Valerian: Everything You Need To Know

Valerian: Everything You Need To Know


  1. What is Valerian?
  2. Effects of Valerian
  3. How To Use Valerian?
  4. The History Of Damiana
  5. Possible Side effects

What is Valerian?

For centuries, Valerian has been used as the herbal sleep aid of choice. Valerian calms the nervous system and relaxes the mind, making it an ideal herb to induce and maintain sleep.

Valerian is a perennial plant native to areas of Europe and Asia. It grows up to 1.2 meters in height and produces clusters of sweet smelling trumpet shaped flowers. The roots are used for medicinal purposes and can be used both fresh and dried. When dried, the roots produce a strong odor, somewhat reminiscent of sweaty socks.

Valerian has been used medicinally since the times of Ancient Rome, where it was used to treat anxiety, tension headaches, digestive problems and sleeping disorders. Still today, valerian is used as a herbal sedative for the same ailments. Scientific research into Valerian has confirmed that it can reduce anxiety and produce drowsiness (aiding sleep); although the actual chemical compounds behind these effects are still not fully understood. The effects of valerian are likely to be the result of a synergistic interaction among all the chemical compounds, rather than the result of one single chemical. Valerian has been shown to increase the body’s supply of GABA neurotransmitters, although the mechanism by which this is achieved is unknown.

Effects of Valerian

Effects of Valerian

Valerian is a mildly sedative herb with calming and relaxing properties. The effects of Valerian are subtle, but highly effective. The name Valerian comes from the latin word valere, which means to be strong and healthy.

The most common use for Valerian is as a sleep aid. Sleep disorders are generally divided into two groups; those with sleep-onset problems („difficulty of falling asleep“), and those with sleep-maintenance issues („difficulty to stay asleep“). Onset and maintenance problems can appear together or separate, depending on the individual circumstances. However, valerian is commonly used for both types of sleep disorders, as it improves both sleep onset and duration. While sleep disorders can be linked to a range of other issues, such as alcohol abuse, caffeine related overstimulation, depression or sleep apnea, the herbal approach is based on sedative herbs such as valerian, passionflower and California poppy. Particularly to ease sleep-maintenance issues, valerian is often combined with St. John’s Wort to further improve the quality of sleep, as well as help brighten the mood.

The non-addictive and safe nature of Valerian has made it a very popular and easy to use herbal remedy for those who get anxious in social situations, or just generally need to ease up. Valerian is often used in combination with other herbs that will bring out a particular aspect. For example, it is not uncommon for Valerian to be combined with Skullcap, as these two herbs produce a good synergy to ease tension and calm the mind.

The antispasmodic qualities of valerian are often used for mild pain relief, to help deal with menstrual cramps, irritable bowel syndrome and rheumatic aches.

It is worth noting, that although one of the main effects of Valerian is to act as a sedative, for a small group of people it actually has the opposite effect, and acts as a stimulant. For this reason, if you are taking Valerian for its sedative effects, it is good practice to try out a small amount the first time, just to see how your body interacts with it.

How to use Valerian

How to use Valerian

Depending on what Valerian is used for, the dosage and frequency of use can be adjusted. To ease anxiety and relieve tension, smaller doses can be taken throughout the day. As a sleep aid, a cup of tea or a few drop of tincture can be taken shortly before bedtime.

There are a number of ways to take Valerian - in capsule, tincture or tea. When using cut root, it’s easiest to prepare a tea, although making your own tincture isn’t difficult either.

Valerian tea

Often, herbal teas are brewed with boiling or near boiling water. While these temperatures are acceptable for many herbs, the active constituents of valerian will be destroyed by hot water. It is not uncommon for people to have tried a valerian tea without any effects. Therefore, it is crucial to prepare a valerian tea with cold water.

The active range of dried valerian root is between 5 - 10 grams, depending on your weight and constitution. Experiment with a small dose and increase as needed. To prepare a tea, soak the root in a cup with cold water for as long as possible. Ideally, start the soak in the morning and use the tea in the evening, effectively soaking the herb for 12 hours. A shorter soak will also work, but it will be weaker. The absolute minimum is 15 minutes, the longer the stronger. Strain before use.

Valeriana officinalis

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Valerian tincture

Valerian is also highly effective in tincture form. A tincture is an alcohol extract that can be mixed with water or applied straight under the tongue. Making a tincture is easy; just fill a glass jar with the herb and add enough grain ethanol or Vodka (40% minimum) to cover. Put on the cap and shake once a day. After 4 weeks filter out the herb and fill the liquid into a bottle.

It is also possible to take the dried root of Valerian as it is. Since it’s not the best tasting herb it’s easier to grind it into a powder and fill capsules with it. Our capsule machines work perfectly for this.

History of Valerian

History of Valerian

Valerian has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal effects. The earliest recorded reference has been found in texts dating back to 460 B.C. in which its unpleasant smell was described as “phu”.

During the age of Hippocrates, and the birth of Western Medicine, Valerian was used as a common treatment for a variety of ailments, all of which tended to focus around problems with either the urinary or digestive tract – although it was viewed by many as a cure-all and general health booster.

Before it was commonly known as Valerian, this herb was traditionally known as Nard. Although the origin of its name is still debated, it is general consensus that it is derived from the Latin word meaning “good health”. However, other believe it got its name due to the frequency of its use for medical purposes by Valarius, a politician of the era.

Valerian has also gone by another name in centuries past. Known as Amantilla by the Anglo-Saxons, it was often used as a sedative and social calmer. Old recipes describe giving aggressive or fighting men in order to create instant peace. Although used for this practical reason, Valerian was also commonly used as a spice, and a frequent ingredient in salads.

This calming effect of Valerian has also been harnessed throughout recent history right up to present day. For example, it was often given to soldiers during World War I in order to calm nerves and anxiety. Today the use of Valerian is seen much in the same light it always has been. As a sedative, social calmer and a potential fix for cramps and problems in the gut.

Possible Side effects

Possible Side effects

Valerian is not considered toxic or dangerous at recommended dosage. There is also no evidence of unfavorable outcomes if used during pregnancy.

However, if you are considering using Valerian and have a pre-existing condition, or are pregnant, then seek the advice of a medical professional first.

Due to the sedative effects of Valerian, vehicles and heavy machinery should not be operated when under its influence.

It is rare, but for some the sedating compounds of Valerian actually act as a stimulant, so a small dose should be taken on the first use to see how the body reacts to it.

There have been instances where stomach irritation, headaches and other minor adverse effects have been reported. However, no clinical trial has ever found solid evidence of such side effects, and they are often resulting from other factors. This would indicate that Valerian could potentially interact with other medication adversely, however, this is also something that has yet to be proven, with no clinical trials finding any significant interactions.