Valerian is a herb that people have used for centuries as a natural treatment for anxiety and sleep disorders.
It has a rather unique history in that it was used to treat soldiers during World War I who had been exposed to constant bombing and were suffering from “shell shock” as a consequence. It has also been used to ease menstrual and stomach cramps.
Valerian comes from the root of the plant, which grows in areas of North America, Europe, and Asia. There are more than 200 known species of valerian, but the Eurasian variety “V. officinalis” is the one people use most often as medicine. Valerian root has a distinctive odor that is known for smelling like sweaty socks!
Research has shown that valerian has a mild calming effect. This effect does not seem to cause any sleepiness problems the next day or any of the other prescription side effects that sedative drugs can cause.
As a natural sleep aid, valerian can help those who have trouble falling asleep and who consider themselves to be poor sleepers. Valerian has also proven to be helpful for those who wake up during the night. For those with chronic insomnia, it may take two to four weeks to notice an improvement in sleep habits.
To research the effectiveness of valerian in treating insomnia naturally, a team searched the AMED and MEDLINE databases using these keywords: herbal medicine, medicinal plants, herbal, Valeriana officinalis, valerian, Humulus lupulus, hops, sleep, and insomnia.
The research team looked for studies that evaluated the efficacy of valerian or hops in improving primary insomnia in adults. In all, 16 studies met the inclusion criteria. Twelve of these found that the use of valerian, on its own, or in combination with hops, was associated with improvements in some sleep parameters (e.g. sleep latency and quality of sleep).
If you want to try taking valerian, it is sold as a dietary supplement, in an extract, powder or liquid form, as a dried herb in tea form, or in pills.
Here’s some health advice: as one of the best natural sleep aids, valerian is most effective if you take it shortly before bedtime. For anxiety, you may take a dose three times or more during the day, including before bedtime. It is best to take valerian in a water-soluble extract form.
Try taking between 300 and 600 milligrams of valerian root supplement before going to bed. People often use valerian in combination with other herbs such as St. John’s wort, passionflower, lemon balm, kava, and hops. Talk to your pharmacist or doctor before trying it.