Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis) is long-living flowering plant with a naturally sweet scent that has been used in perfume for centuries.
However, the root of the plant, which is most commonly for sale as an herbal extract over-the-counter, has an extremely putrid smell with sedating and anxiety-reducing properties.
Thankfully, you won’t taste it since it’s sold in capsule form.
Valerian Root is native to Europe and Asia, but cultivation is increasing in North America now.
The term valerian comes from the personal name “Valeria” and the Latin verb “valere” (to be strong and healthy).
Valerian use as a medicinal herb, mainly for insomnia, dates back to ancient Greece and Rome.
In medieval Sweden, the herb was often placed in the wedding clothes of grooms to fend off the “envy” of elves. Given how unpleasant it smells, that was probably an effective tactic.
A variety of known compounds are present in valerian (particularly the roots), including, but not limited to GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), hesperidin, valerenic acid, valerenol, and myriad alkaloids.
While it is a popular herbal medicine for healthy aging and longevity purposes, there is little clinical or scientific research to support its anecdotal benefits (at the time of this writing).
With that said, there appears to be a variety of worthwhile benefits, including pain relief, anxiety reduction, sedation, and migraine treatment, from supplementation with valerian root extract.
Read on as this article goes in depth on how valerian root extract works, the research behind its benefits, how it may help reduce anxiety, how to dose it, and any potential side effects and safety concerns to be aware of.
- Valerian Root can be a safe natural alternative to Xanax for panic attacks and anxiety.
- Great for ‘taking the edge off’ with feelings similar to having a beer or a glass of wine.
- Valerian Root is a very effective sleep aid and pairs well with St. Johns Wart or Lemon Balm!
- Helps with tension and migraines.
- Tends to have a pungent odor so take it down fast and beware of burps!
- Valerian Root is just one of many over the counter supplements that can help your anxiety, to find out about others get our free Anxiety Supplement Guide by clicking the button below!
How Valerian Root Works
The mechanisms of how valerian acts to reduce anxiety and promote better sleep remain somewhat unclear.
However, scientific literature reports that these benefits arise from the interaction of valerian compounds with GABA receptors.
For example, valerenic acids are structurally similar to GABA and appear to act on GABA-A receptors.
Since GABA is one of your primary sedative neurotransmitters, valerian root supplements do hold promise as a means of reducing your anxiety by calming your mind.
This is also the likely mechanism for why valerian root may be a great option to help you sleep at night.
Interestingly, people with genetic mutations of a specific subunit of GABA-A receptors appear to resist the anxiety-reducing benefits of valerian root.
There is some data suggesting that compounds in valerian root act to increase serotonin receptor activation; though, the exact compounds responsible for this effect remain unclear.
Research suggests it derives its anticonvulsive property from the bioflavonoid hesperidin. As a result, valerian may help treat epileptic seizures and migraine headaches.
The mechanism for this property is still not well understood, but appears to be a reduction of glutamate in the central nervous system; opposite to GABA, glutamate is your “excitatory” neurotransmitter that can cause convulsions by damaging the hippocampus in the brain.
Hopefully, future studies will examine the potential therapeutic/nootropic effects of specifically valerian root in a double-blind setting. At this time, research suggests the benefits of valerian root include:
- Increases GABA and serotonin production which reduces anxiety
- Promotes restfulness and better sleep quality
- May reduce risk of epileptic seizures
- Help treat migraine headaches and high blood pressure
- May reduce appetite
Research on Valerian Root for Improving Anxiety Symptoms
Unfortunately, data is in short supply on studies that directly examine the effects of valerian root extract supplements in humans with anxiety disorders and/or depression.
Nevertheless, there are a select few studies that have promising results.
For example, a study from 2003 examining the effects of St. John’s Wort in conjunction with valerian root extract in subjects with anxiety/depression shows promising results.
The main drawback of the study is that it was a combination therapy and not solely valerian root extract.
Nevertheless, the study results show more improvements in anxiety symptoms from the group of subjects using both St. John’s Wort and valerian root extract versus the group using only St. John’s Wort.
In fact, after just six weeks of combination therapy of St. John’s Wort and valerian root extract, subjects anxiety and depression symptoms were 66% lower than baseline.
Subjects using only St. John’s Wort also typically have a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms as well, but not as significant as combination therapy with valerian root extract.
Moreover, the same study notes that combination therapy of valerian and St. John’s Wort results in drastic improvements in sleep quality.
Episodes of insomnia in the combination therapy group were 72% lower than baseline after six weeks.
A different study also shows that valerian root extract reduces insomnia and restlessness in children; of the 938 children in the study, more than 75% report a significant reduction in insomnia episodes.
Note that this study is also an examination of combination therapy (with lemon balm extract).
Another study suggests that valerian root extract is nearly as potent as the common anxiety-reducing drug Diazepam.
