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Valerian (jie cao)

What is valerian?

Valerian is a tall perennial herb found in damp, elevated areas and grasslands. It consists of a long stem (3-5 feet in length) with pointed dark green leaves. It blooms in the summertime, with small, fragrant flowers (white, light purple or pink) that can reach four inches in diameter.

Most of the medicinal properties of valerian are contained in the plant’s root. It is usually available as a powder or extract; some manufacturers also sell valerian teas.

Why do we need valerian? What is it used for?

Valerian has a variety of medicinal uses. In human studies, valerian has been shown to reduce night-time sleep disturbances, ease anxiety, and improve the overall quality of sleep. It may also ease menstrual cramps, stomach cramps, and some types of headaches. Preliminary clinical trials have also shown that valerian is as effective as benzodiazepines in treating sleep disorders without any adverse side-effects.

How much valerian should I take?

Although a standard recommended daily allowance has yet to be determined, most herbalists recommend that patients take valerian three times a day to reduce sleeplessness. To reduce insomnia, it is recommended that patients take a dose of valerian 30-45 minutes before bedtime. Among the recommended doses:

  • 2-3 grams of dried root in tea (take several times daily);

  • 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon of valerian tincture (can take up to several times daily);

  • 1/4 teaspoon extract;

  • 150-300mg valerian extract, dried or liquid

What forms of valerian are available?

Valerian is usually available as a powder, extract or tincture. Some manufacturers also sell valerian teas. It is usually sold as a stand-alone product, but is also found in compounds with other herbal supplements.

What can happen if I take too much valerian? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Valerian is considered safe and mild. The German Commission E has listed no side-effects for valerian, while the American Herbal Products Association has given valerian a class I (safe when used appropriately) rating.

Some people have experienced a "paradoxical reaction" to reaction: instead of feeling calm or sleepy, they may feel nervous and anxious after taking the product. In these cases, it is recommended that you stop taking valerian and speak with your health care provider.

Because valerian is a sedative-type herb, it may increase the effects of anti-anxiety medications or painkillers. It may also react with antiepileptic drugs, and may enhance the effects of other herbs (including kava kava, passionflower, hops, poppy and skullcap).


References

  • Balderer G, Borbely AA. Effect of valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacol 1985;87:406–409.
  • Blumenthal M (ed). The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998.
  • Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 2nd ed. Sandy, Ore: Eclectic Medical, 1998:133-134.
  • Diefenbach K, et al. Valerian effects on microstructure of sleep in insomniacs. (Second Congress of the European Assoc. for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Berlin, Germany, Sept. 17-20). Eur J Clin Pharmacol 1997;52 (suppl):A169.
  • D'Arcy PF. Adverse reactions and interactions with herbal medicines. Part II: drug interactions. Adverse Drug React Toxicol Rev 1993;12(3):147–162.
  • Leathwood PD. Aqueous extract of valerian root (valeriana officinalis l.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1982;17:65–71.
  • Leuschner J, Muller J, Rudmann M. Characterization of the central nervous depressant activity of a commercially available valerian root extract. Arzneim-Forsch 1993;43:638–641.
  • Lindahl O, Lindwall L. Double-blind study of a valerian preparation. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 1989;32:1065–1066.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997:120.
  • Mennini T, Bernasconi P. In vitro study on the interaction of extracts and pure compounds from valeriana officianalis roots with GABA, benzodiazepine, and barbiturate receptors. Fitoterapia 1993;64:291–300.
  • Newall CA, Phillipson JD. Interactions of herbs with other medicines. Kings Centre for Pharmacognosy, the School of Pharmacy, University of London. The European Phytojournal 1998;1.
  • Petkov V. Plants with hypotensive, antiatheromatous and coronarodilating actions. Am J Chin Med 1979;7:197–236.
  • Schultz V, Hansel R, Tyler V. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physician's Guide to Herbal Medicine. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag, 1998.
  • Seifert T. Therapeutic effects of valerian in nervous disorders: a field study. Therapeutikon 1988;2(94).
  • Schultz H, Stolz C, Muller J. The effect of valerian extract on sleep polygraph in poor sleepers: a pilot study. Pharmacopsychiatry 1994;27:147–151.
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