The Latin verb valere — from which valerian root derives its name — means to be healthy and strong. One way valerian root has traditionally helped people become healthy and strong is with the promise of a good night’s sleep. Writings from Hippocratus in the second century A.D. describe valerian’s therapeutic qualities, and through the centuries it has been touted as a homeopathic remedy for headaches, nervousness, insomnia and heart palpitations. Often combined with other herbal compounds like St. John’s Wort or lemon balm for amplified effects, valerian root can help lower stress, reduce restlessness and improve feelings of depression3.
English Name: Valerian Root
Latin Name: Valeriana Officinalis
What is Valerian Root?
Valerian is a common perennial plant native to Europe and Asia. Its sweet white or pink flowers attract many species of fly and butterfly, and many parts of the plant have been important components of holistic medicine since ancient times. A member of the diverse family Caprifoliaceae, valerian is considered an invasive species of weed in some parts of the U.S. and Canada4.
The plant is commonly used as a flavoring in food and beverages, but its chief health applications are to address sleep disorders, like insomnia, and to treat anxiety. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers valerian safe for consumption and gentler than synthetic sleep medications1.
How does Valerian Root work?
Researchers think valerian affects the brain’s gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in much the same way as synthetic drugs like Xanax and Valium do – but without the “hangover” effect and other side effects of those drugs1. By inhibiting the production of a GABA-destroying enzyme and helping the brain retain the GABA it produces naturally, valerian root acts like a sedative, inducing drowsiness and deepening sleep2. There are few side effects associated with taking valerian, especially with short-term use, though it may enhance the effect of other sedatives, including alcohol.
What are the benefits of Valerian Root?
The biggest benefit of valerian root – and the one with the most evidence behind it – is the ability to fall asleep faster and sleep better through the night. The current research is mixed, but studies indicate that valerian root can increase quality of sleep both on its own or when taken in combination with other supplements4.
Additionally, there is promising evidence that valerian root can reduce the severity and frequency of menopausal hot flashes and ameliorate the cramps and back pain of menstruation3. Early research suggests valerian root may be effective in treating anxiety, though the dosage for that application is delicate because of the root’s sedative effects4.
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The content provided is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have a health condition, please consult a medical professional and do not use this information to self-diagnose or self-treat.
- Cafasso, Jaquelyn. "Valerian Root Dosage: How Much Is Safe?" Healthline. September 6, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/valerian-root#safety.
- "Office of Dietary Supplements - Valerian." NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. March 15, 2013. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Valerian-HealthProfessional/.
- "Valerian: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning." WebMD. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-870/valerian.
- Wexler, Alyse. "Valerian Root for Insomnia and Anxiety: Benefits, Function, and Preparation." Medical News Today. June 25, 2017. Accessed August 13, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318088.php.
Reviewed by Master Herbalist, Mary Ellen Kosanke