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Valerian (herb)

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Valerian (herb)

Valerian (plant)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Dipsacales
Family: Caprifoliaceae
Genus: Valeriana
Species: V. officinalis
Binomial name
Valeriana officinalis

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Caprifoliaceae) is a perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer months. Valerian flower extracts were used as a perfume in the sixteenth century.

Native to Europe and parts of Asia, valerian has been introduced into North America. It is consumed as food by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species including Grey Pug.

Other names used for this plant include garden valerian (to distinguish it from other Valeriana species), garden heliotrope (although not related to Heliotropium) and all-heal (which is also used for plants in the genus Stachys). Red valerian, often grown in gardens, is also sometimes referred to as "valerian", but is a different species (Centranthus ruber) from the same family and not very closely related.

Valerian, in pharmacology and herbal medicine, is the name of a herb or dietary supplement prepared from roots of the plant. Crude extract of the root is often sold in the form of capsules. Valerian root has sedative and anxiolytic effects. It can also be classified as a drug, since its consumption produces a sedative or medicinal effect, while it is not exclusively a type of food. These effects are suspected to be mediated through the GABA receptor.[1] The amino acid valine is named after this plant.


  • History 1
  • Etymology 2
  • Valerian extract 3
    • Biochemical composition 3.1
    • Mechanism of action 3.2
    • Preparation 3.3
    • Medicinal use 3.4
    • Regulation 3.5
    • Oral forms, usage and adverse effects 3.6
      • Oral forms 3.6.1
      • Dosage 3.6.2
      • Adverse effects 3.6.3
  • Effect on other organisms 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


19th-century illustration of Valeriana officinalis
Close up of valerian foliage

Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates described its properties, and Galen later prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. In medieval Sweden, it was sometimes placed in the wedding clothes of the groom to ward off the "envy" of the elves.[2] In the sixteenth century the Anabaptist reformer Pilgram Marpeck prescribed valerian tea for a sick woman.[3]


The name of the herb is derived from the personal name Valeria and the Latin verb valere (to be strong, healthy).[4][5]

Valerian extract

Biochemical composition

Known compounds detected in valerian that may contribute to its method of action are:

Mechanism of action

Because of valerian's historical use as a sedative, antiseptic, anticonvulsant, migraine treatment and pain reliever, most basic science research has been directed at the interaction of valerian constituents with the GABA neurotransmitter receptor system. Many studies remain inconclusive and all require clinical validation. The mechanism of action of valerian in general, and as a mild sedative in particular, has not been fully elucidated. However, it is generally believed that some of the GABA-analogs, particularly valerenic acids as components of the essential oil along with other semi-volatile sesquiterpenoids, appear to have some affinity for the GABAA receptor, a class of receptors on which benzodiazepines are known to act.[15][16] Valeric acid, which is responsible for the typical odor of mostly older valerian roots, does not have any sedative properties.

Valerian also contains isovaltrate, which has been shown to be an inverse agonist for adenosine A1 receptor sites. This action likely does not contribute to the herb's sedative effects, which would be expected from an agonist, rather than an inverse agonist, at this particular binding site. Hydrophilic extractions of the herb commonly sold over-the-counter, however, probably do not contain significant amounts of isovaltrate.[17] Valerenic acid in Valerian stimulates serotonin receptors as a partial agonist.[18]


Valeriana officinalis

The chief constituent of valerian is a yellowish-green to brownish-yellow oil which is present in the dried root, varying from 0.5 to 2.0 percent, though an average yield rarely exceeds 0.8 percent. This variation in quantity is partly explained by location; a dry, stony soil yields a root richer in oil than one that is moist and fertile.[19] The volatile oils that form the active ingredient are extremely pungent, somewhat reminiscent of well-matured cheese. Though some people remain partial to the earthy scent, some may find it to be unpleasant, comparing the odor to that of unwashed feet.[20] Valerian tea should not be prepared with boiling water, as this may drive off the lighter oils.

Medicinal use

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) essential oil

Valerian is most often used to treat insomnia. It can be considered an alternative treatment for hypnotic drugs. It is also sometimes used as an alternative for sedatives, such as benzodiazepines in the treatment of certain anxiety disorders.[21][22][23][24] Whether or not valerian is an efficacious treatment for insomnia is still a very open question. Multiple recent systematic reviews of the medical research literature and meta-analyses have produced conflicting conclusions regarding the efficacy of the substance. One systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2006 in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that "The available evidence suggests that valerian might improve sleep quality without producing side effects."[25] An article in the Medical Science Monitor states that, “...based on cellular and animal studies as well as human clinical trials the literature supports a role for these preparations [including valerian root] as useful alternatives in the management of the stress and anxiety of everyday life.”[26] However, another systematic review, published in 2007 in the journal Sleep Medicine Review, concluded that valerian was safe but not clinically efficacious for insomnia.[27]


In the United States, valerian extracts are sold as a nutritional supplement under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.

