Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), also known as garden heliotrope or all-heal, is a perennial herb native to Asia, Europe, and North America. Valerian root is commonly sold as a sleeping aid and treatment for anxiety, restlessness, and trembling. The flowers of the valerian plant have a pleasant scent when used in perfumes but valerian root has an earthy smell.
Valerian root is made up of three main components: Valepotriates, essential oils (valerenic acid and valenol), and alkaloids (actinidine, chatinine, shyanthine, valerine, and valerianine).
The compounds and volatile oils found in valerian root are responsible for its sedative effects. And for centuries, the root of this plant has been used to treat headaches, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, nervousness, and tremors.
The roots and stems of the plant are used to make valerian supplements which are available in various forms, including liquid extracts, capsules, teas, tablets, and tinctures.
Health Benefits of Valerian Root
Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of valerian root.
Promote Relaxation and Sleep
Valerian root has a mild sedative effect that promotes relaxation and sleep. The root may improve sleep by increasing the gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels of people who suffer from anxiety and insomnia. Studies have shown that valerian root improves the speed at which one falls asleep, duration of sleep, and overall sleep quality.
Valerian root also helps reduce sleep irregularities in various health conditions, including HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, PTSD, and hypothyroidism. When used properly, the root can function as a milder alternative to conventional drugs for sleep disorders. The root can also be used in combination with other sedating herbs, such as passion flower, St. John’s Wort, hops, kava, and lemon balm to treat insomnia.
May Reduce Stress
Valerian root may also help minimize physical reactions in stressful situations. As a response to psychological and physical stress, the valerian root slows heart rate and lowers blood pressure. It does this by helping the brain maintain serotonin and norepinephrine levels in areas connected with anxiety and fear. The root also reduces levels of corticosterone (a hormone linked with stress response) in the blood.
Improves Anxiety Symptoms
Valerian root has a similar effect on reducing symptoms of anxiety similar to common drugs like Valium and Xanax. Studies found that a high dose of the root significantly improves symptoms in people with depressive disorders and anxious behaviors.
For people who feel anxious or nervous, a capsule of valerian supplements may be all it takes to alleviate nervousness without causing drowsiness. The sedative effects of valerian root may improve depression in bipolar disorder as well. The only side effect may be tiredness, which is manageable compared to suicidal tendencies caused by other conventional medications for anxiety.
May Reduce Painful Menstrual Periods
Valerian root can relieve muscle spasms and prevent uterine muscle contractions. Owing to this, valerian supplements are commonly used in the treatment of uterine cramping linked with painful menstrual periods.
Improves Hyperactivity in Children with ADHD
Valerian root improves the common symptoms of ADHD, including obsessive behavior, anxiety, and restlessness. The root has a positive effect on ADHD, a health condition usually characterized by hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and inattention. In addition, it improves difficulties in concentration, insomnia, and restlessness in children with ADHD without any side effects.
Improves Menopausal Symptoms
Studies have found that menopausal women with poor quality sleep, reported better sleep after using valerian root. The root may also improve the frequency and severity of hot flashes in postmenopausal women. Not only does it make it menopausal women sleep well, but it also helps with anxiety,
May Ease Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
People with restless leg syndrome (RLS) may find valerian helpful in improving symptoms and reducing daytime sleepiness. However, there is insufficient evidence to establish the effectiveness of valerian root in treating RLS.
Supports Heart Health
Valerian root can strengthen blood vessels and boost elasticity, which is beneficial to heart health. Additionally, the root may lower blood pressure and relax blood vessels.
Helpful During Cancer Treatment
Due to its soothing effect, valerian root may also improve insomnia and reduce fatigue in people undergoing cancer treatment without interacting with cancer drugs.
Lowers Risk of Cognitive Impairments
Aged people are more susceptible to cognitive impairments like memory loss, especially after surgery. However, studies have found that valerian significantly lowers the risk of memory loss and other cognitive impairments.
In fact, valerian root is very beneficial for symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome as well.
Relieves Digestive Problems
Valerian root is used as a home remedy for treating digestive problems, including stomach cramps and contractions in the small intestine. While some studies suggest that the use of valerian root as a digestive aid is not effective, it can help reduce muscle spasms.
May Inhibit Kidney Damage
People who have high cholesterol levels may find valerian root beneficial as it protects against kidney damage resulting from a high amount of fats in food.
Relieves Joint Pain
Due to its relaxant effects, valerian root may relax the muscles and relieve joint pain, knee pain, and hand tremors. Valerian may also be beneficial as a mild sleep aid in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Side Effects of Valerian Root
Generally, valerian root is reported to have no side effects. However, studies show the root is only safe when taken for a short period of time at recommended doses.
Side effects may include dry mouth, heart palpitations, allergic reactions, nausea, drowsiness, itching, upset stomach, liver toxicity, headaches, and addictiveness, and suicidal tendencies.
Since dietary supplements are not always tested for safety and consistency, it should not be used for a long period of time. Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children younger than 3 years should use the root with caution.
Valerian root should not be used in combination with antidepressants, alcohol, and other sleep aids.
It is important to note the following:
- The recommended doses of valerian supplements range from 400 mg to 900 mg at bedtime.
- Valerian root supplements are most effective if used on a regular basis for not less than 2 weeks. It may actually take a couple weeks before the effects of valerian root supplementation start becoming evident.
- For the treatment of insomnia, valerian root should be taken 1 to 2 hours at bedtime, or not more than 3 times daily. Even when sleep improves, treatment should be continued for up to 6 weeks.
- Higher dosages of valerian root may lead to overstimulation, so it is best to start with small amounts and use the lowest dose possible to get the desired effect.
- You can actually measure your valerenic acid levels for at least 5 hours after taking valerian root.
- Consult with a doctor to be sure about the dose you should be taking.
Valerian root is safe and naturally treats common health problems — including insomnia. With its very few side effects, it is an effective alternative to prescription sleep aids as they do not leave you feeling groggy.
Due to its natural sedative capabilities, valerian root provides relief for many other common health issues, such as stress, nervousness, anxiety, tension, high blood pressure, ADHD, epilepsy, memory loss, upset stomach, joint pain, menstrual cramps, and menopausal systems.
Keep in mind that it might take up to two weeks before you notice results from valerian root.
Since herbal remedies or medications aren’t always the solution to stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems, see your doctor if symptoms persist.