And yet, unlike the pharmaceutical drug with all of its potential side effects, valerian root is a Safety Class 1 herb – the safest rating possible!
If you’re not familiar with it, valerian root has long been used to support relaxation and sleep. But don’t think of it as just a nighttime herb – many people use it during the day to promote emotional well-being.
That makes perfect sense when you consider its name is derived from the Latin valere, “to be well” or “to be strong.” In fact, during World War II, the Vegetable Drugs Committee listed valerian root as one of the most essential plants for collection and use – presumably because of the emotional support it offered. (source)
So what does Safety Class 1 mean, exactly?
“Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
- History of safe traditional use
- No case reports of significant adverse events
with high probability of causality
- No significant adverse events in clinical trials
- No identified concerns for use during pregnancy
- No innately toxic constituents
- Toxicity associated with excessive use is not a
basis for exclusion from this class
- Minor or self-limiting side effects are not bases
for exclusion from this class”
That said, “caution is advised during use of barbiturates, bensodiazepines, and other sedative drugs,” because valerian may increase their effects.
In addition, for a small percentage of the population valerian root has a stimulating effect rather than a calming one. Herbalists generally do not recommend valerian root in those cases.
Why a tincture instead of capsules?
When I first started working with herbs, I wondered why anyone would go to the trouble of making a tincture when they could simply take a capsule or tea. The answer, I learned, is that tinctures don’t require digestion – their benefits are available to the body within minutes. When taken as a capsule, the body needs considerably more time to break down and assimilate the nutrients.
Teas are often a good option, but in some cases beneficial compounds are left behind in the herb because they are not water soluble. In those cases, alcohol is considered a better medium. Valerian root contains flavinoids which are not water soluble, so I prefer to take it as a tincture.
How much should I use?
According to renowned herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, valerian root “is a nonaddictive, non-habit-forming sedative, and it will not make you sleepy or groggy unless really large amounts are consumed. So don’t be afraid to take adequate amounts of valerian.
Begin with a low dosage and increase it until you feel its relaxing effects. You’ll know you’ve taken too much if you have a ‘rubberlike’ feeling in the muscles – as if they were too relaxed – or a feeling of heaviness. If that’s the case, cut back the [amount] so that you feel relaxed but alert.” (source: Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes For Vibrant Health)
When taken as a tincture, she recommends starting with 1/4 teaspoon, taking an additional dose after 30 minutes if needed. Another reputable source recommends 1/2-1 teaspoon, taken up to three times daily. (source)
Is it safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook: 2nd Edition, “Animal studies and human case reports have indicated no adverse effects of relatively high doses (2.8g/kg) of valerian in pregnancy (Cziezel et al. 1997; Tufix et al. 1994, Yao et al. 2003, 2007)
No information on the safety of valerian during lactation was identified in the scientific or traditional literature. While this review did not identify any concerns for use while nursing, safety has not been conclusively established.” (page 911)
What about children?
That said, it’s generally considered safe when used in age-appropriate amounts. In fact, some commercial tincture preparations – such as Herbs for Kids Super Calm – incorporate valerian root into blends specifically intended for children.
Daddypotamus, on the other hand, opts for the valerian. 🙂
How To Make a Valerian Root Tincture
- 1 part dried valerian root (Valeriana officinalis – here’s where to find it) (I used 1/2 cup)
- 2 parts vodka (Preferably 100 proof, but 80 proof is okay. I used 1 cup)
- Fill your jar about halfway with valerian root. Pour vodka all the way to the top, then cover with a cap and shake well. If desired, write the start date on the jar using a sticky note, label, or piece of tape – it makes keeping track of how long it’s been steeping easier.
- Place the jar in a dark area that is relatively warm. (I keep mine in a kitchen cabinet.) Let the mixture steep for 3-5 more weeks. Shake occasionally.
- When it’s ready, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth, making sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Pour the liquid in a clean container and store in a cool, dark area.
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