Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a Medicinal Herb Used in Traditional Herbal Medicine.

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Medicinal Herbs & Therapeutic Botanicals

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Botanicals: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this page is for informational purposes only. Please consult with a physician or other healthcare professional regarding any medical or health related diagnosis or treatment options. Information on this page should not be considered as a substitute for advice from a healthcare professional. The claims made about specific products throughout this article are not approved to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) that has been used in European medicine (1) and is native to Europe and Asia (2). Valerian is a tall, wispy plant, with umbrella-like floral heads. It grows to 150 cm tall with hollow, lightly groved stems (2,3). Its dark green leaves are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. Small, sweet-smelling white, light purple, or pink flowers bloom in Summer. The root is light grayish brown and has a pungent odor.

Valerian has been used as a sedative and anti-anxiety treatment for centuries. Galen, in the 2nd Century AD, recommended valerian as a treatment for insomnia (2). Related species are used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

Botanicals: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)





Biological Name:
Valeriana officinalis L.


Other Names: 
Valerian, Garden heliotrope, Xie Cao, Jie Cao.

Parts Used:
Dried root-stock

Active Compounds: 
Essential oi (to 1%) comprising various components (which include monoterpene valepotriates) and which in combination are seditive and antispasmodic (1). Bitter glycosides called verbenalin; mucilage; tannin (4).

According to Stuart (1979) different species of Valeriana have been used in European medicine of which V. officianlis, V. celtica, V. dioica, and V. phu were the most important. The latter species was probably the herb known as Phu to the ancients while V. celtica was referred to as Nardus celticus.

Valeriana officinalis was particularly promoted by the Arab physicians and the name Valeriana first appears in the tenth century (1).

Traditional Applications in Herbal Medicine:

Western Herbal Applications:

Nervine tonic, sedative, anti-spasmodic, diaphoretic, possible galactagogue, and hepatic (4).

Preparations for use on the skin have been used to treat sores and acne, and valerian by mouth has been used for other conditions such as digestive problems, flatulence (gas), congestive heart failure, urinary tract disorders, and angina (2).

In addition, Stuart (1979) recommends the use of Valerian for: a wide range of nervous disorders such as insomnia, migraine, nervous exhaustion and anxiety. When combined with other herbs it is useful in treating hypertension (1).


Chinese Herbal Applications:

Xie Cao (Valerian) or Jie cao is used similarly in Chinese medicine as in Western herbal medicine, however, unlike Western herbal medicine, TCM rarely uses single herbs to treat a condition.

The Ontario Herbalists Association attributes the following characteristics to Xie Cao (Valeriana officinalis):

Part Used: Root
Main function: Herb for Qi stagnation
Nature: Warm
Taste: Spicy, slightly sweet, slightly bitter
Meridians Entered: Ht, Lu, Sp

  • Regulates Qi Stagnation
  • Calms Shen
  • Tonifies Yin
  • Relieves Heart and Kidney Yin Deficiency
  • Clears Yin Deficiency Heat

Other indications include:

 high blood pressure
 amenorrhea (lack of menstruation)
 stomach ulcers
 hot flashes
 premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
 digestive problems
 restless leg syndrome
 diuretic (increase urine flow)
 irritable bowel syndrome
 rheumatic pain
 dysmenorrhea (pain with menstrual cycle)
 liver disorders
 skin disorders
 emmenagogue (stimulation of menstrual blood flow)
 memory enhancement
 urinary tract disorders
 menopausal symptoms
 vaginal infections
 flatulence (gas)
 mood enhancement
 viral gastroenteritis
 congestive heart failure
 muscle pain/spasm/tension
 vision problems
 withdrawal from tranquilizers.
 heart disease
 nerve pain
 cramping (abdominal
 pain relief

Many of these indications are primarily applicable when combined with other herbs.


Scientific Research into the effectiveness of Valeriana officinalis

Results reported by Cass (2004) (3) provided the following findings:

Clinical research

An herbal preparation containing Valeriana officinalis as one of a mixture of herbs was compared with both a valerian-only extract (400 mg) and placebo in 166 subjects with a range of sleep quality. Each person received three of each pill, which were taken in random order on nonconsecutive nights. Both valerian preparations produced a significant decrease in the time needed to fall asleep (sleep latency) and improvement in sleep quality. Night awakenings and dream recall were not affected by valerian nor did valerian cause any morning-after drowsiness.

A recent open-label study of valerian and insomnia enrolled 23 male and female symptomatic Hispanic volunteers. Eleven of them were diagnosed with major depression, four with generalized anxiety, two with schizoaffective disorder, two with primary sleep disorder, and one with dysthymia.

The primary outcome was measured using a self-rated ordinal scale symptom questionnaire at baseline and at the end of weeks 1 and 2. They were given a bottle of a local brand of valerian capsules “Nature’s Way, 530 mg valerian root” and instructed to take one each night 30–60 minutes before retiring. They were allowed to increase to two after the third night and to three after the first week.

At the end of week 2, most patients described the medication as “extremely helpful.” No side effects were reported and most said they would purchase this product themselves if their insomnia continued or reoccurred. The distinctive odor of valerian may present difficulties in designing a plausible placebo for a controlled trial.

Double-blind trials have found that valerian is an effective treatment for people with mild to moderately severe insomnia. Generally, valerian makes sleep more restful as well as making the transition to sleep easier, but does not tend to increase total time slept, according to these studies. Two trials have also found that a combination with lemon balm is effective in improving quality of sleep and in treating insomnia (CS).

The University of Marylands Medical Center reports the following:

Insomnia: Valerian is a popular treatment alternative to benzodiazepines (such as diazepam and alprazolam) and other commonly prescribed medications for sleep problems because it is considered to be both safe and gentle. In studies of animals and people, valerian has demonstrated mild sedative and tranquilizing activity, as well as the ability to relieve anxiety. Generally, studies have shown that valerian reduces the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep itself. Plus, unlike many prescription sleep aids, valerian may have fewer after effects the next day, such as morning drowsiness. In addition, although not studied scientifically, some experts use valerian for sleep disturbances related to feelings of depression (3).



Consult your primary health care professiona.


Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is considered to be a safe and effective herb.



  1. Stuart, Malcolm (1979). The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1979.
  2. MedlinePlus (2007). Valeriana officinalis L. Accessed online: June, 2007
  3. University of Marylands Medical Center (2006) Valerian. Accessed online: June, 2007
  4. Hoffmann, David (1983). The Holistic Herbal: A herbal celebrating the wholeness of life. Findhorn Press, Scotland.
  5. Cass, H. (2004) Herbs for the nervous system: Ginkgo, kava, valerian, passionflower. Seminars in Integrative Medicine Volume 2, Issue 2, June 2004, Pages 82-88.

The information provided here is not for the purpose of self diagnosis or self treatment. It is provided for the sole purpose of providing general information about herbs used in herbal medicine. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions.

© Wildcrafted Herbal Products, 2007

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