Since ancient Greek and Roman times, people have used Valerian Root (VR) as an herbal remedy to treat a whole host of health concerns, including insomnia, headaches, nervousness, trembling, heart palpitations and more. Its use continues today, as it’s one of the most commonly-consumed dietary supplements worldwide.
Whether you’re dealing with sleep disorders and have tried other natural sleep aids, or you’re looking for a remedy to relieve anxiety and tension, valerian root could be the solution. And while it might not sound all too appealing to ingest a root, there’s a reason cultures around the world and throughout history have turned to valerian treatment to soothe them.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about this beneficial supplement, including the conditions it can benefit, its safety and how to best incorporate it into your daily routine.
What Is Valerian Root?
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb native to Europe and parts of Asia, and it has a long history of use as a sedative. The plant has delicately scented flowers but roots that emit a strong odor, which features prominently in many valerian products like teas or tinctures. The ancient Greeks and Romans prized valerian for its sedating properties, typically using it to treat sleep disorders, including insomnia.
Why is valerian root known for its sedating properties? Many scientists believe it’s not one chemical responsible for the root’s beneficial effects—rather it’s a combination of the plant’s components. It’s still unclear how valerian affects the brain, but it’s commonly believed to release gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down nerve cell activity.
While valerian is the most common name for this plant, it actually goes by many other names, depending on where in the world it’s used—and for what specific purpose. Some of the other names you might see used to describe natural medicine include:
- Garden heliotrope
- Tagar (Ayurvedic medicine)
- Xie cao (Chinese medicine)
It’s clear that cultures around the world prize valerian root for its healthful properties. Valerian is now grown in many areas of the world, including the United States and Canada.
The Health Benefits of Valerian Root
Several studies have explored valerian’s role in the treatment of a variety of health conditions and symptoms. While there is no direct evidence pointing to VR’s effectiveness in treating any medical condition, this supplement has been in use for millennia. Specifically, valerian may be helpful in treating the following:
- Since ancient times, valerian has been used to treat insomnia. Several studies have shown that valerian can improve sleep quality and quantity while also reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. It can be a safe and effective alternative to prescription medicine.
- Stress relief. VR has been shown to aid in relaxation, making it an effective tool for combatting chronic stress. If you suffer from nervous tension, valerian may be a natural way to relieve your symptoms. In fact, during World War II, valerian root was actually used to relieve the stress of air raids for those living in England at the time.
- Have anxious feelings associated with stressful situations? Studies have shown that taking valerian root before bedtime is associated with a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms. Participants also saw significant improvement in sleep quality and a reduction in depression symptoms. Evidence shows that valerian may also reduce like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other conditions characterized by anxious behavior.
- Menopausal hot flashes. Valerian has been shown to reduce hot flashes in menopausal and postmenopausal people. In a recent study, a dosage of 1,060mg per day for two months provided significant benefits.
- Restless leg syndrome. Research has shown that people with restless leg syndrome showed both improved symptoms and deceased daytime sleepiness after taking a dose of 800mg per day on a regular basis.
Research is ongoing as to the health benefits of valerian root. There is much more to learn about the ways valerian can improve human health, and scientists continue to search for more concrete evidence.
Valerian Extract is Available in Many Forms
There are many forms of valerian root on the market, but you’ll most commonly find it in powdered form as a capsule or tablet. If you’re looking for a stronger formulation, there are also extracts and tinctures that can be mixed with a beverage.
There are also several teas on the market that feature valerian root. Many of these are marketed as nighttime teas, designed to calm and relax you before bed. You’ll also find dried valerian root and leaves for teamaking. Keep in mind that these methods of valerian root consumption provide a lower concentration of the herb, and are therefore less effective than supplementing with extracts, tinctures, capsules or tablets.
Also, since valerian has a sharp odor, it’s likely a less appealing option in terms of odor and flavor.
Possible Interactions and Side Effects of Herbal Supplements
Of course, you should not use valerian if you’re allergic to it. You should also avoid valerian if you have certain medical conditions, so talk to your physician before beginning a supplement regimen.
