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Valerian: The "Herbal Anxiety Pill"

The root of valerian, a tall, fernlike plant, has served for thousands of years as a mild sedative. From 1820 until 1942 valerian was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia as a tranquilizer. It’s widely used and approved in Europe as a mild hypnotic to induce sleep and relieve anxiety. More than 5 million units of valerian are sold in Germany and about 10 million in France every year. In the United Kingdom, valerian is also a popular and government-approved sleep aid. It is also approved in Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy as an over-the-counter medication for insomnia.

The herb valerian tranquilizes safely and gently without a risk of addiction, and is widely used and approved in other countries as an alternative. There’s evidence that is works to calm you down, tame the brain,. Reduce anxiety, induce sleep, relieve stress, and even relax muscles without a morning hangover or permanent harm.

Valerian has been compared to anxiety prescription drugs. Valerian affects the same nerve receptors as benzodiazepines. The most popular of these tranquilizers is Valium, which doctors have long prescribed to relieve symptoms of anxiety. The drug is also used to lessen the anxiety, agitation and tremors that occur during alcohol withdrawal. Valium is not derived from valerian. There is no connection between the two, except that their names sound similar.

The results of one study conducted in 1993 showed that valerian and hops are calming to the central nervous system and reduce depression and anxiety. In fact, the herbs were reported to work faster than the prescription drugs. Hops and valerian worked in only two weeks, as opposed to a longer period required for conventional drugs. The herbs also caused far fewer side effects.

Be aware that if you are used to strong prescription sedatives, Valerian will have a harder time taking effect.

Valerian Can Help You Get Off Prescribed Anxiety Pills

Some anxiety pills such as, the xanax or valium can be highly addictive. Physicians in Germany commonly prescribe Valerian in place of Valium or Xanax for mild and moderate cases of anxiety. Some recommend fairly large doses, up to two teaspoons of the tincture at least twice a day. Some use this dosage of Valerian to get off antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication in just few weeks. Caution: For most people, a dosage of this size creates no problems, but for a few it leads to upset stomachs or headaches. If you are taking Valium, Xanax or other anti- anxiety or antidepressants prescribed drugs, do not discontinue them without your doctor’s approval. No prescription drug should be discontinued or its dosage altered without consulting a doctor.

How is valerian able to conduct such a smooth withdrawal? Perhaps the answer is because the Valerian binds to the same receptor sites on brain cells as Xanax. When Xanax is no more in the system, the receptors "scream out for something to bind to. If there’s nothing there, the brain cell receptors "go nuts." But if you can slip in valerian, it’s enough to satisfy them so they calm down. Many doctors now use valerian to help ensure a safe and painless transition from Xanax.

Scientific Evidence For Valerian as a Sleeping Pill

Many anxiety sufferers experience sleeping problems. While you learn to handle your anxiety by psychological means which would also improve your sleep, you may find it helpful to take temporary help of Valerian as a sleep aid. European manufacturers of phytomedicines (plant medicines) have petitioned the FDA to allow claims for valerian as an over-the-counter nighttime sleeping "aid," defined as an agent that relaxes and mildly sedates.

More than 200 scientific studies on the pharmacology of valerian have been published in the scientific literature, mostly in Europe in the last thirty years.

Six controlled clinical trials in Europe show that valerian is particularly effective for sleep problems, as follows:

Shorten the time to fall asleep

Prolong sleep time

Increase deep sleep stages

Increase dreaming

Reduce nighttime awakenings

Improve the quality of sleep in both normal sleepers and insomniacs.

In an impressive study, 128 volunteers participated at the Nestle( Research Laboratories in Switzerland in the mid-1980s. For three nights at time they took either valerian extract or a sugar pill without knowing what they were taking. Valerian won out. Thirty-seven percent on valerian said they fell asleep faster, compared with 23 percent on placebo. Further, 43 percent said they slept better versus 25 percent on placebo. Even 45 percent of good sleepers said they "slept better then usual" on valerian. But habitually bad sleepers got the most benefit.

In another study, a double-blind Swedish study, Valerian was the winner. Forty-four percent of poor sleepers said they had "perfect sleep" after taking a product with 400 milligrams of valerian. Eighty-nine percent said their sleep improved.

