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Valerian Root (<i>Valeriana officinalis</i>)

Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis)

*DISCLAIMER* All information is provided for educational purposes only. No drugs or supplements should be taken without prior advice from your health professional.

What is valerian root?
What is it used for?
What's the best form to use?
How do I use it?

What is valerian root?
An ancient Greek physician called this herb phu (pronounced like "phew!"), and he wasn't kidding. Many people compare the smell of dried valerian root to that of old socks. On the other hand, cats love this herb (it's related to catnip) and so do rodents—legend has it that the Pied Piper used it to lure rats away from the village of Hamelin. Why would people be drawn toward such a smelly substance? Because they've heard it may help them get a good night's sleep. back to top

What is it used for?
Valerian root is an herb that has been used for centuries to promote restful sleep. It's gentler than prescription sleep aids, and when taken in proper doses shouldn't make you feel groggy in the morning. Unlike prescription sleep aids, valerian is supposedly not addictive, unless you take it every night for a long period of time. Even so, herbal experts recommend that people use valerian root only when they really need it and not on a regular basis. If you find that you often have difficulty falling asleep (or staying asleep), it's a good idea to talk with your health care provider about it because this may be a symptom of another problem, such as anxiety or depression.

Valerian root does not have the same effect on everyone. Some people find that valerian root makes them feel very relaxed. Other people find that valerian root produces no effect at all. And in rare cases, valerian can actually pep people up rather than put them to sleep. Some people feel like they have a hangover the morning after taking valerian. back to top

What's the best form to use?
  • Tinctures. Some experts believe that the best form of valerian root is a tincture, a liquid form of the herb that's sold in health-food stores in little medicine bottles with dropper tops. Tincture is absorbed by your body quickly and works the fastest. You'll know for sure that what you've bought is the real thing by its terrible smell and bad taste.
  • Capsules or tablets. If valerian tincture makes you gag, you may find capsules easier to take. They still smell awful, but they may be more convenient.
Whichever form you choose, most experts recommend that you choose a product that's standardized, or guaranteed to contain a certain amount of one of the herb's ingredients. Look for valerian root tincture or capsules that are standardized to contain 0.8 valerenic (or valeric) acid. back to top

How do I use it?
  • Tinctures: A typical dose is one dropperful mixed into a little warm water, taken about half an hour before bedtime. (Hold your nose.) For daytime calming, a typical dose is 10 drops.
  • Capsules. Follow package directions. A typical nighttime dose might be one capsule half an hour before bedtime. back to top
Talk with your health care provider before using valerian root if you have any health condition, take any prescription medications, or have allergies to plants. In rare cases, valerian may cause an allergic reaction: if you experience difficulty breathing; swelling of your lips, tongue, or face; or hives, stop taking the herb and call a health care provider immediately.

Don't take valerian for more than a couple of nights in a row. In rare cases, people who have taken valerian regularly over a long period of time have reported headaches, restlessness, a feeling of uneasiness, irregular heartbeats, and increased problems with sleeping.

Don't take valerian root if you are taking any other sedative drugs (such as antianxiety medications), and never mix it with alcohol. Avoid any products that combine valerian with skullcap because this herb has been associated with liver damage.

Kids ages 12 and younger should take half of the adult dose recommended on valerian packages.

Be sure to tell your doctor or health professional if you are taking any herb or supplement.

The use of herbs is not recommended during pregnancy and breast-feeding except under the guidance of a health professional. back to top

Last Modified Date: 1/24/2001
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