Valerian is a perennial that produces clusters of pink or white flowers in the summer and grows up to 5 feet tall.1 It is native to Asia and Europe, has naturalized in northeastern America, and is extensively cultivated in Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Eastern Europe, Japan, and the United States.2,3 There are over 250 species of the genus Valeriana.4 In the United States and Europe, V. officinalis is the most commonly used and studied species.
The derivation of the genus name, Valeriana, is unclear. It may have been named for the German physician and botanist Valerius Cordus (15151544).5 Others believe that the name is derived from the Latin word valere meaning “to be in health.” Prior to the 9th or 10th century CE, the plant known as valerian was variously called phu, fu, amantilla, setwall (or setewale), thericaria, marinella, genicularis, and terdina.5
Some modern popular writers have confused the anti-anxiety drug Valium® (diazepam) as being derived from valerian, but it is not. There is no connection between the two, except for the phonetic similarity.
History and Cultural Significance
Valerian has a long history of medicinal use dating back to the era of the Greek physicians Hippocrates (circa 460-377 BCE) and Dioscorides (1st century CE) who prescribed it as a sleep aid.6 Galen (circa 130-200 CE), physician to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, prescribed it for insomnia.6 Among the ancient classical authors it was also recorded as a diuretic and a menstrual flow stimulator.7 Valerian was used to treat nervousness, trembling, headaches, and heart palpitations in the 16th century.5 In England during World War II, valerian was used to relieve the stress caused by air raids.5
Some folklorists attribute valerian as being the agent used by the fabled Pied Piper of Hamelin in ridding the German town of Hamelin of its rats. Animal studies testing valerian on rats have shown anxiolytic (reduction of anxiety, agitation, and tension) effects.8,9
In the United States, valerian is used extensively as a dietary supplement in the form of alcoholic tinctures, infusions (teas), and as a crude-root, powdered and dried extract in capsules and tablets. Often, valerian is combined with other herbs traditionally known to promote sleep such as hops (Humulus lupulus, Cannabaceae), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata, Passifloraceae), and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis, Lamiaceae).10
The United States Pharmacopeia provides dietary supplement quality standards monographs for valerian root, powdered valerian root extract, and valerian tablets that contain powdered valerian root extract.11 Valerian standards were published in the national pharmacopeias of Austria, France, Great Britain, Hungary, and Russia, among others.10 Most of these have been superseded by the European Pharmacopoeia, which provides pharmaceutical product quality standards monographs for valerian tincture, dry hydroalcoholic extract, and dry root.12
In 1985 the German Commission E approved the internal use of valerian for restlessness and sleeping disorders based on nervous conditions.6 The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP), a non-official group of scientists in Europe, notes that valerian is used for “tenseness, restlessness, and irritability, with difficulty in falling asleep.”13 For the purposes of drug licensing, the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) permits indications for “relief of mild nervous tension and sleep disorders.”14 Further, Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) also recognizes valerian’s sedative actions.15
A growing number of clinical trials have shown various types of valerian preparations to be useful in reducing anxiety,16-20 as well as for improving sleep quality and decreasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.21-42 In 2 clinical trials, valerian (taken the evening before) did not significantly influence alertness, reaction time, concentration, driving, or operating of heavy machinery,43,44 despite such cautions by EMEA. Additional clinical trials have been conducted on a fixed combination of a valerian extract (500 mg; extract strength not specified) with an extract of another popular traditional sedative herb, hops (120 mg; extract strength not specified), demonstrating improved quality and length of sleep and ease of falling asleep.45-47
Mass-market sales of valerian equaled $2,947,351 in the United States in 2007; this statistic represents only about 15% of the total herbal dietary supplement market in the United States.48 Most of the valerian marketed in the United States is from cultivated sources.49 Currently, there is a strong demand for certified organic material.
- Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
- Bradley P. British Herbal Compendium. Vol. 1. Dorset, UK: British Herbal Medicine Association; 1992.
- Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: Medpharm GmbH Scientific Publishers; 2004.
