Valerian is a perennial plant that is native to Europe and grows up to 2 feet tall. It is grown to decorate gardens, but also grows wild in damp grasslands. Straight, hollow stems are topped by umbrella-like heads. 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 has little odor when fresh.
What's It Made Of?
The root of the plant is used as medicine and is pressed into fresh juice or freeze-dried to form powder.
Valerian fluid extracts and tinctures are sold in alcohol or alcohol-free (glycerite) bases. Powdered valerian is available in capsule and tablet form, and as a tea.
Valerian root has a sharp odor. It is often combined with other calming herbs, including passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), hops (Humulus lupulus), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and kava (Piper methysticum) to mask the scent. However, kava has been associated with liver damage, so avoid it.
How to Take It
Valerian is often standardized to contain 0.3% to 0.8% valerenic or valeric acid, although researchers aren't sure that these are the active ingredients.Pediatric
Preliminary studies suggest that valerian may help improve concentration and impulsiveness among primary school children. DO NOT give valerian to a child without first talking to your doctor.Adult
For insomnia, valerian may be taken 1 to 2 hours before bedtime, or up to 3 times in the course of the day, with the last dose near bedtime. It may take a few weeks before the effects are felt.
- Tea. Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoonful (2 to 3 g) of dried root, steep 5 to 10 minutes.
- Tincture (1:5). 1 to 1 1/2 tsp (4 to 6 mL).
- Fluid extract (1:1). 1/2 to 1 tsp (1 to 2 mL).
- Dry powdered extract (4:1). 250 to 600 mg.
Once sleep improves, keep taking valerian for 2 to 6 weeks.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs can trigger side effects, and can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Valerian is generally regarded as safe. Most studies show no harmful effects on fertility or fetal development, but more research is needed. Experts advise pregnant and nursing women to avoid taking valerian.
Some people may have a paradoxical reaction to valerian, feeling anxious and restless after taking it instead of calm and sleepy.
For most people, valerian does not appear to cause dependency. Nor does it cause withdrawal symptoms for most. But there are a few reports of withdrawal symptoms when valerian has been used over very long periods of time. If you want to stop taking valerian, lower your dose gradually rather than stopping all at once.
Don't use valerian while driving, operating heavy machinery, or doing other things that require you to be alert.
Don't use valerian for longer than 1 month without your health care provider's approval.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not use valerian without talking to your health care provider.Medications broken down by the liver
Valerian may slow down how quickly certain drugs are broken down by the liver. Many medications rely on the liver to break them down, so it's possible that in some cases, too much of these drugs could build up in the body. To be safe, ask your doctor before taking valerian if you are also taking any other medications.Sedatives
Valerian can increase the effect of drugs, including:
- Anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin (Dilantin) and valproic acid (Depakote)
- Benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium)
- Drugs to treat insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata), eszopiclone (Lunesta), and ramelteon (Rozerem)
- Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil)
The same is true of other herbs with a sedating effect, such as chamomile, lemon balm, and catnip.Other drugs
Because valerian is broken down by certain liver enzymes, it may interact with other drugs that are broken down by the same enzymes. These may include many different medications, including but not limited to the following:
- Statins, taken for high cholesterol
- Some antifungal drugs
Valerian may increase the effects of anesthesia. If you are having surgery, it is important to tell your doctors, especially your surgeon and anesthesiologist, that you are taking valerian. The doctors may recommend you slowly lower the dose of valerian before surgery. Or, they may allow you to use valerian up to the time of surgery, making any needed adjustments to the anesthesia.
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