerian extract or 10 mg of oxazepam for six weeks. After six weeks of treatment, valerian seemed to be as efficacious as the oxazepam. Both treatments markedly increased sleep quality and resulted in similar effects in other symptoms, such as feeling of refreshment after sleep, psychic stability in the evening, psychic exhaustion in the evening, psychosomatic symptoms in the sleep phase, dream recall, and duration of sleep. When assessing their treatments, nearly 83 percent of patients in the valerian group and 73 percent in the oxazepam group reported treatment as very good. (8) However, the study noted valerian did not relieve insomnia as quickly as oxazepam. Continuous nightly use for several days to four weeks might be needed for significant effect. And a 2003 double-blind, randomized, crossover, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of single doses of temazepam (15 and 30 mg), diphenhydramine (50 and 75 mg), and valerian (400 and 800 mg) in 14 healthy elderly volunteers found valerian was not as effective as temazepam or diphenhydramine for causing sedation in elderly people. (9)

    Valerian also has been shown to improve the sleep quality of insomniacs who are withdrawing from chronic benzodiazepine (e.g. Valium, Xanax) use. In a 2002 study of patients with insomnia who complained of poor sleep despite long-term use (an average of seven years) of benzodiazepines, subjects given valerian extract after a washout of benzodiazepines reported significantly better subjective sleep quality, less wake time after sleep onset, and longer sleep latency than those who received placebo. (10) And valerian has been shown to be effective in intellectually impaired children. (11)
  • Reduce nervous tension, anxiety, and restlessness. German health authorities endorse the use of valerian for restlessness and sleeping disorders that are caused specifically by nervous conditions. In fact, anyone who suffers from stress, panic attacks, or other nervous conditions may benefit from valerian.

    Valerian is thought to lessen anxiety because in blocking brain receptors for the Neurotransmitter GABA, it also inhibits nerve impulses and stress-related messages from reaching the brain.  However, scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of valerian in reducing anxiety has been conflicting. Some evidence shows that taking valerian orally reduces self-reported stress in social anxiety. In a 2002 United Kingdom study involving 54 healthy volunteers who took a standardized color/word mental stress test on two occasions one week apart, blood pressure and heart rate were assessed at rest and during testing. Following the first session, subjects who had taken a standard dose of either kava or valerian had decreased systolic blood pressure with no significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure, and heart rates decreased in the valerian group during the second test. The results indicate valerian may be beneficial in reducing physiological reactivity during stressful situations. (12)

    Conversely, another preliminary study found no significant difference in anxiety scores in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) compared to placebo. In this 2002 study involving 36 patients with GAD, patients underwent a 2-week medication washout period and then were randomly assigned to receive either valerian extract, diazepam (Valium), or placebo treatment for four weeks. Although no statistically significant difference was observed among the three groups at baseline or in the change from baseline on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A) – possibly because of a small sample size in each group – there was some evidence of benefit nonetheless. Specifically, only the diazepam and valerian groups showed a significant reduction in the psychic factor of the HAM-A. (13) But in 2005, the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine in San Francisco conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial evaluating the use of valerian in 1,551 participants with anxiety and insomnia and found the herb did not improve symptoms better than placebo. The patients were assigned to one of three treatments, either kava with placebo valerian, valerian with placebo kava, or double placebo. Patients receiving double placebo showed a decrease in anxiety and insomnia;, however, neither kava nor valerian relieved anxiety or insomnia more than placebo. (14) Further, a 2006 Cochrane Database review investigating the effectiveness and safety of valerian for treating anxiety disorders found only the 2002 trial of 36 patients eligible for inclusion in the review. This limited evidence restricts the ability to draw conclusions about the efficacy or safety of valerian compared to placebo for treatment of anxiety. Further randomized, controlled trials with larger sample sizes comparing valerian to placebo or conventional medications are needed. (15)

  • Lessen stomach cramps and improve digestive system disorders. Animal testing and clinical research indicates that valerian has antispasmodic properties. Several studies in rabbits and guinea pigs indicate the antispasmodic properties of valerian seem to inhibit spontaneous muscle contractions induced by low or high amounts of potassium. (16-18) This may explain why it's valuable for countering spasms of the muscle tissue in the digestive tract and easing the intestinal pain that frequently accompanies irritable bowel syndrome. The herb's calming effect may also contribute to healing; after all, many digestive disorders are provoked by stress. However, scientific research in this area has been limited to animals. More research is needed to determine efficacy in humans.


  • Tincture
  • liquid extract
  • tablet
  • softgel
  • dried herb/tea infusion
  • capsule
  • bath

Dosage Information

Special tips:

  • A freeze-dried extract may be the most effective form of the herb. Many herbalists believe that when an herb is freshly picked, it contains the highest quality and quantity of healing properties. Companies that freeze dry their products do so immediately after harvesting to ensure maximum freshness.

  • Valerian is available as a single supplement or in combination with other herbs and nutritional supplements.

    For insomnia: As a first-time user, take one low dose 30-60 minutes before bedtime with a dose earlier in the evening, if necessary. The dose can safely be increased to the maximum per dose level (usually in proportion to body weight) depending on how much valerian you find that you need. Most people, however, discover that higher doses do not confer any extra benefit.

