Valerian and swabbing

Valerian stem and root

Valerian stem and root


This is a wee bit of a rant as this lies close to my heart. Sometimes I am being told that this or that herb is on the banned substance list. I did some extensive searching to find out exactly which herbs are banned and found very little.

It all started with a communique by Dr. Vale, EA National Medication Control Officer, cautioning against the use of herbal products and cites FEI anti-doping regulations. I agree that as herbal consumers, we need to be aware what we can and can’t feed to our horses, and thus we need to be aware of what herbs do and how they do it. But… let me tell you… EA does not test for herbs, only for specific compounds contained within herbs, eg. salicylic acid.

When I did my research on this topic, I only found Valerian on the prohibited drug list due to its essential oil constituent valerenic acid? Valerenic acid has been identified as being the substance possibly responsible for Valerian’s sedative/anxiolytic action, although it is not clear if the therapeutic action can be contributed to one compound, a group of compounds, or some unknown compound, or is due to a synergistic effect.  Despite this, Valerian products (other then pure dried herb) are now often standardised to contain 0.8% valerenic acid. This means that a standard human dose of 500mg contains 4mg of valerenic acid.

Dried herbs cannot be standardised, thus the content of valerenic acid in dried root can vary greatly. It also has to be remembered that valerenic acid is a constituent in the essential oil of Valerian root. How much essential oil is present in the root depends on where the plant has been grown. Essential oil yield of dried root is on average 0.8% and valerenic acid is only one of 87 identified constituents of valerian essential oil. Valerenic acid content can be between 0.0-0.9% of the essential oil.

You can see, it’s not that straight forward. Yes it is a risk that, if you are competing at FEI or EA level you may not want to take and rather not feed Valerian or stop feeding it a couple of days before competition.

But… My question to you is:  With the above information would you continue to use Valerian dried root even though FEI prohibits Valerenic acid and by default Valerian root?

Do your calculations… the recommended dose for Valerian root powder for horses is  from 15g (15,000mg) up to 60g  (60,000mg) depending on the source. How much valerenic acid would be in each of those doses? I use Valerian in a Nervine blend at a dose of 2.5g (2500mg) of dried, powdered root per dose.

Further reading:…-a0198809251

Hilary Page Self, A Modern Horse Herbal, pp 59-60

Barbara Fougere, Susan G. Wynn., Veterinary Herbal Medicine, pp. 657-659


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