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Botanical Description & Habitat

Valeriana officinalis


Common names

English valerianGerman valerian
Vandall rootVermont valerian

Found in Europe and Asia, prefering damp places and swamps.

A perennial plant with a hollow, angular, furrowed, pale-green stem. Valerian grows from two to four feet in height. It bears opposite, pinnate leaves having 7 to 25 lanceolate, sharply pointed leaflets. Small, white or pink flowers grow in terminal clusters from June to August. The fruit is a pale brown capsule, oblong-ovate, containing a single seed.

Medicinal parts
Dried rhizome and roots, collected in autumn

Historical Properties & Uses

Valerian root has been used for centuries to calm upset nerves and to treat mood problems, pain, and headache. The primary active components of valerian root, the valepotriates (VP), were discovered in 1966, but subsequent research has provided strong evidence for the existence of other active constituents as well.

Valerian's sedative, hypotensive, and tranquilizing properties affect both physiological and psychological parameters. In animal studies, the herb was sedative, improved coordination, and antagonized the hypnotic effects of alcohol. In humans, valerian root and valepotriates (VP) were strongly sedative. Large doses were no more effective than small or moderate doses, except to extend the duration of the effect. Valerian also had a marked tendency to increase concentration ability and energy levels.

VP sedates and regulates the autonomic nervous system in patients with control disorders. It helps regulate psychosomatic disorders and relieve tension and restlessness. VP and other valerian preparations have direct neurotropic effects on higher centers of the central nervous system. Childhood behavior disorders and learning disabilities are particularly responsive to treatment with valerian root. The herb is powerful against sleep disorders resulting from anxiety, nervousness and exhaustion, headache, and hysteria. In addition, it has been effective in the treatment of tachycardia preceding sleep.

Valerian root and its constituent valepotriates are apparently nontoxic.

Valerian root has approval status by the German Commission E for restlessness and sleeping disorders (e.g. insomnia) based on nervousness. It may be taken internmally, or used in a bath.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

VP Has Central Nervous System Sedative Effects
Using an isolated perfused rat brain preparation, researchers were able to demonstrate definite EEG changes as the result of valepotriates (VP) perfusion. Using VP concentrations of 0.1-100 micro-mol/l in the perfusion medium, a reduction in beta activity was observed together with an increase in the theta and delta frequencies indicative of sedation. A dose-response relationship was not found.

Because VP is lipotropic, labile and quickly metabolized, it is difficult to demonstrate its activity in vivo. This experiment provides some of the best evidence to date on the CNS activity of the substance.

Numerous studies have published clinical observations of the sedative effect in humans of all ages. In most of these studies, VP acts to level upset nervous disorders, including both the physical and the psychological symptoms. That is, it acts as both sedative and tranquilizer. In one clinical study, a tincture of valerian root was given to 23 hypertensive males. The prearation produced a general tranquilizing effect, and a depression of the third order waves on the digital plethysmogram in 18 men on the following day. Thus valerian has an elective neurotropic action on higher brain centers.

One of the main advantages of using VP is that it has no synergy with ethyl alcohol; if ethanol is ingested with conventional tranquilizers, the effects combine to produce potentially very dangerous effects. Valerian is free of that danger.

VP Has A Depressant Effect On Locomotor Activity
In one of the best controlled studies to date, VP in concentrations of 0.1mg/kg injected intravenously, or 0.5 mg/kg administered orally, significantly inhibited locomotor activity in mice. Higher doses did not produce catalepsy, but instead seemed to simply prolong the sedative effect.

These findings accord well with experimental observations VP increases the length of time hyperactive subjects could maintain their concentration. Other animals studies have found this depressant effect.

Valerian Root Extracts Help Overcome The Symptoms Of Insomnia
In one study, a group of 8 volunteers suffering from mild insomnia received a placebo, 450 mg or 900 mg of an aqueous extract of valerian root in a double-blind, repeated measures, random-order design. Subjective sleep ratings were assessed by questionnaire and movements were recorded throughout the night with wrist-worn activity meters. The study found a significant decrease in sleep latency with 450 mg valerian compared to the placebo. The higher dose produced no further improvement in sleep latency.

These results were similar to those of a study involving 128 volunteers in which an aqueous extract of valerian root improved subjective ratings for sleep quality and sleep latency but left no `hangover' the next morning as is often observed with traditional sleeping aids. The improvements were especially marked in people who considered themselves habitually poor sleepers.

