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What to Know Before You Buy Valerian Root

Updated on March 27, 2010

What Is Valerian?

Valerian (valeriana officinalis) is a hardy perennial plant that has a long history of use around the world for treating insomnia and anixety. Historically, the roots and rhizomes (underground stems) were used to make a tea given to those with sleeping difficulties.

it's name derives from the Latin valere -- to be strong.

Today people often use valerian root in a liquid capsule or pill form, but the effect is the same: valerian causes a calming effect that helps people fall asleep, stay asleep, or simply overcome anxiety.

Valerian's primary two recognized uses are for the treatment of anxiety and sleeping disorders.

The great Roman physician Galen of Pergamum recommended valerian root way back in the 2nd century AD. That says something for its history of human use!

Valerian Root for Sleep

Have you been suffering from any of these symptoms?

  • poor quality sleep
  • restless sleeping
  • waking up at night
  • taking a long time to fall asleep

The dosage is simple: 2-3 grams of dried root in hot (not boiling) water. Boiling water will drive off many of the key volatile oils that contribute to valerian's efficacy.The raw root is VERY STINKY. For this reason, many people prefer the extract capsules.

In liquid extract form, try between 300-600 mg valerian 30-60 minutes before bed. You will feel very drowsy.

It's best to only take valerian for 4-6 weeks, rather than as a constant sleep aid.

Results of one study showed similar effects when taking valerian to stronger pharmaceutical sleep aids (but without addictive qualities), including:

  • Decreased waking up at night
  • Decreased time to fall asleep
  • Increased sleep quality

Valerian Root for Anxiety

Or perhaps you've been suffering from these:

  • Uncontrollable worry
  • Nervousness in public
  • Inability to relax
  • Dizzyness or lightheadedness

Valerian has been effective in reducing some of the symptoms of anxiety in double-blind, placebo controlled studies.

It was even used during WWII in England to reduce the stress of constant air raids! If an herb can help calm people under constant threat of being blown to pieces, it can certainly help your everyday anxiety troubles.

It is recommended to take a smaller dose of Valerian for anxiety than one would to fall asleep. This helps to avoid the drowsy effects of higher doses. Approximately 50-150 mg 3x a day is best.

Is It Safe?

The American Herbal Products Association has given valerian root a Class 1 safety rating. This means it is approved for a wide variety of uses and doses.  You are likely fine to take valerian if you are not taking any other medications.

It is not recommended for those taking MAOIs, or anyone with liver disease.

Also, mothers and expectant mothers (those pregnant or nursing) should NOT take valerian.

Of course, ALWAYS check with your doctor before adding an herbal remedy to your body.

The side effects, compared to other drugs used for anxiety or sleeping problems are very mild, and include headache, dissiness, and upset stomach. Most users will never experience these side effects.

Valerian vs. Valium

Valerian's active chemicals work in a very similar manner to those in pharmaceutical group benzodiazepines. These include the oft-prescribed Valium and Xanax, which are used for patients suffering from high anxiety.

Although these drugs work well, many people find them very addictive and difficult to quit. Many doctors will now recommend valerian as a way for patients to get off addictive drugs such as Valium or Xanax.

For anxiety disorders, valerian has been shown to have a quicker response time, with studies showing results after a single use, compared to 4-6 weeks for Xanax or Valium.

Even better, valerian does not have any dependency issues, and you will not develop a need for it. It can be used on an as-needed basis for sleep or anxiety troubles.

In a double-blind, randomized trial of 36 patients with anxiety disorder, a 2002 study found a significant reduction on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale for those who took valerian and those who took diazepam (Valium), vs. no change for those on placebo.

44% of people in a 1989 Swedish study of people with sleep disorders reported experiencing "perfect sleep". Even more impressive: 89% of that same group reported "improved sleep"!

How Does It Work?

Valerian root contains a large number of chemicals that work synergistically to produce its effects. The most interesting and unique ones include valerenic acid and the valepotriates. Scientists have concluded that the sleepy effect from taking valerian is because of its actions on the GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid) neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. It's function is to generally reduce brain activity.

The feeling of anxiety or nervousness is an effect of a brain that's too excited. Too many neurons are firing off without direction, and that's why you feel restless or uneasy. The compounds in valerian root increases the activity of GABA, thus calming your brain down.

In addition, the valrenic acid in valerian root inibits an enzyme that destroys GABA.

So Can Valerian Help Me?

if you are suffering from anxiety issues -- YES.

If your are suffering from sleeping disorders -- YES.

If you are not taking other drugs -- YES.

It's not magical, but valerian is an effective substitute for pharmaceutical drugs used to treat anxiety and sleeping disorders. It produces a drowsy, calming effect that can make it more easy to deal with stress, or simply allow a better, more restful night's sleep.

It has fewer side-effects, and works faster than comparable drugs, and is significantly cheaper than popping Xanax. But don't switch without talking to your doctor first!


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      Daine 3 years ago

      Oh my god! I need this right now! Its been 4am and im still awake and panicky! I cant sleep..worrying of nothing..god is good for letting me read this page. Thank you so much.

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      Tom 4 years ago

      Not sure if it is actually just a placebo effect, but I took two capsules of Tranquil Stress Relief formula which contains Valerian Root extract in addition to Hops extract, and I am feeling very, very calm right now, as well as slightly drowsy but with none of the spacy, disoriented feelings so often associated with other types of prescription drugs such as Valium, Zanax, etc. Pretty relaxed and peaceful right now and just watching a ball game on the tube...

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      Carolina King 4 years ago

      The tincture of Valerian root works awesome as well for those who don't particularly like taking pills. :-)

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      Her 4 years ago

      It really does work. As an opiate addict I found one of the main causes of my relapse has been lack of sleep combined with anxiety. I get panic attacks during withdraw that make me feel like there is no hope I can't breathe or anything. I heard of this and thought I'd give it a try. It's been 48 hours since I last used and I should be feeling wayyyy worse then I do now. Combine with melatonin this stuff makes kicking so much easier for me. Glad I could find this (:

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      Brandon 4 years ago

      This stuff really does work. I have constant anxiety, it causes me to breath rapidly, feel faint, etc. Valerian root, at least the raw root that I buy in capsule form at the Vitamin Shoppe, give me the exact same feeling as valium. Though I am hypersensitive to just about everything. I just took two because I was an anxious wreck today, i feel calm and actually a little goofy. I couldn't be over excited right now if you paid me.

    • AmberJoe profile image

      Amber Joe 5 years ago from Washington State

      I've recently read a study that indicates valerian root is also good for neuropathic pain. Although not the information I was looking for, your article was informative :) Thank you.

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      Goober 5 years ago

      This stuff is awesome. Works just as good as Valium does. Never seen anything like it. Just try it and you will see.

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      Ace 5 years ago

      Just took a bunch of valerian root pills right after a panic attack. Feeling slightly drowsy, but very calm, like nothing in the world is going to bother me. Such a relief!