2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131


What Is It?

For centuries, the tall perennial herb with pinkish flowers known as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been enlisted to help restless insomniacs get a sound night’s sleep. Today this mild, nonaddictive sedative is quite popular both as a sleep aid and as an anxiety fighter, particularly in Germany, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. And in recent years its popularity has grown enormously in the United States as well.

This graceful plant grows wild in North America, Europe, and Asia. Its underground stems and roots are harvested and dried to make healing preparations.

Health Benefits

Although there has long been controversy over what makes valerian so effective as a relaxant, it is increasingly accepted that this herb does, in fact, work as the ancients once claimed it did. In addition to promoting sound sleep, valerian has a reputation for easing anxiety and relaxing tense muscles. It may also have a role to play in relieving digestive conditions, such as diverticulosis and irritable bowel syndrome.

Valerian added to bath water in the form of a very strong herbal tea or as an essential oil is said to have a calming effect, although specific scientific evidence is sparse.

Specifically, valerian may help to:

Improve sleep. In the brain, valerian is thought to bind to receptors for a nerve chemical called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). By blocking some nerve impulses from reaching the brain, the herb seems to shorten the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as improve the quality of sleep that results. And, unlike some of the more commonly prescribed sleep medications, valerian is not addictive. Nor does it cause morning grogginess (when taken at recommended doses), as some prescription drugs do.
Numerous studies of insomniacs have shown that those who take valerian fall asleep faster than participants given a placebo. The quality of sleep improves as well, according to several recent studies. In one placebo-controlled trial of 27 people with insomnia, Swedish researchers found that 89% of those who were given a valerian preparation reported improved sleep, with 44% rating their sleep as “perfect.”

Even more impressive results emerged from a well-designed 1996 trial involving 121 insomnia sufferers. Among the benefits of valerian root extract taken one hour before bedtime (2 tablets of 300 mg each): significantly improved sleep quality, dream recall, and sense of psychological well-being.

Valerian may also be useful for people without insomnia per se. In a 1983 trial that involved 128 healthy people, those assigned to take a valerian root preparation were far more likely to fall asleep faster than those given a placebo. The valerian group also tended to stay asleep longer. Overall sleep quality improved significantly, particularly in those who rated themselves as poor sleepers to start with.

Reduce nervous tension, anxiety, and restlessness. German health authorities endorse the use of valerian for restlessness and sleeping disorders that are caused specifically by nervous conditions. In fact, anyone who suffers from stress, panic attacks, or other nervous conditions may want to give valerian a try.
Valerian is thought to lessen anxiety because in blocking brain receptors for the neurotransmitter GABA, it also inhibits nerve impulses and stress-related messages from reaching the brain. More research is needed, however.

Lessen stomach cramps and improve digestive system disorders. Animal testing and clinical research indicates that valerian has antispasmodic properties. This may explain why it’s valuable for countering spasms of the muscle tissue in the digestive tract and easing the intestinal pain that frequently accompanies irritable bowel syndrome. The herb’s calming effect may also contribute to healing; after all, many digestive disorders are provoked by stress.
Note: Valerian has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Valerian.


dried herb/tea

Dosage Information

Special tips:

A freeze-dried extract may be the most effective form of the herb. Many herbalists believe that when an herb is freshly picked, it contains the highest quality and quantity of healing properties. Companies that freeze dry their products do so immediately after harvesting to ensure maximum freshness.

Valerian is available as a single supplement or in combination with other herbs and nutritional supplements.
For insomnia: As a first-time user, take 1 teaspoon of liquid extract diluted in water or a 400-450 mg capsule of a standardized extract or a freeze-dried whole herb, 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. The dose can safely be increased to 2 teaspoons of liquid extract or up to 1,350 mg of standardized extract/freeze-dried herb, depending on how much valerian you find that you need. Most people, however, discover that higher doses do not confer any extra benefit.

For anxiety: Take 400-450 mg or 1 teaspoon liquid extract, twice a day, as needed; take 800-1,350 mg at bedtime for sleep.