- Valerian. Tang Center for Herbal Medicine and Research. 2003. Available at: http://tangcenter.uchicago.edu/herbal_resources/valerian. shtml. Accessed October 19, 2005.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. 2. New York: Dover Books; 1971.
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
- Foster S. Valerian. Botanical Booklet Series – 13. American Botanical Council. Available at: http://www.herbalgram.org/default. asp?c=valerian. Accessed October 21, 2005.
- Hattesohl M, Fiestel B, Sievers H, et al. Extracts of Valeriana officinalis L. s.l. show anxiolytic and antidepressant effects but neither sedative nor myorelaxant properties. Phytomedicine. January 2008;15(1-2):2-15.
- Peeters E, Driessen B, Steegmans R, Henot D, Geers R. Effect of supplemental tryptophan, vitamin E, and a herbal product on responses by pigs to vibration. J Anim Sci. August 2004:82(8):2410-2420.
- Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, Wollschlaeger B, eds. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
- Valerian. United States Pharmacopeia 31 National Formulary 26. 2007. Rockville, MD: United States Pharmacopeia.
- Valerian Root, Valerian Tincture, Valerian Dry Hydroalcoholic Extract. European Pharmacopoeia 6th ed. Stuttgart: Deutscher Apotheke Verlag; 2008.
- European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy. ESCOP Monographs. 2nd ed. New York: Thieme New York; 2003.
- Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) European Medicines Agency (EMEA). Final Community Herbal Monograph on Valeriana officinalis L., Radix. London, UK: European Medicines Evaluation Agency; 2006.
- Natural Health Products Directorate, Valerian. In: NHPD Compendium of Monographs. Ottawa, Ontario: Health Canada Natural Health Products Directorate; 2007.
- Bourin M, Bougerol T, Guitton B, Broutin E. A combination of plant extracts in the treatment of outpatients with adjustment disorder with anxious mood: controlled study versus placebo. Fundamental & Clin Pharmacol. 1997;11:127-132.
- Sousa M, Pacheco P, Roldao V. Double-blind comparative study of the efficacy and safety of Valdispert® vs. clobazapam. KaliChemie Medical Research and Information. 1992.
- Kohnen R, Oswald W. The effects of valerian, propranolol, and their combination on activation, performance, and mood of healthy volunteers under social stress conditions. Pharmacopsychiatry 1988;21:447-448.
- Panijel M. Treatment of moderately severe anxiety states [in German]. Therapiewoche 1985;35:4659-4668.
- Boeters U. Treatment of control disorders of the autonomic nervous system with valepotriate (Valmane). Munch Med Wochenschr. 1969;111:1873-1876.
- Balderer G, Borbely A. Effect of valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacology. 1985;87:406-409.
- Chauffard F, Heck E, Leathwood P. Detection of mild sedative effects: valerian and sleep in man. Experimentia. 1982;37:622.
- Dressing H, Kohler S, Muller W. Improvement in sleep quality with a high dose valerian-melissa preparation. Psychopharmacotherapy 1996;3:123-130.
- Donath F, Quispes S, Diefenbach K, et al. Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2000;33:47-53.
- Dorn M. Efficacy and tolerability of Baldrian versus oxazepam in non-organic and non-psychiatric insomniacs: a randomized, double-blind, clinical, comparative study [in German]. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2000;7(2):79-84.
- Dressing H, Riemann D. Insomnia: are Valeriana/Melissa combinations of equal value to benzodiazepine? [in German]. Therapiewoche. 1992;42:726-736.
- Francis AJ, Dempster RJ. Effect of valerian, Valeriana edulis, on sleep difficulties in children with intellectual deficits: randomized trial. Phytomedicine. 2000;9(4):273-279.
- Gessner B, Klasser M. Studies on the effect of Harmonicum Much® on sleep using polygraphic EEG recordings. EEG EMG Z Elecktroenzephalogr Verwandte Geb. 1984;15:45-51.
- Jansen W. Double-blind study with baldrisedon [in German]. Therapiewoche. 1977;27:2779-2786.
