Valerian is the common name for Valeriana officinalis, a plant belonging to the Valerianaceae plant family. According to historical references, the herb was used in ancient Greece from Hippocrates as a sedative and anxiolytic herb, as well as for the treatment of women’s diseases.
What is valerian?
Valerian is a perennial plant with extremely varied morphology. Its flowers bloom from May to August. There are 150 species of Valerian mainly in temperate countries, of which four are officially in Europe. The main bioactive substance of Valeriana officinalis is valeric acid, which is found in the essential oil of the root. Valerian has a very special smell, which is only perceived in the root and mainly after it has been dried out. The valerian extract is used as a dietary supplement and has a strong aroma, as opposed to the fresh plant which is odorless.
Synergy with other herbs
Valerian has a synergistic effect with other herbs with similar properties. It is usually combined with Hops, Passion Flower and Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis). Food supplements intended for the treatment of insomnia usually contain a mixture of the above herbs for better and more targeted action. In addition, several studies have shown that licorice enhances valerian anxiolytic properties.
Actions – Valerian properties
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) helps relax nerve cells, making it one of the major sedative neurotransmitters. In experimental studies, valerian extract containing valeric acid has been shown to bind to GABA receptors, increasing their signaling strength and the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.
Insomnia – sedative action
The sedative properties of valerian are attributed to the suppression effect caused by increased levels of GABA, due to valeric acid, in combination with certain phytochemicals. In certain quantities valerian has a sedative effect, reduces nerve activity, thus facilitating insomnia.
The sedative action of valerian also affects the levels of anxiety (stress). Scientists have found that the valerian root increases the amount of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. The valeric acid contained in the valerian root extract appears to act as an anxiety agent, even if further investigations are required to determine the exact mechanism of action. However, preliminary studies in humans have not shown any benefit from taking valerian in cases of anxiety disorder.
Studies have shown benefit from intravenous valerian therapy in the treatment of epilepsy, as it has been shown to exert anti-epileptic properties. This property does not apply to oral supplementation but further investigations are required to determine the aforementioned action.
The recommended dosage is 200-1000 mg per day or 5-15 ml of tincture. The commercially available standard form of Valeriana officinalis supplement is 70% ethanolic extract, formulated with 0.8% valeric acid. For insomnia, it is recommended to take 450 mg one hour before bedtime. If taken during the day, a slightly increased dose, taken two to three times a day with meals, should be used with the last dose close to bedtime. The benefit of valerian becomes visible after 2 of regular use. For anxiety, a dosage of 120-200mg is recommended, three to four times a day.
Undesirable effects – contraindications
Valerian is a safe dietary supplement with minimal side effects when taken at the standard dosage. In case of overdose, headache, arrhythmia, nausea, difficulty in sight, diarrhea or drowsiness may occur in the day. Valerian may interact with other medicines. Valerian should not be used concomitantly with analgesics, anticoagulants, antidepressants and tranquilizers.