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Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae) root has been used medicinally for a variety of conditions for several centuries.1 The herb is a perennial plant native to the swampier areas of Europe and the temperate regions of Asia. Valerian has been used primarily to promote sleep and reduce anxiety. The name valerian is from the Latin word valere, which means to be healthy and/or strong.2

Valerian root contains more than 150 identified constituents. Some of these include valepotriates (notably valtrate and dihydrovaltrate) and volatile oils (valeranone, valerenal, and valerenic acid).3 Free amino acids such as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), tyrosine, arginine, and glutamine are also present. Other constituents include ketones, phenols, alkaloids, and noncyclic, monocyclic, and bicyclic hydrocarbons.2 While valepotriates were once considered to be the sole active component, other components such as the metabolism products, the baldrinals, are thought to have therapeutic value. Due to the variation in content and composition as well as breakdown of some constituents, valerian standardization has proven difficult.

In 1989, German researchers found that valerian sedates by binding with benzodiazepine receptors and other receptors in the central nervous system and that the weakness of the bond explains valerian's non-addictive nature.4 Clinical research supports valerian's use to relieve insomnia and improve sleep quality. Dosages of 160 to 450 mg have been shown to effectively shorten wakefulness, reduce night awakenings, improve sleep efficiency, and increase dream recall, without experiencing the hangover caused by some sleep medications.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor


1Reichert RG. Valerian clinical monograph. Quarterly Review of Natural Medicine. Fall 1998:207-215.

2Samaei A, Nobahar M, Hydarinia-Naieni Z, et al. Effect of valerian on cognitive disorders and electroencephalography in hemodialysis patients: a randomized, cross over, double-blind clinical trial. BMC Nephrol. December 2018;19(1):379. doi: 10.1186/s12882-018-1134-8.

3Monograph. Valeriana officinalis. Alt Med Rev. 2004;9(4):438-441.

4Brown D. Valerian: clinical overview. Townsend Letter for Doctors. May 1995:150-151.