Valerian Root: The Sleepy Time Herb

I write a lot about herbal supplements, mostly for clients. Obviously I can’t try every supplement I write about, but one I have used myself is Valerian root. I use it for sleep, but I’m told it’s also good for stress and anxiety.

What is Valerian Root?

Valerian is a perennial plant that has a long history of use as an herbal remedy. Ancient Greeks used it to treat digestive problems. Valerian has also been used for centuries as a nervous system tonic and a sleep aid.

The active ingredients in Valerian root are valerenic acid and isovaleric acid, which is produced as the plant ages. Both compounds are volatile oils said to work by relaxing the central nervous system and promoting sleep. Double blind studies suggest Valerian root may decrease the amount of time it takes for people with mild insomnia to fall asleep.

Valerian root is a sedative, so it is also used to treat anxiety and stress. Some people find it helpful for muscle aches and tension headaches because it acts as a muscle relaxant.

Valerian Root Side Effects and Dosage

Valerian root has few side effects. It doesn’t cause the grogginess you might get from a prescription sleep aid or even some over the counter remedies. You can take it in capsules, tablets, tinctures or liquid extracts.

The maximum recommended intake of Valerian is 15 grams of plant material, which is usually about 15 to 20 drops of tincture several times daily or 450 to 500 mg of concentrated, standardized extract. Standardized extracts should contain between .5 % and 1% volatile oils.

You can also make Valerian tea by steeping 1 teaspoon of the dried root in a cup of hot water for ten minutes. There are time-release formulas of Valerian you can use for a sustained feeling of relaxation throughout the day. If you take Valerian for sleep, take it an hour or so before bedtime.

Of course, you should use this herb conservatively. If you have serious anxiety or insomnia, you may need to talk to your doctor, especially if you’re already on any kind of prescription medication.

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