Pregnant women should also avoid valerian unless they have a doctor’s permission to do so. It’s unknown whether valerian can harm an unborn baby—it’s better to be safe and avoid valerian throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.
You should avoid taking valerian with other herbal remedies that potentially cause drowsiness. These include, HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), California poppy, catnip, chamomile, gotu kola, Jamaican dogwood, kava, melatonin, St. John’s Wort, skullcap, yerba mansa and more. You should also avoid drinking alcohol, as it can increase the drowsiness associated with valerian.
Generally, valerian is completely safe when used in the short term. Taking doses of 300-600 mg daily for up to 6 weeks can be both safe and effective. The root is generally well-tolerated by most people, but side effects can include dizziness, drowsiness, headache, mental sluggishness, stomach upset and vivid dreams. It can cause withdrawal symptoms after long-term use. If you plan to stop taking a valerian supplement, slowly reduce the dose over a week or two to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
How Much Valerian Root Should You Take?
As with all dietary supplements, valerian root gives you the most benefits when you take it exactly as directed. The dosage you take depends on how much valerenic acid—one of valerian’s most powerful sedative components—a supplement contains.
- For most adults, a dose of between 450 and 1,400 mg of whole valerian root, used daily for 4 to 8 weeks, may improve sleep quality. Timing is also important if you’re taking valerian for insomnia. You could take three doses throughout the day, with the last dose near bedtime; but it’s often more effective to take a large dose one to two hours before bedtime.
- Those taking valerian for tension should take a dose of 400-600 mg of valerian extract up to three times per day. Alternatively, you could take a dose of .3-3 grams of valerian root at the same frequency.
- If you suffer from anxiety and OCD symptoms, take a dose of 530-765 mg per day.
- Experience hot flashes? Take a higher dose—765-1,060 mg per day—to reduce hot flash incidents during and after menopause.
You should talk to your healthcare provider before taking a valerian root supplement. Your doctor can suggest an appropriate dose of the supplement depending on the conditions or symptoms you’re targeting.
Keep in mind, it may be a few weeks before you begin to feel the effects of valerian. Regular, long-term use provides the most benefits. Your body will also become more attuned to the effects of VR with regular supplementation, which can lead to a more natural response.
How to Choose a Quality Valerian Root Supplement
There are plenty of VR supplements on the market, but they aren’t all created equal. Since valerian is sold as an herbal medicine, and is unregulated by the FDA, be selective when you’re shopping for a supplement. Always purchase your supplements from a reliable source to eliminate the risk of contamination. Here’s what to look for in a valerian root supplement:
- Form: Like most supplements on the market, you’ll find valerian root in a variety of different forms, like capsules and powders. Most people prefer to take valerian root extract, though, since you can easily adjust the dosage to your needs. You’ll also find it as a featured ingredient in many teas, including tea bags or dried tea leaves. Keep in mind that valerian tea is an infusion rather than the essence of the actual valerian plant, so you won’t get as many of the benefits if you consume tea instead of a supplement.
- Dosage: Valerian root supplements vary widely in terms of dosage. After you receive a doctor’s recommendation in terms of the ideal dosage for your body, look for a supplement that comes as close to that number as possible.
- Purity: Look for products that feature an entirely vegan formula, as well as gluten-free and GMO-free options. It’s also important to avoid supplements with fillers. Remember, you’re looking for an accurate level of valerenic acid content.
The Bottom Line on Valerian Root Dietary Supplements
For millennia, people have turned to valerian root to address a whole host of symptoms and health conditions, from insomnia to anxiety. Whether you’re ready for a better night’s sleep or you’re looking for a natural way to relieve tension, valerian supplements could be the answer.
If you’re interested in discovering whether a valerian supplement could benefit you, talk to your healthcare provider. Only your doctor can determine whether a dietary supplement would work well for your body and treat specific issues of concern, such as chronic insomnia. Take their recommendation seriously and make sure you’re shopping around for high-purity, reliably sourced VR supplements from a reputable source.