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.
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 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.
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.
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.