- Kamm-Kohl A, Jansen W, Brockmann P. Moderne Baldriantherapie gegen nervosa storungen im senium. Med Welt. 1984;35:1450-1454.
- Leathwood P, Chauffard F. Aqueous extract of valerian reduces latency to fall asleep in man. Planta Med. 1985;144-148.
- Leathwood P, Chauffard F. Quantifying the effects of mild sedatives [review]. J Psych Res. 1982;17:115-122.
- Leathwood P, Chauffard F, Heck E, Munoz-Box R. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L. ) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1982;17:65-71.
- Lindahl O, Lindwall L. Double blind study of a valerian preparation. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1989;32:1065-1066.
- Orth-Wagner S, Ressin W, Griederich I. Phytosedative for sleeping disorders containing extracts from valerian root, hop grains and balm leaves [in German]. Z Phytother. 1995;16:147-152,155-156.
- Rodenbeck A, Simen S, Cohrs S, et al. Alterations of the sleep stage structure as a feature of GABAergic effects of a valerian-hop preparation in patients with psychophysiological insomnia. Somnolgie. 1998;2:26-31.
- Schellenberg R, Schwartz A, Schellenberg V, Jahing L. Quantitative EEG-monitoring and psychometric evaluation of the therapeutic efficacy of Biral N in psychosomatic diseases. Naturamed. 1994;4:9.
- Schmidt-Voigt J. Treatment of nervous sleep disorders and unrest with a sedative of purely vegetable origin [in German]. Therapiewoche. 1986;36:663-667.
- Schmitz M, Jackel M. Comparative study for assessing quality of life of patients with exogenous sleep disorders (temporary sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders) treated with a hops-valerian preparation and a benzodiazepine drug [in German]. Wien Med Wochenschr. 1998;148:291-298.
- Schulz H, Stolz C, Mueller J. The effect of valerian extract on sleep polygraphy in poor sleepers: a pilot study. Pharmacopsychiatry. 1994;27:147-151.
- Vorbach E, Gortelmayer R, Bruning J. Treatment of insomnia: efficacy and tolerance of a valerian extract [in German]. Psychopharmakother. 1996;3:109-115.
- Ziegler G, Ploch M, Miettinen-Baumann A, Collet W. Efficacy and tolerability of valerian extract LI 156 compared with oxazepam in the treatment of non-organic insomnia—a randomized, double-blind, comparative clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 2002;7(11):480-486.
- Kuhlmann J, Berger W, Podzuweit H, Schmidt U. The influence of valerian treatment on “reaction time, alertness and concentration” in volunteers. Pharmacopsychiatry. 1999;32:235-241.
- Albrecht M, Bergner W, Laux P, Martin C. Psychopharmaceuticals and traffic safety: the influence of Euvegal® forte sugar-coated tablets on driving ability and combination effects with alcohol. Zeitschrift fur Allgemein Medizin. 1995;71:1215-1225.
- Lataster MJ, Brattström A. The treatment of patients with sleep disorders: efficacy of tolerance of valerian-hop tablets. Notabene Medici. 1996;4:182-185.
- Fussel A, Wolf A, Brattström A. Effect of a fixed valerian-hop extract combination (Ze 9109) on sleep polygraphy in patients with non-organic insomnia: a pilot study. Eur J Med Res. 2000;5:385-390.
- Vonderheid-guth B, Todorova A, Brattström A, Dimpfel W. Pharmacodynamic effects of valerian and hops extract combination (Ze 9109) on the quantitative-topographical EEG in healthy volunteers. Eur J Med Res. 2000;5:139-144.
- Cavaliere C, Rea P, Blumenthal M. Herbal supplement sales in United States show growth in all channels. HerbalGram. 2008;78:60
- Valerian. In: Superb Herbs: 10 Medicinal Herbs with Economic Promise. The North Carolina Arboretum. 2005. Available at: http://www.ncarboretum.org/Superb_Herbs/valerian.html. Accessed on October 21, 2005.