In neither of the above studies was a carry over from one night to the next observed. It appeared the valerian preparation effects were confined to the early part of the night. The results of these studies indicate valerian root is at least as effective as small doses of barbiturates and benzodiazepines, without the side effects of the latter substances.

It is important to note water extracts were used. It is often assumed major active constituents of valerian root are the valepotriates, but they are insoluble in water, and preparations used in the above experiments contained only 0.01% valepotriates. In water extracts, at least, some other as yet unidentified components must be the active principles. There are, of course, numerous other clinical studies showing valerian root and its various derivatives help induce sleep in insomniacs and others with sleep difficulties. Valerian root is contained in some well known european sleeping aids, some of which have been proven to be effective.

VP Are Effective In The Treatment Of Behavior Disorders
For about the last 15 years, VP has been used in the treatment of childhood behavior disorders including hyperactivity and learning disabilities.

Experimentally, VP has been shown to increase coordination in mice. In cats, it decreases unrest, anxiety and aggressiveness without decreasing reaction time at all. In patients with poor concentration ability, VP has been able to significantly increase performance on several psychological variables. On the other hand, in patients with strong concentration ability, the substance produce a mild decrease in some variables.

In one study, VP was given to 120 children with a variety of behavioral disorders, including gross nervous restlessness, sleep disorders, headaches, migraines, learning disorders, enuresis, anxiety, and pathological habits such as nail biting and thumbsucking.

The dosage in children under 10 was 100 mg, in older children 150 mg. Length of study was at least 3 weeks in each case. All of the children tolerated the drug very well. There were no allergic reactions or other side effects. Significant deviations from normal in blood and urine tests were not observed. In 74.4% of the cases, very good or good results were obtained on the experimental variables. These results are extraordinary given the lack of toxicity observed. It would make a very good addition to the therapy of childhood behavior problems.

VP Is Effective Against Psychosomatic And Autonomic Disorders
Clinical observations of the last 18-20 years have almost uniformly shown VP and other valerian root preparations appear to stabilize the autonomic nervous system in psychosomatic patients and those with disorders of the autonomic nervous system. The preparations produce a clear increase in performance plus a little sedation however without any hypnotic symptoms. It also possesses the ability to reduce anxiety, sleep disorders, and nervousness. In one study of 70 hospitalized patients with dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system due to various etiologies, VP suppressed and regulated the ANS, and produced a mildly relaxing sedative effects, thus relieving symptoms of restlessness and tension.

VP Has Coronary Dilatory And Hypotensive Properties
The coronary flow of isolated rabbit heart was increased more that 50% by VP. This effect was further studied in experiments on whole cats. It was found in a dose of 10 mg/kg VP increased the coronary blood flow by 30%. Intravenous injection of a valerian infusion has produced distinct hypotension in dogs. Valerian root is included in one German heart tonic to provide inhibition of reflex hypersensitivity and to help maintain neuro-coronary equilibrium. Hypotensive, anticonvulsant and antiarrhythmic properties have been observed in several other studies. VP has been found to prevent appearance of acute coronary insufficiency in experimental animals. Moderate positive inotropic and a negative chronotropic effect has also been observed.

Valerian Root Has Antibiotic Properties
Routine screening tests as well as more specific studies have found valerian root components, alkaloids, and oil have moderate to good antimicrobial activity.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Unlike many other sedative drugs, the depressant action of valerian is not synergistic with alcohol.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

One of the most remarkable aspects of valepotriates (VP) and other valerian preparations is their lack of toxicity, even with prolonged use. Few reports of heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea, or allergic reactions from valerian have been made.

One German extract contains 50% valepotriates (VP).

Neither valerian root nor VP influences blood pressure or other blood and liver parameters. The oral LD50 in rats is 6.8 g/kg. The oral lethal dose has not been determined for cats and dogs. The dosage is extremely high, and that much substance cannot be administered.

Valerian root has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Before bed for insomnia, three times a day for other uses.

Dried rhizome and root
0.25-1 grams

made from 1/8 tsp of dried herb

Fluid extract
1:1 in 60% alcohol, 0.3-1 ml

1:8 in 60% alcohol, 4-8 ml

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

2 - 3 g of herb per cup for an infusion. May be taken once or more times a day.
1 - 3 ml (0.5 - 1 teaspoon) tincture. May be taken once or more times a day.
100 g in a bath for external use.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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Valeriana officinalis

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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