What Is the Difference between Kava and Valerian?

Matt Brady
Matt Brady
Valerian is native to Europe and Asia.
Valerian is native to Europe and Asia.

Kava and valerian are herbs that have long been used for ceremonial, social and medicinal purposes. Although their origins share little in common — the plants are native to vastly different regions — they are commonly grouped together for their shared benefits. Kava and valerian are both said to reduce anxiety and alleviate insomnia. Both herbs are alternative medicine staples, and have been adapted into various products and supplements, such as beverages and tablets.

Both kava and valerian are said to help anxiety.
Both kava and valerian are said to help anxiety.

Kava, a member of the pepper family, is native to the South Pacific, where it was and is still used as a ceremonial and social drink. The drink is prepared solely from the root of the kava plant. People who consume kava beverages often do so in place of drinking alcohol, reporting that the drink is an effective method for social relaxation, without alcohol's negative side effects. In its adoption as an herbal supplement, kava has been used for the same purposes as Pacific natives used it for: relaxation, inducing restful sleep, stress reduction and even as a method for alleviating soreness.

Valerian has been said to help relieve symptoms such as headaches.
Valerian has been said to help relieve symptoms such as headaches.

Valerian is an ancient herb native to Europe and Asia. It is primarily used for the same reasons as kava: to aid sleep and alleviate stress. It has also been said to help with depression, headaches and irregular heartbeats. Like kava, the only part of valerian that has traditionally been consumed are the roots. Also like kava, it has been used to make beverages, but has also been manufactured in other supplemental forms.

Some proponents say that kava and valerian are both effective in treating chronic stress.
Some proponents say that kava and valerian are both effective in treating chronic stress.

For a long time, kava and valerian were traditional and folk supplements that existed completely outside of Western Medicine. Eventually, though, scientific research was conducted on the effects and possible benefits of the herbs. Studies have shown that kava and valerian are likely to be effective at their purported benefits. In studies, valerian has proven to be more effective than placebos as a sleep aid, and other studies have indicated that kava is better at reducing anxiety than placebos.

Kava drinks may help curb people's desire to consume alcohol.
Kava drinks may help curb people's desire to consume alcohol.

When made purely from the root, kava and valerian supplements have generally been accepted as safe, with few if any negative side effects to the consumer. Kava supplements that include the stems and leaves, however, have been linked to liver damage, including cirrhosis, hepatitis and liver failure. Kava enthusiasts argue, and evidence indicates, that kava supplements made in the traditional way — only from the roots — are not harmful to the liver. Nevertheless, kava has been completely banned from some countries as a result.

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Discussion Comments

ZipLine

I think both kava and valerian are great. People should use whatever works for them.

I take valerian for insomnia and it has been working for me. Some people say it makes them drowsy and sleepy, but I actually want that! I take it before bedtime and sleep like a baby!

burcidi

@literally45-- I know there are many claims about kava and how it may affect the liver. But I've also read that in countries that kava is banned, those who had serious complications or death from it mixed the kava with other drugs and alcohol. So these claims are not proven in my opinion.

I drink kava regularly and have not experienced any negative side effects. I prefer kava to valerian for anxiety because valerian gives me brain fog. Kava makes me relax but I can continue to work and concentrate after drinking it. I can't work so well when I take valerian, I usually end up sleeping. So I think that kava is better.

literally45

I wasn't sure which of these supplements I should try. But looking at the potential risks from kava, I'm definitely going to go with Valerian for my anxiety.

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    • Valerian is native to Europe and Asia.
      Valerian is native to Europe and Asia.
    • Both kava and valerian are said to help anxiety.
      Both kava and valerian are said to help anxiety.
    • Valerian has been said to help relieve symptoms such as headaches.
      Valerian has been said to help relieve symptoms such as headaches.
    • Some proponents say that kava and valerian are both effective in treating chronic stress.
      Some proponents say that kava and valerian are both effective in treating chronic stress.
    • Kava drinks may help curb people's desire to consume alcohol.
      Kava drinks may help curb people's desire to consume alcohol.
    • Both kava and valerian can be helpful in reducing anxiety and insomnia.
      Both kava and valerian can be helpful in reducing anxiety and insomnia.
    • Valerian is said to be beneficial for someone with depression.
      Valerian is said to be beneficial for someone with depression.
    • Kava supplements have been linked to liver damage.
      Kava supplements have been linked to liver damage.
    • Kava and valerian may be helpful in inducing restful sleep.
      Kava and valerian may be helpful in inducing restful sleep.