12 Tried and Tested Benefits of Valerian Root

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Valerian root has been helping humans feel better for over 2000 years. Dioscorides, the Greek physician and pharmacologist (AD 40-80), wrote of the benefits of several species of Valerian, and Galen, a prominent Greek physician and surgeon (AD 131-208), reported on its sedative effects. The name Valerian is thought to be derived either from Valerius, who first utilized its medicinal properties, or from the Latin term valere, meaning health or well-being.

The name Valerian was first recorded around the 9th and 10th centuries and was an entry in the  domestic books of home remedies in the 11th century.

Valerian was an experimental treatment for epilepsy in the late 16th century and after a number of successes became widely used for that condition, and as a treatment for various other nervous disorders. Additionally, European authorities considered Valerian to have antispasmodic (prevents and eases spasms), anthelmintic (destroys parasitic worms), diuretic (increases urination), diaphoretic (induces sweating), and emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow) actions.

In 1866 King’s American Dispensatory, reported the use of Valerian for rheumatism, low grade fevers, as an aphrodisiac, and its use to treat hysteria. Valerian was included in a number of editions of the United States Dispensatory which cited its effect on the nervous system and its ability to produce drowsiness and sleep. Valerian was listed in the United States National Formulary until 1946, and in recent years was once again accepted for inclusion.

In other countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and the United

Kingdom, Valerian has been a long standing entry in their various national pharmacopoeias.

Pharmacopoeia are books containing directions for the identification of compound medicines and are published by the authority of a government or a medical or pharmaceutical society.

As you can see Valerian has been long considered as far more than a folk medicine. And even though much research has been carried out on the herb, scientists are still unsure of its exact mode of action. Which is hardly surprising because they keep looking at isolated constituents rather than the Valerian as a whole. Herbal medicines don’t fit with the kind of reductionist thinking beloved of modern science. Valerian root has over 120 chemical components which work synergistically with one another to provide its beneficial effects.

Valerian root is available as an extract, a powder, capsules, as grated root or as an essential oil. Expect to pay in the region of $10 for an ounce of extract or for 100, 450mg capsules.

You can even grow this medicinal plant yourself. Valerian is a perennial plant which grows easily, reaching a height of 5 feet when the flowers bloom in the summer. Valerian self seeds, so to prevent its spread you should remove the blooms before they set seed. The root can be harvested in the second year.

Valerian root offers some powerful benefits and is a good addition to any home remedy kit. Valerian has few side effects (none in most people) and isn’t considered to be addictive.

One of the reasons that it is such an effective sleep aid is that it combats many of the underlying causes behind sleep disorders, which allows the herb to provide many additional benefits.

1. Valerian Root As A Sleep Aid

Valerian’s ability to provide a good night’s sleep is without doubt its biggest claim to fame and it is the area that has received the most interest from researchers.

Roughly 70 million Americans suffer from some degree of sleep disruption, and 9 million take prescription sleep medication. Prescription sleeping aids bring a host of problems with them, they’re addictive, they stay in the system and affect clear thinking, reflex actions and mood, and they don’t address the reason that sleep is disturbed in the first placed.

Research has found that having sleeping pills in your system increases the risk of having a car accident by 25 – 33%. That’s a similar rate of risk to drink driving.

We rightly vilify people who would get behind the wheel after a couple of drinks, but give little thought to the millions of drugged up people driving around under the influence of their various  prescription medications.

I think it’s fair to say that the roads would be a lot safer if those 9 million pill popping poor sleepers switched to a herbal sleep aid like Valerian.

Numerous Sleep studies have shown that Valerian extract improves sleep.

In a double-blind placebo controlled study, 128 subjects received one of three preparations: either an aqueous extract of valerian, a commercial preparation containing extracts of valerian and hops, or a placebo of brown sugar.

Both valerian preparations contained 400 mg of valerian extract. Subjects reported a reduction in sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep) and an increase in sleep quality.

Those who considered themselves poor or irregular sleepers obtained the most benefit.

In another double-blind, placebo controlled study, 8 volunteers with mild insomnia were given 450 or 900 mg of Valerian extract. Sleep onset was measured by wrist-worn activity monitors and was accelerated by the the 450 mg dose, while increasing the dose to 900 mg had no further benefit.

The authors concluded that valerian was at least as effective as small doses of barbiturates or benzodiazepines.

In another study, 80 elderly patients who had difficulty falling asleep, difficulty sleeping through the night, and rapid fatigue because of their troubled sleep were evaluated in a placebo-controlled study. Patients were given either placebo or 6 tablets daily of patented product containing

45 mg dry valerian extract standardized to 0.05 mg valerenic acid and acetoxy valerenic

acid.

The subjects benefited from significant improvements in their ability to fall asleep, to sleep through the night and showed a decreased level of fatigue after 14 days of treatment.

