Valerian—Can this helpful sleep & relaxation herb be used long term?
I read that valerian is only considered safe for short term use, but I haven't been able to find a good answer about what that really means. Would it be okay to use over an extended period of time if I use a low dose and combine it with other herbs like lemon balm and passionflower?
Thanks for your question!
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is often used for insomnia, anxiety and muscular tension. The clinical trials that have been done on this herb have all been relatively short, ranging from a few days up through about a month in duration. Because it hasn't been officially studied for longer periods of time, some sources will advise against "long-term" use. Do keep in mind, however, that it has a history of use in traditional medicine over longer periods.
I personally am comfortable recommending valerian in the long term, particularly at lower doses. The studies have typically used 500 - 1000 mg a few hours before bed for insomnia, although many herbalists find that higher doses of up to 5 g per day are necessary to experience its full effects. In combination with other herbs, 500 mg seems like a great place to start for longer-term use. I tend to rotate herbs in and out of formulas so that each herb isn't being taken for more than 2 or 3 months at a time.
If you don't mind the smelly-sock odor, it combines nicely with lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and/or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) in a tea or tincture. Do keep in mind that a small percentage of people - including me! - will experience valerian as stimulating rather than relaxing. For these folks, of course, it is not the best remedy for insomnia :).
Camille Freeman, LDN, RH is a professor in in the Nutrition department at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, where she teaches physiology and pathophysiology online. She’s a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and is also a licensed nutritionist specializing in preconception weight loss. In addition to wrangling two small children, Camille enjoys yoga, gardening and tracking down deals at thrift stores and garage sales.
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