Valerian is considered by some to be “the Valium of the 19th century.” This herb has long been used for its calming and sedating effects. More recently, it has been claimed to be beneficial for those suffering from insomnia. The biological mechanisms underlying the effects of Valerian are not well understood. Due to its rather pungent odor, which is similar to the smell of dirty socks, Valerian products are sometimes evaluated by using a “stink rating.”
Sleep disorders, including insomnia, are often seen in association with MS. These disorders may be related to stress or anxiety, and may exacerbate MS-associated fatigue. People who are having sleep issues and those who are considering using valerian should discuss their complaints with a physician.
There have been ten clinical trials that suggest that valerian may be effective for treating insomnia; however, these studies are of mixed quality. Limited work has been done looking at valerian for treating depression, muscle stiffness, and anxiety, so it is unclear how effective this herb is in these conditions. Another herb, kava kava, has been more thoroughly researched for anxiety – see the Kava kava page for more information.
Valerian is generally well tolerated, but long-term safety information is not available. It may worsen fatigue and increase the sedating effects of alcohol and some medications. It may also cause excitability, insomnia, headache, and liver toxicity.
Valerian may be consumed in various forms, and the dosing varies for each. Valerian extract, between 400 and 900mg, should be taken an hour before bed, whereas valerian tea (1tsp dried herb) or tincture (0.5 to 1tsp) are used several times daily. It may be necessary to use valerian daily for a few weeks in order to see therapeutic effects.
References and Additional Reading
Bowling AC. Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
Bowling AC, Stewart TS. Dietary Supplements and Multiple Sclerosis: A Health Professional’s Guide. New York: Demos Medical Publishing, 2004.
Jellin JM, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Faculty, 2009.
Ulbricht CE, Basch EM, eds. Natural Standard Herb and Supplement Reference: Evidence-Based Clinical Reviews. St. Louis: Elsevier-Mosby, 2005.