Is valerian root the next herbal remedy worthy of adding to your routine? When used correctly and under medical supervision, herbs can serve as part of a treatment regimen for various conditions, and in most cases they may come with fewer side effects compared to conventional medications. However, valerian root simply is not for everyone, in terms of safety and effectiveness. Valerian might be new to you, but it’s been around for quite some time. Also known as Valeriana officinalis, this tall, flowering grassland plant is native to Europe and Asia and now grows in various parts of the world, including North America.
Table of Contents
What is valerian root?
Valerian root has been used medicinally since the ancient days of Rome and Greece as a popular sleep aid. Historically, valerian root was also used to treat fatigue, digestive issues and migraines. The roots and rhizomes (underground stems) offer medicinal benefits and despite its very strong and off-putting odor, it plays a big role in making everything from teas and tinctures to dietary supplements in the form of tablets and capsules. It even packs in several vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium and B vitamins, too. Although scientists are still working to figure out how valerian root actually works in the body, research suggests that some benefits may be due to the mechanism behind plant compounds like lignans, flavonoids and valepotriates (compounds that give off the sedation feeling). Today, valerian has been spotlighted for its ability to help with sleep disorders, anxiety, PMS and menopause symptoms.
Benefits of valerian root
Modern medicine continues to highlight the wide range of biological active ingredients and potential health benefits in valerian. Here’s everything you need to know about this unique plant, including what symptoms it may manage, side effects, disadvantages and how to use it.
More From Good Housekeeping
1. It might help with sleep quality.
Valerian root might be the anecdote to your sleep problems. However, the research on valerian root and sleep is somewhat conflicting. “Newer meta-analyses show that valerian root improves sleep quality but does not seem to benefit the time it takes to fall asleep, sleep duration or insomnia severity,” says Tamar Samuels, M.S., R.D., Registered Dietitian and co-founder of Culina Health. While there is robust research on valerian root for sleep, outcomes are inconsistent because of study differences in dosage, formulation, treatment duration and patient populations. Samuels adds, “some studies have shown that valerian root only improves sleep quality if taken for at least four weeks while other studies show that taking products that contain a combination of valerian root and other ingredients, like hops, improves sleep quality in certain patient populations.” Most of the research on valerian root and sleep has shown positive benefits for sleep quality with doses of 300 to 600 milligrams per day for up to six weeks. So, if you’re thinking of using valerian root as a natural sleep aid, it’s best to get some guidance from your doctor on how much to use since some valerian root formulas may not be effective, or may even be dangerous if not used appropriately.
2. It may reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.
According to scientists, valerian root contains valerenic acid, the main active natural ingredient that acts on a receptor in the brain called “gamma aminobutyric acid” or GABA. This ingredient is responsible for its ability to increase the amount of GABA in the brain, giving off a sense of calmness and helping to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. A small study published in Oman Medical Journal found that valerian significantly improved sleep quality, the symptoms of state anxiety and depression in hemodialysis patients after one month of use which promoted a better quality of life.
But the research is mixed, as some studies have found that valerian root may improve sleep and anxiety symptoms, while others found that it has little to no effect at all. If you’re struggling with symptoms of anxiety, it’s always best to work with a licensed mental healthcare provider.
3. It may improve PMS symptoms.
When it comes to PMS relief, valerian might help. PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is a common disorder that affects more than 80% of women of reproductive age. In the luteal phase (before menstruation), some may experience sudden mood changes to fatigue, an increase in appetite, cramps and more. It’s not clear why this happens but it may be due to hormonal fluctuations, which is what some researchers propose.
Where does valerian root come into the mix? Different treatment methods are used to help manage symptoms and medicinal herbs are one of them, but research is limited. “One study found that it may improve the physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms of PMS,” says Julianka Bell, M.S., R.D., Registered Dietitian at FullWell. For example, when referring to menstrual cramps, the study noted valerian to work as “anti-spasticity” in the body, preventing the smooth muscle contraction of the uterus during menstruation by inhibiting the release of prostaglandins, therefore resulting in pain relief. It might be worth it for some folks, however, more studies are needed to confirm valerian root for PMS symptom relief.