Oral forms, usage and adverse effects

Oral forms

Oral forms are available in both standardized and unstandardized forms. Standardized products may be preferable considering the wide variation of the chemicals in the dried root, as noted above. When standardized, it is done so as a percentage of valerenic acid or valeric acid.


Dosage is difficult to determine, due to the lack of standardization and variability in available forms. The United States Government's National Institutes of Health report that doses of 400–900 mg taken from 30 minutes to two hours before bed, or a lesser dose when combined with certain other supplements, have been researched.[28]

Adverse effects

Few adverse events attributable to valerian have been reported.[21] Large doses may result in stomach ache, apathy, and a feeling of mental dullness or mild depression. Because of the herb's tranquilizer properties, it may cause dizziness or drowsiness, effects that should be considered before driving or operating heavy or hazardous equipment.[29]

In rare cases, valerian may cause an allergic reaction, typically as a skin rash, hives, or difficulty breathing.[29] This should be treated as a medical emergency.

Because the compounds in valerian produce central nervous system depression, they should not be used with other depressants, such as ethanol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, opiates, kava, or antihistamine drugs.[30][31][32] Moreover, non-pregnant adult human hepatotoxicity has been associated with short-term use (i.e., a few days to several months) of herbal preparations containing valerian and Scutellaria (commonly called skullcap).[33] Withdrawal after long-term use in a male has also been associated with benzodiazepine-like withdrawal symptoms, resulting in cardiac complications and delirium.[34]

The very limited animal and human data do not allow a conclusion as to the safety of valerian during pregnancy. Moreover, as a natural, unregulated product, the concentration, contents, and presence of contaminants in valerian preparations cannot be easily determined. Because of this uncertainty and the potential for cytotoxicity in the fetus and hepatotoxicity in the mother, the product should be avoided during pregnancy.[30][31]

Effect on other organisms

An unusual feature of valerian is that valerian root and leaves are a cat attractant similar to, and as safe as catnip. Valerian contains the cat attractant actinidine. Cat attractants might mimic the odor of cat urine, which is caused by 3-mercapto-3-methylbutan-1-ol (MMB). Anecdotal reports claim that valerian is also attractive to rats—so much so that it had been used to bait traps. Stories describe the Pied Piper of Hamelin using both his pipes and valerian to attract rats.[19] Research also shows that valerian root is the strongest chemo-attractant of slime molds (Physarum polycephalum).[35]

