Valerian root is an herb used as an alternative treatment for insomnia and anxiety. Some people use it for headaches, muscle and joint pain, menopausal symptoms and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Herbs are plants whose leaves, stems, roots or flowers are used for flavorings, medicines and teas. They are available in bulk, tea bags, tablets and capsules. When used medicinally, they should be labeled with the standardized potency per serving or capsule. Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking herbs as an alternative medicine. Some people are allergic to grasses and other herbaceous plants.
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Valerian root is available in various forms, including capsules, teas, tinctures, extracts and tablets. The tinctures and extracts are either alcohol-based or glycerite-based preparations. The root can be dried and powdered to form tablets and capsules. Valerian root has a strong, sharp odor that is best masked in capsules or combined with other herbs to improve the flavor. Passion flower, lemon balm, hops and kava may be added. There is no difference between valerian tea and capsules, as long as the ingredients and potency are the same per serving or dose. Follow the directions for each form, and consult with your healthcare provider for advice.
The active ingredient in valerian that may be responsible for its sedative actions is valerenic acid. Capsules are often standardized to contain 0.3 percent to 0.8 percent valerenic or valeric acid. Standardized doses are preferred because you know exactly how much you are getting. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, prepare valerian tea with one cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoonful of dried root. Steep tea for five to 10 minutes. If using capsules, take 200 milligrams, three to four times a day. For insomnia, take the dose one to two hours before bedtime. Valerian seems most effective if taken for two or more weeks, according to MayoClinic.com. Check with your doctor for precise directions.
Valerian has been studied to substantiate the claims that it helps reduce insomnia. According to "The Healing Power of Herbs," research involving 128 subjects found that valerian improved sleep quality and shortened the amount of time needed to fall asleep. Researchers also noted that the subjects did not experience a hangover in the morning after using valerian, and that it did not cause daytime sedation in the subjects. In addition, the study found that 160 milligrams of valerian root was as effective in promoting sleep as the prescription sleeping aid benzodiazepine. A study reported in "Sleep" in 2005 found that a combination of valerian and hops was effective in improving both the sleep and the quality of life of the subjects. On the other hand, MedlinePlus and the University of Maryland Medical Center report that some studies have shown that valerian does not help insomniacs.
Take herbs with care and use only under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Some herbs can trigger side effects or interact with drugs that you may be taking. Do not take valerian if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Valerian is generally regarded as safe and is approved for food use by the Food and Drug Administration. According to MayoClinic.com, valerian can cause mild side effects, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, gastrointestinal problems and even sleeplessness. Report any side effects to your healthcare provider.