Herb Basics: Valerian

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Common names: Valerian, garden heliotrope, garden valerian

Latin name: Valeriana officinalis

Family: Valerianaceae

Part used: Root, rhizome

Medicinal uses: Valerian promotes sleep and relaxation, so it’s most often used for anxiety, insomnia, and nervousness. It’s sometimes used to treat intestinal and menstrual cramps–studies have shown it can help relieve muscle spasms.

Forms commonly used: Tea, tincture, capsule, liquid extract, tablet.

Dosage: If using as a sleep aid, take 1/2 to 3/4 cup of tea or 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of tincture or liquid extract before bed. Take 300 to 400 mg in capsule form throughout the day, or one hour before bedtime.

Side effects: Valerian is a safe, nonaddictive herb–studies show that it causes no significant side effects when used in recommended amounts. The Food and Drug Administration includes the herb on its list of “generally recognized as safe” foods.

Notes: Many think the scent of valerian is similar to that of smelly feet. If you’re making a tea, try blending valerian with other relaxing herbs such as passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and hops (Humulus lupulus) for a more pleasant-smelling tea.

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