||Valerian Root (English)|
Valerianae radix (Pharmacopeial)
Valerian root relieves anxiety and nervousness-related chronic and periodic
insomnia. Herbalists have understood the mildly sedating, sleep-enhancing
properties of valerian for centuries, and also recommend its use for mild
stomach pains, headaches, and menstrual pain. Currently, the FDA is considering
the approval of valerian root as an OTC sleep aid.
This three-to-five-foot herbaceous perennial has erect grooved, hollow stems
that are hairy at the base and branch out toward the top. Dark green leaves grow
in four to eight pairs from each stem; simple, pinnately lobed, and opposite,
with hairy leaf veins on underside. Small fragrant flowers are white, lavender,
or pink with three stamens and bloom in June in four-inch-wide panicles.
Ornamental and medicinal, this perennial grows wild in damp, elevated locations.
Rhizomes, roots, and occasional stolons are sources of the crude drug.
Superior preparations are light brown with a faint scent; darker, more pungent
scents are considered inferior. The rhizome is one to two inches tall, ovoid,
cylindrical, and light grayish-brown; with a "dirty sock" smell when dried.
Darker offshoots of multiple joints with coarse longitudinal wrinkles grow from
the rhizome. Stolons are gnarled and also light grayish-brown. Fresh root tastes
sweet, spicy, and bitter. Soils rich in minerals grow healthier roots and
provide stronger tinctures. These roots have sweeter taste and reduced
"dirty sock" smell.
The rhizome contains 0.8% to 1% iridoid valepotriates, 80% to 90% of which
occur as valtrates (didrovaltrate, isovaltrate) and other iridoids. Many of
these preparations no longer contain all of these constituents.
Rhizome hypodermis contains 0.3% to 0.8% volatile oil, which consists of
monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes, which occur mostly as esters, including 0.1% to
.03% valerenic (sometimes called valeric) as well as acetoxyvalerenic acids in
medicinal valerian, as well as bornyl isovalerate, bornyl acetate, and bornyl
formate. Valerian also contains alkaloids—including
actinidine, valerine, and valerianine—and polyphenolic
acids (caffeic and chlorogenic acids), tannins, gum, and resin.
Aqueous, aqueous-alcohol, and glycerite extracts, which are standardized to
contain 0.8% valerenic acid content, are available in liquid, tablet, or capsule
form. Nonstandardized dried-root material is available cut and sifted (for tea)
or in capsules. Valeriana officinalis is the species most frequently used
in the United States, often compounded with other sedative herbs (passionflower,
hops, lemon balm, kava) to enhance relaxation and provide mild sedation.
Traditional: sedative, mild hypnotic, carminative, antispasmodic,
bactericide, anodyne (pain relief), nervine
Conditions: insomnia, nervousness, stress-related anxiety, migraine, stomach
or intestinal cramps, hysteria, exhaustion, and abdominal, pelvic, or menstrual
Clinical applications: insomnia, anxiety, stress, fever, convulsions,
neuralgia, spastic muscles, night leg cramps
The whole root drug is mildly sedating and reduces smooth muscle spasms.
Actions may be due to increased concentrations of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)
in the synaptic cleft; increased GABA concentrations may decrease CNS activity,
result in sedation, and reduce anxiety. Components in valerian extracts
apparently decrease GABA catabolism, inhibit GABA uptake and release (secondary
to a reversal of the Na+ and Ca2+-independent GABA carrier
release of [3H]GABA), and trigger peripheral nervous system spasmolytic effects.
Individual components of volatile oil and iridoids depress the central
nervous system, reduce smooth muscle spasms in laboratory animals, with positive
inotropic/negative chronotropic effects on coronary smooth muscle, and reduce
arrhythmia and convulsion.
In human studies, valerian enhances sleep, reduces nighttime sleep
disturbances, and improves overall sleep quality (in geriatric sleep-disturbed
patients, nonelderly chronic insomniacs, and periodic insomniacs) and mood.
Although clinical trials are not yet conclusive, early results suggest that
valerian can be as effective as benzodiazepines for sleep disorders, without
benzodiazepine "hangover" or addiction risk.
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
To reduce nervousness, anxiety, or headache or menstrual pain, any of the
following forms and dosages may be used. Dosages repeated three times a day will
also reduce sleeplessness. To relieve insomnia, patients must take a dosage at
least 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. For chronic insomnia, allow two weeks of
continued use to achieve optimum therapeutic effect, then continue use for
another two to four weeks.
- 2 to 3 g dried root in tea, up to several times daily
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (1 to 3 ml) tincture, up to
several times daily
- 1/4 tsp. (1 to 2 ml) fluid extract (1:1)
- 150 to 300 mg valerian extract, dried or liquid, standardized to
contain 0.8% valerenic acid, 1% to 1.5%
Valerian is a safe, mild, herbal medicine. The German Commission E lists no
side effects. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) rates valerian
class 1 (safe when used appropriately). Mild gastrointestinal upset infrequently
reported. Reports that chronic use (longer than two to four months) causes
insomnia are controversial. Some individuals develop a "paradoxical reaction" of
nervousness and excitability with valerian (rare).
Valerian has not posed risks to fetuses or breast-fed newborns, but all
pregnant and lactating women should consult with a professional when considering
taking any herb.
Valepotriates, valtrate, didrovaltrate, dihydrovaltrate, and isovaltrate have
cytotoxic and mutagenic properties in vitro on specific cultured tumor cells and
strains of bacteria. In humans, the degradation of these substances into
baldrinals and possible polymers are believed to form nonmutagenic metabolites.
Although the specific risks to human stomach, liver, and intestines have not
been proven, species with high valepotriate content (e.g., Mexican and Indian
valerian) are not recommended, and valerenic acid preparations, such as V.
officinalis, are advised.
While no clinically significant interactions between this herb and
conventional medications are known to have been reported in the literature to
date, including the German Commission E monograph (Blumenthal 1998), valerian
does possess sedative properties; therefore, it should be used with caution, if
at all, in patients taking benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or other medications
with sedative potential.
|Regulatory and Compendial
Valerian is considered a dietary supplement and generally recognized as a
safe food additive in the United States. It is awaiting FDA approval as an
over-the-counter sleep aid. Valerian is approved in Germany by the German
Commission E to treat nervous restlessness and sleeping disorders and in Canada
as a sedative and spasmolytic.
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Copyright © 2000 Integrative Medicine
CommunicationsThis publication contains
information relating to general principles
of medical care that should not in any event be construed as specific
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