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Valerian: A Natural Alternative for Insomnia, Anxiety, and Nervous Tension

September 30, 2012

Holistic Living on the Go - by Stephanie Ross
Director of the Complementary and Integrative Therapy Program, Health Sciences Department

Valerian: A Natural Alternative for Insomnia, Anxiety, and Nervous Tension

ValerianWith more than one-third of American adults suffering from impaired sleep, some turn to pharmaceutical drugs as a coping mechanism. Yet, clinical research has demonstrated that many of the common sleep aids are often addictive, sedative drugs with common side effects, and over a period of time actually exacerbate abnormal sleep patterns. For individuals interested in utilizing a natural approach to achieving a good night’s sleep, there is evidence, through scientific and clinical research studies, that support the efficacy of the valerian (Valeriana officinalis), for improving sleep quality without producing side effects.

Valeriana officinalis is a perennial herb native to Europe and Asia and naturalized in North America. Valerian has a long-established history of use both as a mild sedative and as a sleep aid in Western Europe. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) root extract is an approved over-the-counter medicine in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, and France for the treatment of stress and nervous tension, disturbed sleep patterns, and anxiety states. In Germany, the valerian root extract is an approved herbal medicine listed in the German Commission E monographs for its sedative and sleep-promoting activity.

ValerianThe primary active constituents include valerian’s essential oil and its corresponding sesquiterpenes (valerenic acid), the iridoid esters (valepotriates), amino acids (γ -aminobutyric acid [GABA], tyrosine, glutamine), and alkaloids. In pharmacological studies, valepotriate constituents have demonstrated sedative and spasmolytic effects, and the sesquiterpenes and valerenic acid have been shown to cause sedation. Valerenic acid and other constituents of valerian have been found to be GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter) agonists.

NOTE: Valerian is contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation and in children younger than 3 years. Although valerian does not appear to cause residual morning sleepiness, it should not be taken before driving or operating machinery because it may impair judgment. Valerian should not be taken with alcohol and sedative drugs, because it may potentiate the overall effect.


Ross SM. Sleep disorders a single dose administration of valerian/hops fluid extract (dormeasan) is found to be effective in improving sleep. Holist Nurs Pract 2009;23(4):253–256.