    For anxiety: Take one low dose two or three times a day and increase to the maximum as needed.

     Guidelines for Use

  • An unpleasant smell develops as valerian dries; take the herb in capsule form if the odor bothers you. If you're using a liquid extract diluted in water, try making it more palatable by adding some honey or sugar.

  • If you choose a standardized product, make sure it contains 0.8% valeric (or valerenic) acid. Although often hard to confirm, it's best to use products made with roots that were recently harvested and dried at a low temperature.

  • For insomnia, valerian works best when you rotate its use with other sleep-inducing herbs, such as chamomile, hops, passionflower, or melissa (also called lemon balm). It's safe to take valerian with St. John's wort, an herb that can ease the depression associated with insomnia in many cases If using valerian during the day, start at a low dose (400 mg once a day), and assess how drowsy the herb makes you feel. Then gradually increase your intake to the recommended dose of 400-450 mg two or three times a day once you feel comfortable with the herb's effect on your system. 

    Store valerian in a cool, dark place.
  • General Interaction

  • To avoid excessive drowsiness or possibly other complications, don't take valerian with any muscle relaxants (carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine), narcotic pain relievers (codeine, hydrocodone), prescription sleep medications, tranquilizers, or other drugs that can make you sleepy (including certain antihistamines).

    Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealthMD Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

  • Possible Side Effects

  • For most people, valerian causes no side effects when taken at recommended doses. Some people do experience drowsiness or a certain lack of alertness if they take the herb during the day, however. Test your reaction to it before driving or operating machinery.

  • Extremely large doses may cause dizziness, restlessness, blurry vision, nausea, excitability, and/or grogginess upon awakening. A case of valerian overdose was reported in 1995: taking approximately 20 times the recommended therapeutic dose of valerian root (18 to 24 grams) produced mild symptoms. Luckily, these symptoms resolved within 24 hours.

  • Cautions

  • No studies on valerian have lasted more than 30 days; so long-term safety has not been established.

  • After taking valerian, wait at least three hours before driving, operating heavy machinery, or undertaking any other potentially hazardous task that requires you to be alert.

  • Don't take valerian if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

  • Valerian may interact with certain anesthetic agents. If you’re planning surgery, stop taking it at least two weeks before, and if you need emergency surgery, be sure to tell the anesthesia and surgical staff that you are taking it.

  • Children 3-12 should only use valerian under medical supervision.

  • References

    1. Leathwood P, 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.
    2. Balderer G, Borbely AA. Effect of valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1985;87:406-9.
    3. Lindahl O, Lindwall L. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1989 Apr;32(4):1065-6.
    4. Donath F, Quispe S, Diefenbach K, et al. Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2000 Mar;33(2):47-53.
    5. Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, et al. Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2006 Dec;119(12):1005-12.
    6. Leathwood PD, Chauffard F. Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Med. 1985 Apr;(2):144-8.
    7. Dorn M. [Efficacy and tolerability of Baldrian versus oxazepam in non-organic and non-psychiatric insomniacs: a randomised, double-blind, clinical, comparative study.] Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2000;7:79-84.
    8. Ziegler G, Ploch M, Miettinen-Baumann A, Collet W. Efficacy and tolerability of valerian extract LI 156 compared with oxazepam in the treatment of non-organic insomnia – a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 2002 Nov 25;7(11):480-6.
    9. Glass JR, Sproule BA, Herrmann N, et al. Acute pharmacological effects of temazepam, diphenhydramine, and valerian in healthy elderly subjects. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2003;23:260-8.
    10. Poyares DR, Guilleminault C, Ohayon MM, Tufik S. Can valerian improve the sleep of insomniacs after benzodiazepine withdrawal? Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2002;26:539-45.
    11. Francis AJ, Dempster RJ. Effect of valerian, Valeriana edulis, on sleep difficulties in children with intellectual deficits: randomised trials. Phytomedicine. 2002;9:273-9.
    12. Cropley M, Cave Z, Ellis J, Middleton RW. Effect of kava and valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions. Phytother Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):23-7.
    13. Andreatini R, Sartori VA, Seabra ML, Leite JR. Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. Phytother Res. 2002;16:650-4.
    14. Jacobs BP, Bent S, Tice JA, et al. An internet-based randomized, placebo-controlled trial of kava and valerian for anxiety and insomnia. Medicine (Baltimore). 2005 Jul;84(4):197-207.
    15. Miyasaka LS, Atallah AN, Soares BG. Valerian for anxiety disorders. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD004515.
    16. Circosta C, De Pasquale R, Samperi S, et al. Biological and analytical characterization of two extracts from Valeriana officinalis. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Jun 13;112(2):361-7. Epub 2007 Mar 20.
    17. Gilani AH, Khan AU, Jabeen Q, et al. Antispasmodic and blood pressure lowering effects of Valeriana wallichii are mediated through K+ channel activation. J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Sep 14;100(3):347-52.
    18. Hazelhoff B, Malingré TM, Meijer DK. Antispasmodic effects of valeriana compounds: an in-vivo and in-vitro study on the guinea pig ileum. Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther. 1982 Jun;257(2):274-87.

    Evidence Based Rating Scale 

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.










    Date Published: 04/19/2005
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