In another study, Valerian equaled the powerful drug Halcion as a sleeping pill. A 1992 German study compared a combination valerian pill (160 milligrams of valerian and 80 milligrams lemon balm) with Halcion (0.125 milligrams triazolam) in twenty people, ages thirty to fifty. Over a period of nine nights, the valerian combination put subjects to sleep just as fast and produced the same sound sleep as Halcion. It was most effective in so-called bad sleepers. However, unlike the valerian takers, the Halcion users suffered hangovers and loss of concentration the next day.

Advantages of taking Valerian as compared to prescription drugs:

Does not produce morning "hangovers"

Does not reduce concentration

Does not impair physical performance.

Does not interact with alcohol to accentuate impairment.

A 1995 German Study found no interaction between alcohol and valerian that lessened concentration, and impaired physical performance in driving a car. It is not to say that one should consume alcohol as alcohol is not good for anxiety sufferers.

It is reported that one can take Valerian when you are awake and active, as well as when you are going to sleep which makes it much more desirable. Valerian is beneficial if you want to reduce mild to moderate anxiety and or stress during the day.

Chemical information:

The mechanism of valerian in the brain appears similar to that of the benzodiazepine drugs-Halcion and Valium. These tend to sedate by stimulating activity of the nerve transmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which dampens the brain’s arousal system. In animals, valerian does the same thing, triggering release of GABA from the brain cortex. In mice, valerian prolongs sleep.

Research at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology in Barburg, Germany, showed that sedating constituents in valerian can bind to the same receptor sites on brain cells as barbiturates and benzodiazepines. In fact, valerian bounced benzodiazepines off the receptor sites of animal brain cells.

Perhaps valerenic acid and valepotriates, chemicals unique to valerian, sedate the brain cells responsible for arousal. Valerenic acid is a prime constituent in European products and is often combined with other mildly sedating herbs, such as lemon balm, passion flower, and chamomile. More that 120 active chemicals have been detected in valerian. Perhaps a combination of valerian’s compounds work together synergistically to produce sedation.


To relax and reduce tension level

To sleep better,

To calm down in stressful situations such as, public speaking, test, flying, etc.

To ease the symptoms of withdrawing from Xanax, Valium, and other benzodiazepines To serve as a substitute for anti-anxiety drugs if you take them for moderate anxiety and insomnia.


Start out with a low dose and, if needed, work up to a higher dose.

For use as a sleeping pill, often the recommended dosage is 300 to 500 milligrams of a standardized valerian extract about an hour before bedtime. Cut that dose in half when taking valerian as a mild tranquilizer to quiet anxiety during the day, he says. On hundred fifty to 300 milligrams translates into one-half to one teaspoonful as a fluid extract, and one to one and a half teaspoons as a tincture. You should notice effects within thirty to forty-five minutes.

Side Effects:

Side effects at recommended doses are minor. Most common is occasional stomach upset. However, in large doses valerian could cause headache, restlessness, nausea, and morning grogginess. (If you are sleepy or groggy the next morning, the dosage may be too high for you; simply reduce the amount you are taking. Valerian, unlike prescription sleeping pills, is not addictive or a cause of any mental disturbances. There are no reports in animals or humans of serious poisoning or death from overdoses of valerian. However, some clinicians have noted that some individuals have an idiosyncratic (highly individualized response and not generally expected) response to valerian; they become more excited and revved up instead of relaxed and calm.

Valerian, at an overdose of 20 grams (20,000 milligrams) is not acutely poisonous. The Food and Drug Administration lists valerian as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe).


Use valerian for mild to moderate anxiety and sleep problems only. If you have serious anxiety or insomnia or have been diagnosed with or treated for psychiatric problems, or are taking other psychiatric drugs of any kind, consult your doctor before using valerian.

Because of the possibility of withdrawal symptoms, switching from prescription drugs to valerian should be done under the supervision of a doctor. Valerian is not advised for pregnant or lactating women, children under age two, or in combination with other over-the-counter or prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.

Important: If you have chronic insomnia, you should also go easy on caffeine; high doses of caffeine can neutralize some of the sedating effects of valerian.

Most of the European research has been done on standardized valerian products. To get this research-grade valerian, look for labels indicating water-soluble extracts "standardized" for valerenic acid content (0.8 percent valerenic acid).


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