Valerian (Valeriana officinalisin the valerian family of botanical plants. Since medieval times, this herb is highly esteemed and called "all heal." The fragrance is rather unpleasant for most people but when mixed with other more pleasant-smelling oils, one tolerates it. One can use it in very small amounts, too much can dull the senses. The fragrance is that of "dirty socks." Valerian essential oil is produced by steam distillation of the roots of the plant and today comes from Belgium, Croatia, and France. 

Valerian is also known by various folk names: Amantilla, Fragrant Valerian, St. George's Herb, English Valerian, Set Well, Capon's Trailer, Sets Wale, Cat's Valerian, Phu, Bloody Butcher, All-Heal, and Vandal Root. 

Historical Uses

Traditionally, in Europe, it is used for cholera, epilepsy and for skin complaints. In China, it was used for backache, colds, menstrual problems, bruises, and sores. Hildegard of Bingen used it to treat pleurisy and gout in the 12th century. There is a reference to the use of valerian as a medicinal herb as far back as the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates wrote of its therapeutic uses and, in the 2nd century, Galen prescribed valerian for insomnia. The 16th century saw it used to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations. In the mid-19th century, many people considered valerian a stimulant which caused a few of the same complaints it was thought to treat and hold it in low regard.

During World War II the English used it to relieve the stress of air raids. Through the ages, it has been used for insomnia, migraines, dysmenorrhea, intestinal colic, rheumatism, backaches, colds, and menstrual problems. 

Valerian essential oil has sedative and tranquilizing properties to the central nervous system. It is useful in insomnia and anxiety. It has a calming, relaxing, grounding and emotionally balancing effect. Valerian essential oil can be applied neat (undiluted) on the body, can be directly inhaled, diffused or taken as a dietary supplement. It mixes well with eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, wintergreen, juniper, tea tree, pine, patchouli, petitgrain, and cedarwood. As for safety, valerian essential oil is non-toxic, non-irritating, possibly sensitizing for some individuals. 

VALERIAN ROOT

The primary components used for medicinal purposes are the roots, rhizomes (underground stems) and stolon (horizontal stems). Normally harvested in September, the dried roots can be used to brew teas and tinctures, while the dried plant materials generally find their way into capsules or tablets. Unlike many other natural herbal sleep aids, to gain the benefits of the effects of valerian, it should be taken regularly, with the full effects coming slowly and steadily over time. 

Valerian root has long been used as a sleep herb. It has been used as a natural remedy for nervousness and anxiety since the time of ancient Rome. Valerian root was mentioned by Pliny the Elder (ancient Rome) as a cure for nervousness, while other Greek and Roman physicians used it to cure insomnia and to treat coughs and asthma. The calming effects of valerian were appreciated by European soldiers and civilians during World War I. They used it to treat "overwrought nerves" attributed to artillery shelling. Valerian was part of the United States Pharmacopeia until 1942, and part of the National Formulary until 1950. It is still part of many official pharmacopeias in Europe today and is widely used there as a sedative. Its medicinal benefits have also been confirmed by modern scientific research. 

Results will normally appear after about a month and regular use promotes natural sleep and deep relaxation. Several studies suggest valerian as by far the best natural solution for insomnia and general sleeplessness for many individuals. 

Research

Research at the Nestlé Research Laboratories in Switzerland showed that a 450 mg dose of valerian root in an aqueous extract is the optimum dose as an insomnia treatment. A larger dose ordinarily results in grogginess without any increase in effectiveness, and therefore care ought to be exercised when taking that valerian is a treatment for insomnia. Also, a double-blind crossover study of 128 individuals undertaken in 1982, found valerian root to not only be effective as a sedative for insomnia but helpful in increasing the overall quality of sleep in the participants. 

Typically prescribed as a calming sleep aid, valerian root also plays a helpful part in taking care of anxiety-related sleeping difficulties. Unlike other commonly prescribed sleep medicines, valerian is not toxic, does not impair your ability to drive or operate heavy machinery and does not exaggerate the effects of alcohol.

Valerian root benefits several aspects of sleep called sleep parameters.

Researchers use these sleep parameters to assess the overall quality of someone's sleep. Some of the sleep parameters that are improved with valerian are: 

  • It decreases "sleep latency". Sleep latency is how long it takes to get to sleep after turning out the lights. Valerian shortens the time it takes to get to sleep.
  • It lengthens the "final wake time after sleep". If you go to bed at a certain time, valerian root lengthens how long you stay in bed. Another way of saying it is it extends the time until you finally wake up and get up. This is a measure of how long you sleep from lights out to finally getting up in the morning. Or put simply valerian increases how long you sleep.
  • Valerian decreases how frequentlyou wakat night
  • Valeriadecreases nighttime motor activity or how restless you are during sleep. Valerian has muscle-relaxing effects and decreases movement in bed at night.
  • Valerian improves the quality of sleepJust because you sleep eight hours doesn't mean that you're getting healthy sleep. Researchers evaluate the health of sleep by looking at what is called your sleep structure. These factors are all part of a healthy sleep structure.

