Herbal Help: Valerian

It doesn’t just help you nod off; this sedative herb may also ease a range of conditions.

What is Valerian?
Found in Europe and some parts of Asia, Valerian is a herb with white and pink sweet-scented flowers. It is the root, however which is used medicinally, with valerinic acid thought to be responsible for most of the therapeutic actions.

It is considered to be the herb of choice when treating insomnia, nervousness and anxiety.

How can Valerian help me?
Not only does Valerian help you fall asleep, it also improves the quality of your sleep. It’s a good alternative to common sedative drugs known as benzodiazepines, such as diazepam. It works in the same way, acting on the brain to reduce anxiety, although it isn’t addictive.

Lower doses can also help with the unpleasant physical symptoms of anxiety, with other uses though to helping with tinnitus and stress.

How do I take Valerian?
It’s available in tablets and tinctures and is also an ingredient in many teas which help you sleep. For example, Valerian available from Holland & Barrett is licensed under the Traditional Herbal Medicines Product Directive (THMPD).

How much Valerian do I take?
It’s always important to stick to the guidelines provided by the manufacturer, however if you feel dozy the next day you should try a lower dose next time. If you’re already taking medication for anxiety or insomnia you should steer clear of valerian as combining the two will intensify the sedative effects.

It’s not generally recommended for children unless they are under the care of a medical herbalist.

The effects of valerian can be quite strong, but it is not thought to be toxic.

Gabriella Clark is a qualified medical herbalist and a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. She teams centuries of tradition with modern science and practises from her clinic in the heart of the Chilterns.