For muscle aches and pains: Start with 400-450 mg or 1/2 teaspoon liquid extract and increase to 800-1,350 mg or 1-2 teaspoons liquid extract, if needed, before going to bed.

Digestive problems due to anxiety: Start with 400-450 mg or 1/2 teaspoon of liquid extract two or three times a day and increase to 800-1,350 mg or 1-2 teaspoons of liquid extract, if needed, before going to bed.

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Valerian, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

An unpleasant smell develops as valerian dries; take the herb in capsule form if the odor bothers you. If you’re using a liquid extract diluted in water, try making it more palatable by adding some honey or sugar.

If you choose a standardized product, make sure it contains 0.8% valeric (or valerenic) acid. Although often hard to confirm, it’s best to use products made with roots that were recently harvested and dried at a low temperature.

Valerian works best when you rotate its use with other sleep-inducing herbs, such as chamomile, hops, passionflower, or melissa (also called lemon balm). It’s safe to take valerian with St. John’s wort, an herb that can ease the depression associated with insomnia in many cases, and with kava, an herb that may help relieve associated anxiety.

If using valerian during the day, start at a low dose(400 mg once a day), and assess how drowsy the herb makes you feel. Then gradually increase your intake to the recommended dose of 400-450 mg two or three times a day once you feel comfortable with the herb’s effect on your system.

Store valerian in a cool, dark place.

General Interaction

To avoid excessive drowsiness or possibly other complications, don’t take valerian with any muscle relaxants (carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine), narcotic pain relievers (codeine, hydrocodone), prescription sleep medications, tranquilizers, or other drugs that can make you sleepy (including certain antihistamines).
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

Possible Side Effects

Generally, valerian causes no side effects when taken at recommended doses. Some people do experience drowsiness or a certain lack of alertness if they take the herb during the day, however.

Extremely large doses may cause dizziness, restlessness, blurry vision, nausea, excitability, and/or grogginess upon awakening. A case of valerian overdose was reported in 1995; taking approximately 20 times the recommended therapeutic dose of valerian root (18 to 24 grams) produced mild symptoms. Luckily, these symptoms resolved within 24 hours.


Don’t take valerian on a nightly basis for more than two consecutive weeks. Even though the herb is not addictive, it’s generally not a good idea to depend on any sleep aid long term.

After taking valerian, wait at least three hours before driving, operating heavy machinery, or undertaking any other potentially hazardous task that requires you to be alert.

Make sure to avoid alcohol while taking valerian.

Don’t take valeri


an if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Alcoholism 400-450 mg capsule 3 times a day as needed for anxiety related to alcohol withdrawal; 1-3 capsules at bedtime for sleep. Just one caution: As both alcohol and valerian cause drowsiness, they should not be used at the same time.
Anxiety and Panic 400-450 mg or 1 tsp. liquid extract, twice a day, as needed; take 800-1,350 mg at bedtime for sleep
Flu 400-450 mg standardized extract or freeze-dried whole herb or 1 tsp. liquid extract at bedtime to improve sleep
Insomnia 1 tsp. liquid extract or 400-450 mg standardized extract or freeze-dried whole herb, 30 to 45 minutes before bedtime. Dose can be safely increased to 2 tsp. liquid extract or up to 1,350 mg, if necessary.
Muscle Aches and Pains Start with 400-450 mg or 1/2 tsp. liquid extract and increase to 800-1,350 mg or 1-2 tsp. liquid extract, if needed, before going to bed.

Doctor Recommendations
David Edelberg, M.D.

The root of the valerian plant has been in continuous use as a sleep aid for more than 2,000 years. It was recorded as a prescription for insomnia by none other than Hippocrates himself around 400 B.C. Valerian root is currently recognized in the national pharmacopoeias (government-approved medication lists) of virtually every country around the globe except the United States. In fact, this herb is considered so safe in Europe that it’s approved for use in children.


