Name: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)Perennial

Family: Valerianaceae

Common names: Valeriana, Garden heliotrope, All-heal

Range: Native to Europe and Asia, now cultivated throughout North America.

Parts Used: Dried root.

Preparations: Encapsulated powdered root, liquid extract, tincture, and tea.


Valerian is well known by many gardeners for the pungent aroma released when its roots are exposed. Cats simply can’t resist it, and the legendary Pied Piper reputedly stuffed his pockets with the herb to lure the plague-carrying rats out of the village of Hamelin. Interestingly enough, valerian is sometimes used today for this purpose by rodent exterminators. Galen and Dioscorides considered the root so odorous that they nicknamed it “phu.” To modern folk, the herb’s “perfume” is reminiscent of well-worn gym socks.

Apparently, early European physicians were able to overlook the offensive smell to instill a long history of use as a near cure-all for everything that ails. Hence, the moniker “all heal” was born. The herb has been used for centuries to treat migraine, insomnia, menstrual cramps, hysteria, and various "nervous disorders." Today, valerian is recognized as a mild sedative and tranquilizer with efficacy comparable to benzodiazepine medications, including diazepam (Valium). Studies have shown that valerian effectively relieves insomnia and reduces symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. However, unlike modern barbiturates, it does not produce the typical “hangover” feeling or grogginess the next morning. It is also non-habit forming.

Valerian extract is standardized to contain 0.8% valerenic acids. Over-the-counter preparations made from valerian are often combined with other calmative herbs, such as chamomile or hops. The recommended dosage is 150-300 mg, 45 minutes to one hour before retiring.

Constituents: Isovaleramide, acetoxyvalerenic acid, valeric acid, Acetic acid, ascorbic acid, caffeic acid, valine (an amino acid), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), quercitin, beta-ionone, linarin, calcium, magnesium, and manganese.

Cautions/Contraindications: Valerian is not known to produce adverse side effects, but it is not intended for long-term use beyond a few weeks. In addition, use of the herb should be reduced gradually for 7-10 days before discontinuing it completely. Valerian should not be combined with other sedatives since it can heighten their effects.

Disclaimer: This information has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease..