Valerian is a medicinal herb that’s been used for thousands of years due to its sedative properties. Many people use valerian for anxiety and insomnia, but research concerning these conditions remains slim.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at valerian and whether or not it can help you. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is Valerian?
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb found in Europe and parts of Asia. Throughout the last thousand years, valerian root has been used as a sedative among many different cultures, including Greeks and Romans.
In the modern world, people usually use valerian for sleep disorders, such as insomnia. ¹ However, some research suggests it may be beneficial for anxiety, stress, and other conditions. ² Still, more research is necessary to support these claims.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved valerian, it does admit that it’s safe to take and easier on the body than synthetic drugs, such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. ³
How Does Valerian Effect the Body?
Valerian still puzzles scientists and they aren’t 100% sure how it works in the body. However, recent research has found independent and synergistic actions of compounds within the plant, including: ²
- Low levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)
- Monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, and carboxylic compounds
From that list, GABA is the most notable as it acts as a regulator for nerve impulses within the nervous system. Some of the compounds found in valerian increase the amount of GABA available in the central nervous system (CNS) while also modulating receptors. Furthermore, valerenic acid may inhibit an enzyme that’s responsible for destroying GABA. ³
Since GABA is one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for sleep regulations, valerian’s effects allow the body to be more easily sedated. ⁴
Some research also suggests that valerian interacts with serotonin and adenosine receptors which play important roles in sleep and mood regulation. Finally, valepotriates – a compound that gives valerian its distinctive smell – might have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects on the body. ⁵ ⁶
Can You Use Valerian for Anxiety?
Most cultures have found valerian to be a prominent sedative that can help with a variety of sleep disorders, including insomnia. However, there is some link between sleeping difficulty and anxiety.
For example, one study found that sleep disorders were common among people struggling with anxiety disorders. This may be due to the fact that both conditions are caused by the arousal response to stress. ⁷
With that in mind, many have reported using valerian for anxiety and finding some success. However, research concerning this remains slim.
What Does the Research Say?
The following studies suggest you may be able to use valerian for anxiety:
- In 2021, 39 people experiencing hemodialysis found 530mg of valerian root taken 1 hour before bedtime helped reduce symptoms of anxiety. Furthermore, this treatment helped to improve patients quality of sleep and depression. ⁸
- In 2011, one study sought how valerian would effect obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 31 adults took 765mg of valerian extract daily for 8 weeks and found a reduction in both obsessive and compulsive behaviors. ⁹
- In 2014, research sought to see whether or not valerian could help with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 169 elementary school children were given 640mg of valerian extract and 320mg of lemon balm extract. After 7 weeks, the study reports that the treatment improved focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. ¹⁰
While research is promising, we still need more preliminary trials to determine whether or not valerian can be used for anxiety and stress.
Other Benefits of Valerian
Beyond sleep, stress, and anxiety, valerian may also benefit:
- Menopausal Symptoms – Some research shows valerian can help to reduce hotflashes in menopausal and postmenopausal women. ¹¹
- Menstrual Problems – Some research suggests valerian may help relieve painful menstration in those struggling with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). ¹²
- Restless Legs Syndrome – Valerian was able to reduce symptoms and daytime sleepiness in those with restless legs syndrome. ¹³
Since these conditions may cause anxiety and sleep difficulty, they may be able to act as alternative therapies to traditional medication.
Valerian Side Effects and Safety
Not only is valerian safe for most people to consume, but most studies have also found people don’t experience side effects. Still, some people may experience the following:
- Metallic taste
- Stomach issues (i.e. diarrhea and stomachache)
- Vivid dreams
In rare cases, valerian has been found to cause liver injury. Especially when combined with other herbs, such as black cohosh and skullcap. ¹⁴
If you’re currently on medication, valerian appears to be safe to take (in accordance with current research). ¹⁵ However, we still recommend you consult your doctor.
Furthermore, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid valerian altogether. There’s currently no research concerning its safety in children under 3. ¹⁶
Valerian for Anxiety Dosage Recommendation
As of this time, there is no standard dose for valerian. In most studies discussed here, participants were given between 400 milligrams (mg) and 900mg.
If you’re new to valerian, we suggest starting small and working your way up. This will give you an idea of how valerian makes you feel and how much you’ll need to ease symptoms.
Furthermore, being valerian’s sedative effects, we only recommend taking it an hour or two before bedtime.
Valerian for Anxiety Reviews
Want to know where to find the best valerian root for anxiety? Here are our top picks:
For $28.99, Gaia Herbs offers Valerian Root capsules that come in a 60-count at 1600mg of dry herb per serving (two capsules). This gives you 1.8mg of valerenic acid derivatives, the main medicinal compound in valerian root. This is great for those looking for a gluten-free and vegan-friendly option.
When it comes to herbal supplements, Gaia Herbs has a reputation of being a top brand. Beyond their sourcing of high-quality ingredients, they also test each batch of products to ensure safety.
For $19.99, Herbal Roots offers Organic Valerian Root capsules that come with 900mg a serving. While this is almost identical to our above product, it comes at a cheaper price along with free shipping. Furthermore, some reviewers report these capsules don’t make them feel groggy in the morning like other valerian products.
If you struggle with swallowing capsules, you’ll prefer Global Healing’s Valerian tincture. For $19.95, you get pure valerian root extract delivered through organic vegetable glycerin, triple-distilled biophotonic structured water, ormus supercharged minerals.
While this comes with about 60 servings of valerian extract, Global Healings isn’t clear as to how many milligrams (mg) of valerian you’re receiving per serving. Still, this remains one of the top-rated valerian products on the market.
While there’s only so much evidence to confirm valerian’s potential as an anti-anxiety, it appears to work well as a sedative. For this reason, you may find valerian beneficial when taken over a period of time (usually over the course of a month or two).
Still, since valerian causes fatigue, it’s not something that should be taken during daytime hours. In turn, you may find other health supplements preferable for treating anxiety.
Still have questions about valerian for anxiety?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ HHS Public Access: Valerian for Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
² Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine: Valerian Root in Treating Sleep Problems and Associated Disorders—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
³ National Institutes of Health (NIH): Valerian
⁴ nutrients (MDPI): Herbal Remedies and Their Possible Effect on the GABAergic System and Sleep
⁶ The Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology: Synergistic interaction between diene valepotriates from Valeriana glechomifolia Meyer (Valerianaceae) and classical antidepressants: an isobolographic analysis
⁷ Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience: Sleep and anxiety disorders
⁹ Journal of Complementary & Integrative Medicine: Extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) vs. placebo in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind study
¹¹ Iran Journal of Pharmaceutical Research: The effects of valerian root on hot flashes in menopausal women
¹² Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine: The effect of Valerian root extract on the severity of pre menstrual syndrome symptoms
¹³ Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine: Does valerian improve sleepiness and symptom severity in people with restless legs syndrome?
¹⁴ LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury: Valerian
¹⁶ Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine: Effects of valerian consumption during pregnancy on cortical volume and the levels of zinc and copper in the brain tissue of mouse fetus