It’s interesting that after two millenia scientists are still not quite certain how valerian actually works, although they all agree that time has proved it to be completely safe. Numerous clinical studies have shown that valerian both shortens the time it takes to fall asleep and improves the quality of sleep. In fact, valerian probably works best in people who consider themselves poor sleepers, especially those who tend to have trouble falling asleep or reaching a deep sleep. When compared with such prescription drugs as benzodiazepines or barbiturates, valerian appears to be just as effective as small doses of these substances–but without the morning drowsiness they tend to cause. And even more important, valerian is totally nonaddictive.


Be warned: The valerian root is so noxious smelling that the ancient Greeks called it phu. And I defy you to refrain from exclaiming just that when you open a bottle of the liquid extract.


In studies, people who reported sleep improvements were taking between 400 and 900 mg of the standardized extract. So, although tea and liquid extracts made from the crude, dried root are available, look for one of the following forms to treat a sleep problem. Capsules or tablets containing the powdered standardized extract. Liquid extracts or tinctures containing the standardized extract (2% of the essential oil). You may want to add a bit of honey or sugar to make it more palatable.

Combination Products

A lot of people like combination products, and you’ll often find valerian teamed with other sleepy-time herbs, such as skullcap, hops, passionflower, and chamomile, or even with melatonin. My own preference is for single products used on a rotational basis. Although not a lot has been written about what’s termed “drug tolerance” to these herbs, physicians know that most sleep agents lose their effectiveness with repeated use. So if you’re using valerian and notice it’s not working as well as it once did, try switching to something else, maybe melatonin or passionflower, for a while.


Look for a product made from a standardized extract that contains 0.8% valeric (or valerenic) acid. This tells you exactly how much valerian you’ll be taking in each dose. Shopping tip: Don’t think that just because the product has a disagreeable smell that it’s gone bad. With valerian, this is completely normal.


Here are a couple of pointers on using valerian: Your best bet is probably the 400 mg standardized extract in capsule form. Be prepared, the capsule form will only marginally protect you from the “phu” effect described earlier. Take one or two capsules roughly 45 minutes or so before you go to bed. However, this time frame is certainly not written in stone, and you can take your valerian up to two hours before bedtime as well.


Valerian can cause drowsiness if taken during the day, and it should never be used if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our


The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Telemedicine – Now Available at WholeHealth Chicago

In order to maintain your continuity of care, WholeHealth Chicago now offers telemedicine appointments with most of our practitioners. During a telemedicine visit, you and your healthcare provider can review medical history, discuss symptoms, arrange for prescriptions, and more. When necessary, labs and diagnostic imaging can be ordered from a facility near your home, and our Natural Apothecary can ship supplements quickly to your door.

Please contact Patient Services for details and scheduling a telemedicine appointment, or to change a regular appointment to telemedicine by calling 773-296-6700.

We’re looking forward to meeting with you in our virtual consultation room soon.


Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.


• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

Recent Health Tips

  • Covid Immunization: Facts, Not Fiction

    If you don’t feel like reading one more word about Covid-19, you’ve got my sympathy. However, if you’re inclined, scan this Health Tip and perhaps pick up a fact or two you didn’t know. Want to jump to my take-away? It’s this: When the vaccine is available to you, take it and thank your lucky stars it’s being offered to you. One in four people Read More

  • “I Am So Bloated!”

    Susan wrote this on our WholeHealth Chicago form in the section marked “What’s the main problem?” She went on to tell me she’d been suffering for years, her stomach feeling like some gremlin was inflating a balloon every time she ate. When the bloating was especially severe, she said she looked like she was in her fifth month of pregnancy. Susan was so embarrassed she’d Read More

  • Major Breakthrough: A Highly Accurate Blood Test For Fibromyalgia

    Although I’ve taken care of well over 2,000 fibromyalgia patients since first opening WholeHealth Chicago in 1995 (and also written a successful book on the subject), I was always troubled by two questions. First, exactly what is fibromyalgia? How can there be a condition that’s severe enough to be disabling, manifesting as widespread muscle pain, profound fatigue, poor sleep, headaches, and a half dozen other Read More

Join our Discount Program

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).


Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!