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Valerian (Valeriana officinalis [Latin]), also known as garden valerian, Jacob's ladder, phu, and all-heal, is an herb that is well known for its ability to induce sleep. Traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine recommends valerian for treatment of insomnia.

Many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of valerian as a sleep aid, especially when combined with St. John's wort or lemon balm. And, unlike many pharmaceutical "sleeping pills," valerian won't cause feelings of grogginess upon waking or lead to a chemical dependency. In one German study valerian helped participants fall asleep faster and improved the quality of their sleep. It is no surprise that Commission E, the group that evaluates the safety and efficacy of herbs for the German government, approves valerian for treatment of some sleep disorders.

The sedating effect of valerian on the central nervous system may help reduce muscle spasms and prevent convulsions. Recent animal studies suggest that valerian may also help lower blood pressure and inhibit tumor growth.

The valerian plant and flower is an attractive addition to any garden. However, it is the root of valerian that is used medicinally, and it pretty much smells and tastes awful. Brewing your own valerian tea is not recommended. You can grow your own valerian from seed-it likes partial to full sun and moist, well-drained soil. Wait until the second year to harvest and dry the roots, and watch your cat around this herb-like catnip, valerian makes cats act intoxicated, sometimes to the point of destroying the plant.

Of course, there are numerous commercial extracts, capsules, and combination sleep-aids containing valerian that are available at pharmacies, health food stores, and even some grocery stores. Just make sure to follow the dosage instructions on the package-too much valerian may cause headache, blurred vision, nausea, and grogginess. There have been no reports of toxicity linked with valerian.

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