The German Commission E approved Valerian as a calmative and sleep-promoting agent, finding it "useful in the treatment of unrest and anxiety-produced sleep disturbances." 

Various professional herbalists recommend using fresh valerian root extract rather than an extract of dried valerian, as this is less likely to induce such a reaction.

SUMMARY OF USES

Possibly Effective for:

Inability to sleep (insomnia)

Although some conflicting research exists, most studies show that taking valerian can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep by about 15 to 20 minutes. Valerian also seems to improve sleep quality. Doses of 400-900 mg of valerian extract taken up to 2 hours before bed seem to work best. Continuous use for several days, even up to four weeks, maybe needed before an effect is noticeable. 

Some studies show that valerian can help improve sleep when combined with other herbs, including hops and lemon balm. Taking valerian might also improve the sleep quality of people who are withdrawing from the use of sleeping pills. However, some research suggests that valerian does not relieve insomnia as fast as "sleeping pills."

Menopausal symptoms.

Research shows that taking 675-1060 mg of valerian root daily for 8 weeks can reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes in postmenopausal women.

Insufficient Evidence for:  

Psychiatric side effects due to medications for HIV

Efavirenz is a medication that is used to treat HIV infection. People taking efavirenz may experience psychiatric side effects. Early research shows that taking valerian root every night for 4 weeks can improve sleep quality and anxiety in people taking efavirenz. But it doesn't seem to prevent psychosis or thoughts of suicide.

Psychiatric side effects due to medications for HIV

Efavirenz is a medication that is used to treat HIV infection. People taking efavirenz may experience psychiatric side effects. Early research shows that taking valerian root every night for 4 weeks can improve sleep quality and anxiety in people taking efavirenz. But it doesn't seem to prevent psychosis or thoughts of suicide.

Anxiety

There is contradictory evidence about the effectiveness of valerian for anxiety. Some early research shows that taking valerian may reduce anxiety. However, other studies have shown no effect. The conflicting results may be due to differences in doses used or the type/severity of anxiety being treated. 

Depression

Early research suggests that taking valerian plus St. John's wort improves symptoms of depression. Taking higher doses of valerian (1000 mg) with St. John's wort improves depression symptoms faster than low doses (500 mg). 

Menstrual Disorders

Early research suggests that taking 255 mg of valerian three times daily for two menstrual cycles reduces pain and the need for other pain relievers during menstruation. 

Premenstrual disorders (PMS)

Taking valerian root extract seems to reduce the emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms associated with PMS when started on the 21st day of the menstrual cycle and continued for 7 days. 

Restlessness

Early research suggests that taking one or two tablets of a specific combination product, providing 160 mg of valerian root extract and 80 mg of lemon balm leaf extract once or twice daily might reduce symptoms of serious restlessness (dyssomnia) in children under the age of 12.

Stress

Early research suggests that taking 600 mg of valerian for days before a mental stress test reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of pressure when under stress. Other research found that taking 100 mg of valerian before speaking in front of an audience reduces feelings of anxiety. Another study found that taking a single dose of a combination product containing 360 mg of valerian and 240 mg of lemon balm might lower anxiety caused by stress. But the combination seems to increase anxiety when taken in larger doses of 1080 mg of valerian and 720 mg of lemon balm. 

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of valerian for these uses. 

Side Effects

One of the most common complaints of those taking sleep aides is a groggy feeling the next morning. When researchers compared valerian with the sleep drug flunitrazepam, those who took valerian felt more alert, more active and feeling better the next morning, compared to those who took the sleep drug. Overall, valerian has been shown to have the benefits of prescriptive sleep medications with virtually no side effects. According to researchers, "valerian, by itself or in combination with other compounds, has sedative effects comparable to those seen with benzodiazepines.

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 In conclusion, the main benefit is that valerian extract works on the brain and body systems to calm them and help the brain produce sleep. Studies are also supporting the long tradition of using the herb to address anxiety, stress and other related issues. This not only helps reduce the effects of those issues on the body but again provides the secondary benefit of helping a person sleep better as they are not kept awake by the effects of anxiety or stress.