Despite the study using rats as test subjects, the study bodes well on a mechanistic level for the nootropic role of valerenic acid and valerenol in humans; these two compounds react similarly to Diazepam on GABA-A receptors and help calm your mind.
Note you should never replace or combine any of your current anxiety medications with valerian root extract supplements until you consult with a healthcare practitioner.
Recommended Forms and Dosages
Since valerian root has a very short half-life (100 minutes) and its effects are highly variable, some trial and error will be necessary.
SAM-e supplements reach peak blood concentrations roughly four hours after ingestion.
The below dosage suggestions serve as starting points based on the desired effects you want from SAM-e.
The dosage suggestions for Valerian Root Extract are as follows (assuming at least 1% valerenic acid and valerenol):
Reduce Anxiety and Enhance Mood: 500mg taken once daily on an empty stomach (work up to 1000mg per day, if needed). Add 500mg of St.John’s Wort for better efficacy.
Enhance Sleep Quality and Duration: 500mg taken 30 to 60 minutes prior to bed on an empty stomach
Antioxidant and Longevity Properties: 250mg taken once daily on an empty stomach
Migraine Headache Treatment: 500mg taken as needed
*Note: We recommend take valerian root extract later in the day as it is likely to induce drowsiness.
Safety and Potential Side Effects
Valerian root extract is typically safe for use with minimal complications. That being said, the long-term effects are unknown.
Some clinicians believe it should be taken intermittently to avoid addiction, but there is no data to support this recommendation.
Generally, though, valerian root extract side effects tend to be quite benign due to its short half-life.
Uncommon, yet notable, side effects of valerian root extract supplementation may include:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Drowsiness (though this is not necessarily a negative)
- Mental fog
- Lack of appetite
- Dry mouth
Most of these side effects will be rather uncommon unless using upwards of 2000mg to 3000mg of valerian root extract per day.
If you begin to feel undesirable side effects after taking a valerian root extract supplement, stop use immediately; you may then retry with a lower dose.
Overall, valerian root extract has a large body of anecdotal evidence supporting its nootropic role in humans.
Preliminary studies suggest it can reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms rather significantly in just a matter of weeks.
Moreover, the sleep benefits from valerian root extract appear highly promising, particularly for insomniacs.
Studies also note that valerian root extracts pairs well with other nootropic supplements, like St. John’s Wort and lemon balm extract.
Combination therapy of these nootropics tends to be more effective than any of them taken alone.
The precise mechanisms that govern valerian root extract benefits remain to be discovered.
Though, it is safe to say that GABA plays an integral role in how valerian root extract benefits humans; this appears to be mainly from valerenic acid and valerenol.
Furthermore, valerian root extract may provide holistic health and well-being benefits on top of its nootropic roles.
Research suggests it can help treat migraine headaches and lower blood pressure, yet more evidence is necessary in this regard.
The main criticism of valerian root extract supplements at this time is the lack of research on human subjects using solely this herb.
Nevertheless, the data that does exist is rather compelling and anecdotal benefits are generally profound.
Better yet, valerian root extract supplements are highly affordable and readily available at most any pharmacy or grocery store.
So if you feel you could use something to take the edge off or help you sleep Valerian Root supplements won’t break the bank, so, by all means, give it a try!
 Holzl J, Godau P (1989). “Receptor binding studies with Valeriana officinalis on the benzodiazepine receptor”. Planta Medica. 55 (7): 642.
 Khom, S., Baburin, I., Timin, E., Hohaus, A., Trauner, G., Kopp, B., & Hering, S. (2007). Valerenic acid potentiates and inhibits GABA A receptors: molecular mechanism and subunit specificity. Neuropharmacology, 53(1), 178-187.
 Dietz, B. M., Mahady, G. B., Pauli, G. F., & Farnsworth, N. R. (2005). Valerian extract and valerenic acid are partial agonists of the 5-HT 5a receptor in vitro. Molecular Brain Research, 138(2), 191-197.
 Dimpfel, W. (2006). Different anticonvulsive effects of hesperidin and its aglycone hesperetin on electrical activity in the rat hippocampus in‐vitro. Journal of pharmacy and pharmacology, 58(3), 375-379.
 Müller, D., Pfeil, T., & Von den Driesch, V. (2003). Treating depression comorbid with anxiety–results of an open, practice-oriented study with St John’s wort WS® 5572 and valerian extract in high doses. Phytomedicine, 10, 25-30.
 Müller, S. F., & Klement, S. (2006). A combination of valerian and lemon balm is effective in the treatment of restlessness and dyssomnia in children. Phytomedicine, 13(6), 383-387.
 Benke, D., Barberis, A., Kopp, S., Altmann, K. H., Schubiger, M., Vogt, K. E., … & Möhler, H. (2009). GABA A receptors as in vivo substrate for the anxiolytic action of valerenic acid, a major constituent of valerian root extracts. Neuropharmacology, 56(1), 174-181.