4. It may help manage certain menopause symptoms.
The transition to menopause can get very intense for some women. Physical symptoms like hot flashes may disrupt your sleep, drain energy and affect overall mental and emotional health. Luckily, there are many effective treatments available from lifestyle modifications to hormone therapy, and natural plants like valerian root might be helpful too. “Valerian root may reduce hot flash severity and frequency, day and night,” says Bell. In a 2018 study, “taking 1060 milligrams of valerian twice daily for two months significantly reduced hot flashes in postmenopausal women.” Another study published in Menopause found that valerian extract improved the quality of sleep in women undergoing menopause experiencing insomnia after four weeks.
5. It may help regulate blood pressure.
The active components found in valerian root that contribute toward better sleep quality might also help to regulate blood pressure, lowering the risk for heart disease, which is the number one killer in both men and women. A review looking at the chemical components and cardiovascular activities of valerian root found that it contains a wide range of biological active ingredients to support blood pressure, heart rate and blood lipid levels. “One study on animals found that valerian root had anti-hypertensive effects, but only one study was performed with animals and not humans,” Samuels says. The mechanism of action behind valerian root needs to be further investigated.
What are the side effects?
Generally, valerian is considered safe for most people when used at the recommended doses. “Though valerian is well tolerated by many, it may cause an upset stomach, headaches and restlessness in some people,” Bell says. Its calming effects can also cause drowsiness. It is recommended by many health experts to avoid taking it with alcohol, sedative drugs and sleep aids or before driving or operating machinery. Valerian may also interact with certain anti-anxiety medications or other dietary supplements and medicinal herbs such as the popular St. John’s wort as it may increase side effects like dizziness and confusion.
“If you’re taking certain medications or preparing for surgery, consult your healthcare provider before adding valerian root to your routine,” Bell says. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should avoid using valerian root because there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that it is safe. If you’re taking valerian root for long periods of time, there might be some consequences. “Prolonged use of valerian root may cause dependency and withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing it,” adds Samuels. Withdrawal symptoms may include rapid heartbeat, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
How much valerian root should I take?
When it comes to improving sleep quality, “a dose of 450 to 1,410 milligrams of whole valerian root per day for four to eight weeks may help support sleep quality,” says Bell. “For tension relief, some experts suggest a dose of 400 to 600 milligrams of valerian extract or a dose of 0.3 to 3 grams of valerian root up to three times per day.” As of recently, the safety of long-term valerian use is still unknown. If valerian root is on your list to try, you’ll want to work with a trusted healthcare provider to determine what will be the most safe and effective dose for you.
Which valerian form is the best?
Valerian root has a woody and earthy taste. Some people take it in a capsule, tablet or tincture (concentrated liquid herbal extracts) form. Others love it as tea. The taste becomes stronger the longer you allow the tea to brew, but adding honey can make it more enjoyable if you’re looking to sweeten things up.
Most of the studies covering valerian use the capsule form compared to the teas. “The studies showing inconsistent results around the efficacy of valerian root typically looked at herbal extracts rather than the whole root and rhizome,” says Bell. When it comes to tea, manufacturers typically mix it with other herbs so there’s likely to be a much lower concentration of valerian. On the other hand, tinctures have a higher absorption rate than capsules and teas so you’ll likely get a higher level of nutrients and biological active ingredients. It’s always best to check the labels of the products you are purchasing for special usage recommendations and confirm with your provider that it’s okay for you to take.
That said, it’s important to note that herbal supplements aren’t monitored by the FDA the same way medications are, so it’s hard to know what you’re getting and if it’s safe. Also, just because it claims to be “natural” doesn’t always mean it’s safe. Since product claims can be misleading, it will be helpful to refer to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health or the Office of Dietary Supplements, a science-based resource to evaluate a product’s claims.
The bottom line
Valerian root is a plant filled with biological active ingredients that offers potential health benefits when consumed regularly. The roots and other parts of the plant are used to make dietary supplements such as capsules, tinctures and teas. If you’re thinking of taking valerian, check with your doctor first as it can interact with other medications or supplements you might be taking. Although the data seems promising, there’s simply not enough evidence to allow any strong conclusions about whether valerian is helpful for treating sleep disorders, menopause symptoms, PMS, high blood pressure, stress and anxiety or other conditions.
Valerie Agyeman (she/her) is a women’s health dietitian and the host of the Flourish Heights podcast, where she produces science-driven content covering overlooked nutrition, wellness and women’s health topics. She has over 10 years of nutrition communications, corporate wellness and clinical nutrition experience. Valerie is a trusted expert and regularly appears on networks including ABC’s Good Morning Washington, and she is a contributing expert to publications like Women’s Health, The Thirty and Shape.