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Valerian tincture is an herb extract that comes from the harvesting and drying of valerian plant roots. It is primarily used as a sleeping aid. The acid in the root is thought to be more potent than any other part of the plant, and it can be extracted in two different ways. The roots can be dried and formed into a powder or squeezed until all the juice is removed. The juice or powder is then usually combined with alcohol to make the tincture.
The tincture has a very bitter taste and smell. For this reason, it is often mixed with other herbs, which help reduce the odor and improve the taste. The valerian tincture that is sold in stores is usually combined with passionflower, another herb that is said to have a calming effect.
The history of valerian tincture dates back to ancient Greece. Greek physicians used it for insomnia and nervous conditions and for stomach problems related to gas. Over the centuries, the use of valerian root as a herbal remedy spread all over Europe and eventually into the United States. During World War I, valerian tincture was given to American soldiers to help reduce stress and combat fatigue.
Many studies have been done to test the effectiveness of valerian root. Studies conducted in Germany during the 1980s seemed to prove the claim that it helped with insomnia. The study involved a group of people who were given valerian and another group that only received a placebo—the valerian group achieved sleep 30 percent more often than the placebo group. The calming effect of the herb, in addition to aiding sleep, can also help relieve general anxiety and nervousness. Valerian can also stimulate appetite and may be useful in treating anorexia nervosa or loss of appetite brought about by the use of medications for chemotherapy.
Government officials in the US have listed valerian tincture as a safe product, but that does not mean there are no side effects. Most issues are related to stomach upset. Taking more than the recommended dosage can also cause headache and vomiting. People who are already taking barbiturates or other sedatives should probably not combine them with valerian tincture without first consulting with a physician. It also may not be safe to take valerian prior to operating an automobile or other heavy equipment, as it may affect reflexes and mental acuity.