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Valerian: uses, dosage & background

Siski Green / 19 January 2021

Valerian is a mild sedative and sleep aid, used in light to moderate insomnia and mild anxiety.

Valerian plant
Valerian has traditionally been used as a sleep aid

This pale purple flowering plant – Valeriana officinalis – grows naturally in Europe and Asia. It’s commonly grown in gardens, but also can be kept as a house plant.

What is valerian used for?

Valerian is used to promote sleep and reduce anxiety. It’s also taken to relieve symptoms of menopause.

What’s the history of valerian?

The latin name valerian stems from the Latin verb valere, which means to be strong and healthy, and it has been used since ancient times as a medicinal herb. It has been described in ancient Greek texts and since then the root or root extract has been used to treat insomnia and anxiety too.

What’s the best way to take valerian?

Valerian is available in supplement, tea, liquid extract form and also as a part of herbal mixtures. To treat anxiety or insomnia you can take between 120 to 200mg a day, three times a day.

Does valerian really work?

While there is a strong traditional use of valerian as a sedative efforts to prove its efficacy have proven difficult. It has been shown to interact with a chemical messenger in the brain – gamma-aminobutyric acid – and this in turn may have an impact on your nervous system.

Valerian also contains other substances that may dampen activity in the amygdala, where stressful emotions are processed, and this would obviously help reduce anxiety and promote sleep. However exactly how and by how much would provide benefits in terms of insomnia or anxiety is uncertain. Some studies have shown no more effect than a placebo while others have shown mild benefits, so it’s not possible to make a definitive statement on how effective it is.

One study of menopausal women did find a reduction in hot flush severity and frequency. This was over a period of two months with 765mg of valerian daily. 

Where can I get valerian?

Valerian supplements, extracts are available from healthfood stores, online and in chemists.

How long does valerian take to work?

If effective, you can expect to see changes within eight weeks.

What are the side effects of taking valerian?

If taken for a short period of time (less than two months) few side effects are reported. But you may experience dry mouth, upset stomach, and/or more vivid dreams.

Are there any contraindications when taking valerian?

Check with your GP if you are taking anti-depressants or medications to help with insomnia, anticonvulsants, statins, antihistamines or any other medications that may cause sleepiness as a side effect.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.