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Valerian

By

Laura Shane-McWhorter

, PharmD, University of Utah College of Pharmacy

Last full review/revision Jan 2022| Content last modified Jan 2022
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION

What is valerian?

Valerian is a perennial plant that grows wild in grasslands throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. The plant’s dried root contains valepotriates, which may have calming effects. Powdered valerian root is available in capsule, tablet, and tea form.

What claims are made about valerian?

People take valerian mostly as a sedative and sleep aid, especially in parts of Europe.

Some people take valerian for headaches, depression, irregular heartbeat, and trembling. It is usually used for short periods of time (2 to 6 weeks).

Does valerian work?

Studies have suggested that valerian improves sleep quality and shortens the time needed to fall asleep. For example, in one study, menopausal women with difficulty sleeping had better sleep quality when taking valerian. However, whether valerian is effective for insomnia is still not proven.

There is not enough scientific evidence to determine whether valerian is effective for headaches, depression, irregular heartbeat, and trembling. There is now interest in studying valerian to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, and one study suggests that valerian has some effects that counteract obsessive and compulsive tendencies.

What are the possible side effects of valerian?

Studies suggest that it is generally safe to give valerian at the usual doses. People who are driving or doing other activities requiring alertness should not take it.

Valerian is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or children under the age of 3.

Withdrawal symptoms with long-term use have included tachycardia, irritability, and anxiety.

Liver toxicity has occurred.

What drug interactions occur with valerian?

Valerian may prolong the effect of other sedatives (such as barbiturates), central nervous system depressants (such as benzodiazepines), sedating supplements (such as kava or melatonin), or alcohol when it is taken with them and affect driving or other activities requiring alertness.

Recommendations

Evidence on whether valerian is helpful for sleep problems is inconsistent, but due to the limited side effects and possible benefit, it may be worth trying for people looking to enhance their sleep quality. It should be stopped 2 weeks before surgery because of its possible additive sedation when given with anesthetics.

Valerian is generally considered safe for most people. However, pregnant or breastfeeding women and children under the age of 3 should not take valerian.

People who are driving or doing other activities that require alertness should not take valerian.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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