Kava and valerian are herbal remedies that are claimed to have anxiolytic and sedative properties respectively, without dependence potential or any appreciable side effects. In this pilot study, 24 patients suffering from stress-induced insomnia were treated for 6 weeks with kava (LI-150), 120 mg daily. This was followed by a 2-week 'wash-out' period off treatment, and then, five patients having dropped out, 19 received valerian (LI-156), 600 mg daily, for another 6 weeks. Then there was a further 2-week period off treatment, and a final 6 weeks of treatment of these 19 patients with the two compounds combined (kava + valerian). Stress was measured in three areas: social, personal and life events; insomnia in three areas also: time to fall asleep, hours slept and waking mood. Total stress severity was significantly relieved by both compounds individually (p < 0.01), with no significant differences between them; and there was also improvement with the combination, significant in the case of insomnia (p < 0.05). On direct questioning, 16 patients (67%) reported no side effects on kava, 10 (53%) on valerian and 10 (53%) on the combination. The 'commonest' effect was vivid dreams with kava + valerian (4 cases (21%)) and with valerian alone (3 cases (16%)), followed by gastric discomfort and dizziness with kava (3 cases each (3 %)). These results are considered to be extremely promising but further studies may be required to determine the relative roles of the two compounds for such indications. Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.