Valerian: HerbDay, May 2016


HerbDay is a fairly new celebration that officially began in 2006 and is now celebrated on the first Saturday of May each year. The goal of HerbDay as stated on

HerbDay is a coordinated series of independently produced, public, educational events that celebrate the importance of herbs and herbalism. HerbDay was conceived of by the HerbDay Coalition, a group of five nonprofit organizations that have interest in these areas, to raise awareness of the significance of herbs and the many ways they can be used safely and creatively for health, beauty, and culinary enjoyment. Greater familiarity with herbs will increase informed use of herbal products and build public support for maintaining personal choice in the use of botanicals.

In honor of HerbDay, I wanted to write a new herbal highlight, but I didn’t really have anything specific in mind. Then, I had a few conversations with family and friends who were having a difficult time sleeping. Maybe it’s because the days are getting longer, and perhaps we’re coming out of hibernation, but we still need 8 hours of sleep! That’s not always easy, even if we have the time.

Valerian is one of the most useful herbs for sleep. More than 30 studies have been published on the benefits of valerian for insomnia, anxiety and various mood disorders. Most studies show that valerian helps people fall asleep faster, stay asleep and wake up without feeling groggy. It is often combined with other calming herbs like hops, lemon balm and passionflower, to enhance the beneficial effects and to disguise its unpleasant odor.

Over 120 phytochemicals have been identified in this complex herb. It is believed that certain chemicals in the plant increase the amount of GABA in the brain, a chemical that tells our body to sleep. However, scientists don’t actually understand how valerian works, and more studies need to be done.

Valerian is also recommended as a natural approach for dealing with anxiety and nervousness. It has been approved by Germany’s Commission E as a sedative and is used widely in Europe for anxiety, excitability, insomnia and even to relieve muscle spasms and menstrual cramps.

In the US, the FDA lists valerian as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). There are no known side effects, but it is recommended to avoid it if you are also taking pharmaceutical drugs that are broken down by the liver, sedatives, certain antidepressants, alcohol, statins, antihistamines and some antifungal drugs. If you are on any prescription medications, it’s always important to let your physician know if you want to add herbal supplements.

The standard dosage of dry powdered extract (4:1 ratio) is 250 to 600 mg, or look for supplements standardized to 0.5 percent essential oil. I avoid the tea and even the tincture because valerian tastes terrible! Valerian works best for insomnia if taken about 1 hour before bedtime. For mild cases of anxiety, it is generally recommended to take 120 to 200 mg, 3 to 4 times per day. However, do not take it along with anti-anxiety drugs, and always speak to your doctor first.

If you’re not taking any other medications, and you’re having a hard time sleeping, you might want to give valerian a try. Studies suggest that most people need to take the correct dose for at least 2 weeks and possibly 4 weeks to obtain the best results. Although valerian does not appear to cause dependence or withdrawal issues, most herbalists suggest taking it for a limited time, about 1 to 6 months. 

Learn more about valerian from these great resources:

University of Maryland. Valerian.

A Field Guide to Herbal Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Information Bureau.

Herb Wisdom. Valerian.

Tierra, M. (1998). The Way of Herbs. New York: Pocket Books

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™