See also


  1. ^ Joseph I. Boullata and Angela M. Nace (2000). "Safety Issues with Herbal Medicine: Common Herbal Medicines". Pharmacotherapy 20 (3). 
  2. ^ Thorpe, Benjamin; Northern Mythology, Vol. 2, pp. 64–65
  3. ^ Torsten Bergsten (1958). "Two Letters by Pilgram Marpeck". Mennonite Quarterly Review 32: 200. 
  4. ^  
  5. ^ Latin definition for: valeo, valere, valui, valitus.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Fereidoon Shahidi and Marian Naczk, Phenolics in food and nutraceuticals (Boca Raton, Florida, USA: CRC Press, 2004), pp. 313–314 ISBN 1-58716-138-9.
  7. ^ Although many sources list "catinine" as an alkaloid that's present in extracts from the root of Valeriana officinalis, those sources are incorrect. The correct spelling is "chatinine". It was discovered by S. Waliszewski in 1891. See: S. Waliszewski (15 March 1891) L'Union pharmaceutique, page 109. Abstracts of this article appeared in: "Chatinine, alcaloïde de la racine de valériane" Répertoire de pharmacie, series 3, vol. 3, pp. 166–167 (April 10, 1891) ; American Journal of Pharmacy, vol. 66, p. 285 (June 1891).
  8. ^ Isovaleramide does not appear to be a naturally occurring component of Valerian plants; rather, it seems to be an artifact of the extraction process; specifically, it's produced by treating aqueous extracts of Valerian with ammonia. See: Balandrin, M. F., Van Wagenen, B. C. and Cordell, G. A. (1995). "Valerian-derived sedative agents. II. Degradation of Valmane-derived valepotriates in ammoniated hydroalcoholic tinctures". Journal of Toxicology – Toxin Review 14 (2): 165 ff.  
  9. ^ Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Valerian. (2008-01-16). Retrieved on 2012-01-09.
  10. ^ Isovaleric acid does not appear to be a natural constituent of Valeriana officinalis; rather, it is a breakdown product that is created during the extraction process or by enzymatic hydrolysis during (improper) storage. See pp. 22 and 123 of Peter J. Houghton, Valerian: the genus Valeriana (Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Harwood Academic Press, 1997) ISBN 90-5702-170-6.
  11. ^ Yuan CS, Mehendale S, Xiao Y, Aung HH, Xie JT, Ang-Lee MK (2004). "The gamma-aminobutyric acidergic effects of valerian and valerenic acid on rat brainstem neuronal activity.". Anesth Analg 98 (2): 353–8, table of contents.  
  12. ^ R.B.H. Wills and D. Shohet (July 2009). "Changes in valerenic acids content of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L. s.l.) during long-term storage". Food Chemistry 115 (1): 250–253.  
  13. ^ a b Marder M, Viola H, Wasowski C, Fernández S, Medina JH, Paladini AC (2003). "6-methylapigenin and hesperidin: new valeriana flavonoids with activity on the CNS". Pharmacol Biochem Behav 75 (3): 537–45.  
  14. ^ Fernández S, Wasowski C, Paladini AC, Marder M (2004). "Sedative and sleep-enhancing properties of linarin, a flavonoid-isolated from Valeriana officinalis". Pharmacol Biochem Behav 77 (2): 399–404.  
  15. ^ Holzl J, Godau P. (1989). "Receptor binding studies with Valeriana officinalis on the benzodiazepine receptor". Planta Medica 55 (7): 642.  
  16. ^ Mennini T, Bernasconi P et al. (1993). "In vitro study in the interaction of extracts and pure compounds from Valerian officinalis roots with GABA, benzodiazepine and barbiturate receptors". Fitoterapia 64: 291–300. 
  17. ^ Lacher, Svenja K.; Mayer, Ralf; Sichardt, Kathrin; Nieber, Karen; Müller, Christa E. (2007). "Interaction of valerian extracts of different polarity with adenosine receptors: Identification of isovaltrate as an inverse agonist at A1 receptors".  
  18. ^ Patočka, Jiří; Jakl, Jiří (2010). "Biomedically relevant chemical constituents of Valeriana officinalis". Journal of Applied Biomedicine 8 (1): 11–18.  
  19. ^ a b "Valerian". Retrieved 2007-04-15. 
  20. ^ Harrington, H.D., Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains, The University of New Mexico Press, 1967, LCCN 67-29685, p. 225
  21. ^ a b "Questions and Answers About Valerian for Insomnia and Other Sleep Disorders". Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. 2006-04-13. Retrieved 2007-04-11. 
  22. ^ Hadley S, Petry JJ (2003). "Valerian". Am Fam Physician 67 (8): 1755–8.  
  23. ^ "Valerian (Valeriana officinalis L.)". Medline Plus. 2006-10-01. Retrieved 2007-04-12. 
  24. ^ Schmitz M, Jäckel M (1998). "[Comparative study for assessing quality of life of patients with exogenous sleep disorders (temporary sleep onset and sleep interruption disorders) treated with a hops-valarian preparation and a benzodiazepine drug]". Wien Med Wochenschr (in German) 148 (13): 291–8.  
  25. ^ Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, Patterson M, Mehling W (2006). "Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis". Am. J. Med. 119 (12): 1005–12.  
  26. ^ Weeks, Benjamin S. Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: Relarian™. Med Sci Monit, 2009; 15(11): RA256-262. PMID:19865069
  27. ^ Taibi D, Landis C, Petry H, Vitiello M (2007). "A systematic review of valerian as a sleep aid: Safe but not effective". Sleep Medicine Reviews 11 (3): 209–230.  
  28. ^ "Valerian". MedlinePlus.  
  29. ^ a b "Valerian Roots Side Effects at LoveToKnow Herbs". Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  30. ^ a b Klepser TB, Klepser ME (1999). "Unsafe and potentially safe herbal therapies". Am J Health-Syst Pharm 56 (12538): 125–38; quiz 139–41.  
  31. ^ a b Wong AHC, Smith M, Boon HS (1998). "Herbal remedies in psychiatric practice". Arch Gen Psychiatry 55 (103344): 1033–44.  
  32. ^ Miller LG (1998). "Herbal medicines. Selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions". Arch Intern Med 158 (220011): 2200–11.  
  33. ^ MacGregor FB, Abernethy VE, Dahabra S, Cobden I, Hayes PC (1989). "Hepatotoxicity of herbal remedies". British Medical Journal 299 (11567). 
  34. ^ Garges HP, Varia I, Doraiswamy PM (1998). "Cardiac complications and delirium associated with valerian root withdrawal". JAMA 280 (15667): 1566–7.  
  35. ^  

External links

  • Valerian at AAFP

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