Valerian root has been used for centuries for insomnia and as a calming herb. We will introduce to you all the other health benefits of valerian root.
Also, you can read about side effects, right dosage, and interaction with medications.
But first, let’s see what is valerian and where it comes from?
With a history stretching back to at least Ancient Greece and Rome, the Valerian Root has been used as a sleep aid, for anxiety relief and much more through the ages.
Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen touted it as a remedy for poison, whilst it was used as a cure for epilepsy in the Middle Ages.
However, it is as a treatment for nervous disorders that Valerian has become most noteworthy.
In the US, valerian root is mainly sold as a sleep aid, while in Europe it is used to treat restlessness, tremors, and anxiety.
Valerian flowers have a delicate scent once used in perfumes.
Valerian root, however, has a very strong, earthy smell.
This is because of the volatile oils and other compounds responsible for its sedative effects.
There are over 250 species of valerian, but V. officinalis is the species most used in the West.
Of the others, only two are commonly used for medicinal purposes (Himalayan V. wallichii and Mexican V. edulis).
This article focuses on Valeriana officinalis.
Components of Valerian
Valerian consists of many biologically active components that account for its wide-ranging effects.
Valerian’s chemical composition varies greatly, depending on the species, season, geographical source, growing condition, processing method, and storage.
Three main chemicals are thought to be the active components of valerian:
The essential oils (valerenic acid and valenol), valepotriates, and a few alkaloids, (actinidine, chatinine, shyanthine, valerianine, and valerine).
Compounds Responsible for Sedating Effects Include:
Valerenic acid increases levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces brain cell activity. It also has anti-inflammatory effects (by reducing NF-KappaB activity).
Iridoids (valepotriates and their derivatives) have sedative effects, but are unstable and break down during storage or in water, making their activity difficult to assess.
Isovaleric acid prevents involuntary muscle contractions. Its action is similar to valproic acid, which is used to treat epilepsy.
Hesperidin and linarin are antioxidant flavonoids with sleep-enhancing effects.
Hesperidin also has anti-seizure effects (by blocking calcium channels).
GABA is also found in valerian extracts in quantities sufficient to cause a sedative effect, although it is not known whether it crosses the blood-brain barrier. However, the glutamine present in water (but not alcohol) extracts of valerian root can cross the blood-brain barrier and be converted to GABA.
Health Benefits Of Valerian Root
Valerian’s mild sedative effects have been used to promote relaxation and sleep for at least 2,000 years. Valerian may improve sleep by increasing GABA levels.
Lower GABA levels are found in people with short and long-term stress and are linked to anxiety and poor sleep quality.
A meta-analysis of 16 studies and 1,093 people found that valerian improved the speed of falling asleep, depth, and overall quality of sleep.
In a 2-day study of 27 elderly patients with mental problems, 44% reported perfect sleep and 89% reported improved sleep using a valerian preparation (containing sesquiterpenes).
Additionally, a one-month-long study of 16 people with insomnia found that a single dose of valerian improved the time to achieve deep sleep and its duration.
Valerian may also help reduce sleep disturbances in a variety of health conditions:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Benzodiazepine withdrawal
Valerian is known as ‘nature’s valium’ because it supposedly has a similar effect on reducing anxiety as the benzodiazepines Valium and Xanax. These bind to GABA receptors in the brain (amygdala).
One study of 2,462 adults with major depressive disorder and anxiety found that high doses of valerian (1000 mg/day) taken in combination with St John’s Wort (600 mg/ day) for 6 weeks reduced the symptoms of anxiety and depression by 66%.
Some researchers noticed that mice treated with valerian and valerenic acid exhibited a decrease in anxious behaviors.
However, one 4-week pilot study of 36 people with anxiety showed no significant differences between the valerian-treated group and the placebo group.
Further studies should clarify the potential benefits of valerian for anxiety.
In a study of 27 patients regularly kept awake at night by stress-inducing thoughts, 89% of those patients had better sleep after one month of valerian treatment.
Valerian may also reduce physical reactions during stressful situations. It slowed heart rate and reduced blood pressure in response to stress in a 2-week study of 56 healthy people.
A 4-day study of 24 healthy volunteers found that the combination of lemon balm and valerian improved laboratory-induced stress scores at 600 mg compared to placebo, but increased anxiety at a higher dose (1800 mg).
Valerian reduced physical and psychological stress in rats by maintaining serotonin and norepinephrine levels in brain regions associated with fear and anxiety (hippocampus and amygdala).
In mice, valerian reduced blood levels of a hormone involved in the stress response.
Valerian increases GABA levels in the brain. Deficiencies in GABA play a role in anxiety, restlessness, and obsessive behavior, which are symptoms often seen in ADHD.
In a study of 30 children aged 5 to 11, valerian (3 times a day for 2 weeks) improved ADHD symptoms (sustained inattention and impulsivity and/or hyperactivity). These positive effects disappeared one week after discontinuing valerian treatment.
