Herbs & Botanicals

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Valerian (jie cao)

What is valerian?

Valerian is a tall perennial herb found in damp, elevated areas and grasslands. It consists of a long stem (3-5 feet in length) with pointed dark green leaves. It blooms in the summertime, with small, fragrant flowers (white, light purple or pink) that can reach four inches in diameter.

Most of the medicinal properties of valerian are contained in the plant’s root. It is usually available as a powder or extract; some manufacturers also sell valerian teas.

Why do we need valerian? What is it used for?

Valerian has a variety of medicinal uses. In human studies, valerian has been shown to reduce night-time sleep disturbances, ease anxiety, and improve the overall quality of sleep. It may also ease menstrual cramps, stomach cramps, and some types of headaches. Preliminary clinical trials have also shown that valerian is as effective as benzodiazepines in treating sleep disorders without any adverse side-effects.

How much valerian should I take?

Although a standard recommended daily allowance has yet to be determined, most herbalists recommend that patients take valerian three times a day to reduce sleeplessness. To reduce insomnia, it is recommended that patients take a dose of valerian 30-45 minutes before bedtime. Among the recommended doses:

What forms of valerian are available?

Valerian is usually available as a powder, extract or tincture. Some manufacturers also sell valerian teas. It is usually sold as a stand-alone product, but is also found in compounds with other herbal supplements.

What can happen if I take too much valerian? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Valerian is considered safe and mild. The German Commission E has listed no side-effects for valerian, while the American Herbal Products Association has given valerian a class I (safe when used appropriately) rating.

Some people have experienced a "paradoxical reaction" to reaction: instead of feeling calm or sleepy, they may feel nervous and anxious after taking the product. In these cases, it is recommended that you stop taking valerian and speak with your health care provider.

Because valerian is a sedative-type herb, it may increase the effects of anti-anxiety medications or painkillers. It may also react with antiepileptic drugs, and may enhance the effects of other herbs (including kava kava, passionflower, hops, poppy and skullcap).


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