Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has a long history of use as a sedative nervine in Europe, primarily to aid sleep. It is official in the German Pharmacopoeia and licensed as a tea and tincture, and is included in several licensed drugs in Germany. It is the main component in the approved and aptly named, “Sedative Tea.” Due to the unpleasant flavor and aroma of valerian as a dried herb, the tincture is often preferred and frequently mitigated with more pleasant tasting herbs.
Approximately 40% of adults have issues falling or staying asleep and many rely on over-the-counter or prescription medications to sleep. Valerian is considered a reasonably priced alternative without known side effects. With over 500 articles on valerian posted on the PubMed database, it is a highly researched herb. Valerian extract is reported to produce significant improvements in sleep latency and in sleep quality. Other applications include occasional anxiety and restlessness (Ahn, 2016).
Some over-the-counter products are standardized to several “key” constituents, but most herbalists agree, using the whole extract is best. Valerenic acid and other aromatic compounds support the limbic system of the brain and the normal enzyme-induced breakdown of Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The non-volatile valepotriates contribute to the sedative activity of the central nervous system, though this mode of action is not as clearly known.
The Botanical Safety Handbook, published by the American Herbal Products Association, lists Valerian as “Class 1 – Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.”
The Expanded Commission E Monographs, published by the American Botanical Council, provides an extensive summary of Valerian root. The World Health Organization reports there is clinical data to support valerian for a number of uses, including to support healthy sleep and to soothe occasional anxiety and nervous system discomforts (WHO 1999).
Valerian is often combined with other relaxing herbs such as lemon balm, hops, passion flower, and poppy, for their synergistic effects.
James Ahn, et al. Natural Product-Derived Treatments for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Safety, Efficacy, and Therapeutic Potential of Combination. TherapyNeural Plast. 2016; 2016: 1320423.
Olaf Kelber, et al. Valerian: No Evidence for Clinically Relevant Interactions.
Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014; 2014: 879396.
Writer Mindy Green is a founding and professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and an advisory board member to the American Botanical Council, publisher of Herbal Gram Magazine. Ms. Green served on the faculty of the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies (1995-2003). The California School of Herbal Studies is among Mindy’s business ventures as co-owner and a faculty member (1985-1995). She is a nationally certified Registered Aromatherapist and has served on the education committees of the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapists and the Aromatherapy Registration Council. She now runs her own consulting company, Green Scentsations, LLC.
A prolific writer and lecturer, Ms. Green has authored over 60 published articles on herbs, aromatherapy, skin care, holistic health and integrative care. She is co-author of Aromatherapy, A Complete Guide to the Healing Art; author of Calendula and Natural Perfumes, and has contributed to numerous books on herbs and healing. As a botanical-therapies expert, she has been interviewed more than 400 times by leading magazines and newspapers.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or to sell any product.