In a 7-week study of 169 children with hyperactivity and concentration difficulties (but not meeting ADHD criteria), the combination of valerian and lemon balm decreased symptoms of restlessness, concentration difficulties, and impulsiveness.
Similarly, in another study of 918 children under 12 with difficulty falling asleep and restlessness, a combination of valerian and lemon balm improved symptoms in 81% of the patients with insomnia and 70.4% of the patients with restlessness without any negative effects.
The preliminary results are promising, but more research is needed before proclaiming valerian safe and effective for ADHD, restlessness, and similar disorders in children.
Naturally sedative and antispasmodic, Valerian root acts as a powerful muscle relaxant and can be especially helpful in easing menstrual cramps.
It can effectively calm the severe uterine muscle contractions experienced by some women during menstruation.
This was validated by a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled study from the Islamic Azad University in Iran.
Extensive studies have found that GABA also regulates blood pressure. Properly regulated blood pressure has a direct positive impact on the health of the heart, with high blood pressure increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Wellbeing During Cancer and HIV Treatment
An 8-week study of 227 patients undergoing cancer therapy did not support the use of valerian for insomnia, although fatigue was reduced.
Additionally, in a review, valerian improved insomnia and wellbeing in people undergoing treatment for cancer due to its calming effects. Contrary to popular belief, it did not interact with cancer drugs.
The drug efavirenz used in HIV patients is known to impair mental health and cause psychiatric disorders. In a 4-week pilot study of 51 HIV-positive patients, valerian root reduced insomnia and anxiety but failed to reduce psychosis and suicidal thoughts.
Memory and Cognitive Function
In a study of 61 patients, valerian reduced the risk of cognitive decline a month after heart surgery compared to a placebo.
Scientists observed the potential of valerenic acid to significantly improve memory by reducing oxidative stress in the memory center of the brain (hippocampus) in mice.
A valerian bath (3 times a week for 3 weeks) significantly improved wellbeing and sleep and decreased pain in 30 people with fibromyalgia.
Further research is warranted.
In an 8-week trial of 31 adults with OCD, valerian root reduced OCD symptoms compared to placebo.
There’s insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for OCD based on a single small trial.
Valerian is used as a home remedy for stomach cramps. Although it can reduce muscle spasms, current evidence does not support the use of valerian as a digestive aid.
In a study on guinea pigs, valepotriates and the essential oil present in valerian reduced contractions in the small intestine.
Related: Bloated Stomach Remedies That Work
2-4mls up to 3 times per day. or before bed, or as recommended by a herbal practitioner.
Valerian Root Tea
1-2 tsp of cut herb root to one cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 minutes then enjoys before bedtime.
Valerian Essential Oil
Valerian essential oil can be used in the bath or vaporized in an oil burner. It can be added to massage oil or cream. Use 6-8 drops per bath and 10 -18 drops per 30ml of carrier oil.
Possible Side Effects
Most clinical studies have shown that valerian root is well-tolerated and safe for short-term use.
Side effects, if any, tend to be mild and may include headache, dizziness, itchiness, upset stomach, dry mouth, vivid dreams, and daytime drowsiness.
Although rare, liver damage has been known to occur, usually in response to the overuse of valerian supplements or “wild-crafted” dried root.
It is not known whether the cause of the liver damage was due to valerian itself or contaminants in the product.
To avoid injury, let your doctor know if you intend to use valerian root for medical purposes. Ideally, you should have your liver enzymes monitored regularly to ensure that your liver remains healthy and functioning.
Herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.
Animal studies and anecdotal reports suggest that valerian may increase both beneficial and side effects caused by sedative drugs.
- Benzodiazepines, such as lorazepam (Ativan)
- Barbiturates, such as phenobarbital
- Narcotics, such as codeine
- Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Anti-seizure drugs
However, there is little evidence of clinically relevant interactions in humans.
Dosage and Preparation
There is no set dosage for valerian root or valerian root extracts. Most valerian capsules and tablets are formulated in doses ranging from 250 to 1,000 milligrams and are considered safe within this range.
The effects of valerian root are said to be noticeable within one to two hours. It is usually best to take a dose of 30 minutes or two hours before bedtime.
To make valerian tea, add 2 to 3 grams of dried valerian root (roughly 1 to 2 teaspoons) to one cup of hot water and allow to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
Valerian tinctures and extracts can vary in concentration; as a general rule, never exceed the recommended dosage on the product label.
Valerian essential oil is mainly used for aromatherapy and is not intended for internal use. Even food-grade essential oils used for flavoring should never be taken by mouth.
Conclusion: Valerian root is widely used for insomnia and today also for anxiety. This healthy herb has multiple health benefits and it is recommended to use as tea or natural tincture.
If you want to use it as a supplement it is good to consult with your doctor because there are some interactions with medications.