1689 patients, both children (average age of 10) and adults (average age of 48), took from 3 to 9 tablets per day of the proprietary Valerian preparation Baldrian-Dispert. Each tablet contained

45 mg of dry valerian extract. Within the first two days of treatment Improvement in both sleep and ability to concentrate was reported. These improvements increased over subsequent days. Fifty percent of patients whose primary complaint was difficulty in concentration were symptom free within the 10-day period of the trial. A decrease in other symptoms, including palpitations, menopausal neurosis, and depression was observed. 8 patients reported gastrointestinal upset and headache

In Germany a study of 11,168 patients treated by 982 practitioners found that sleep disturbances were eliminated in 70% of patients taking Valerian extract and improved in another 24%, with only 6% of patients finding no benefit.

One study compared two Valerian preparations with flunitrazepam – a benzodiazepine more commonly known as Rohypnol – and a placebo. Both Valerian extracts and the flunitrazepam had beneficial effects on sleep disorders and the valerian showed much fewer side effects. With only 10% of subjects experiencing a side effect compared to 50% of subjects taking flunitrazepam.

The quality of Valerian extract used in sleep studies is difficult to replicate with commercial preparations, so you will need to experiment to find a dose that works well for you. Additionally some people find relief when taking Valerian very quickly, while others need to take the herb for a couple of weeks before noticeable effects kick in. So hang in there if you don’t see immediate benefits.

Germany’s Commission E – their equivalent of the FDA – approves Valerian as an effective mild sedative.

2. Migraine Relief From Valerian Root

 Migraine Relief From Valerian Root

If you suffer from migraines, valerian root can help your symptoms in two ways. It acts as a preventative and also reduces the intensity and duration of the migraine. Regular supplementation with valerian root is thought to increase the amount of Gamma Aminobutyric Acid in the brain, which helps to regulate nerve cells and calm them.

One study that has looked at the effects of Valerian root on migraine headaches, found that taking 350 mg of Valerian root 3 times a day reduced the mean average of attacks over 45 days from 6 to 2. Their duration decreased from 17 hours to 6 hours, and the intensity reduced from an 8 to a 3.

The researchers concluded that, “According to the remarkable effect of valerian capsule on the prevention of migraine attacks, it seems that it can be a potential alternative to common migraine medications.”

3. Valerian Root Can Offer Digestive Pain Relief

The antispasmodic action and analgesic action of Valerian roots have been found to exert a positive influence in reducing tension and spasms in the digestive tracts of animals.

In a study published in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2005, researchers tested the antispasmodic effects of Valerian root in animals and found that Valerian root extract significantly reduced the tension and spasms of digestive muscles in rabbits and guinea pigs. The extract also produced a strong hypotensive action on blood pressure levels.

While we have to wait for modern research to catch up and confirm Valerian’s various effects in human studies, we already know that it has been confirmed to have antispasmodic action through centuries of use and observation.

4. Valerian Root for Anxiety Relief

Anxiety can have many effects on the body. It causes muscle tension, headaches, high blood pressure, sleeplessness and more.

Valerian’s mild sedative effect can reduce all of those anxiety related symptoms and provide relief from worries.

Valerian root is a source of valepotriates, plant chemicals which are thought to affect Gamma Aminobutyric Acid and melatonin levels, while stimulating opiate and serotonin receptors in the nervous system.

An increased amount of Gamma Aminobutyric Acid in your system promotes relaxation and lowers stress levels.

5. Valerian Root Can Be Used To Lessen The Effects Of Benzodiazepines Withdrawal

Benzodiazepines are addictive and have a number of unpleasant side effects, and unsurprisingly many people are unhappy with the quality of their life once they become dependant on these drugs and want to stop taking them.

Benzodiazepine dependency is both physical and psychological and stopping the drug creates withdrawal symptoms.

One of these withdrawal symptoms is rebound waking where you are unable to sleep throughout the night.

Valerian has shown the ability to help patients stay asleep when they are weaning themselves off anxiety and sleep medications. Its sedative and analgesic properties also help with the discomfort associated with Benzodiazepine withdrawals.

You should never attempt to stop taking medications without the supervision of your physician. If your physician advises that you should remain on these drugs, then it could be time to find a different practitioner who will help you to be well without the use of addicting drugs.

6. Restless Leg Syndrome Is Eased With Valerian Root

Restless leg syndrome is a nerve disorder that causes throbbing sensation is your legs and often leads to sleepless nights. The lack of sleep brings about a knock on effect throughout the following day, when fatigue leads to poor concentration, irritability and reduced ability to cope with the discomfort caused by restless leg syndrome. The longer this goes on the worse your quality of life becomes. Long term disrupted sleep is known to hamper the immune system, which leads to a greater susceptibility to infections, and long term sleep deprivation is proven to shave years off a normal lifespan.

Valerian root is known to have a regulating effect on the nervous system and can calm the nerves that are causing the uncomfortable throbbing.

You may also find relief from restless leg syndrome by adding a bioavailable magnesium supplement to your daily diet, as a lack of magnesium causes nerves to become “over excited.”

7.  ADHD In Children And Adults Is Helped By Valerian

Certain learning disabilities and behavioral disorders can benefit from of Valerian root. In Europe, Valerian has been used to treat hyperactivity and learning disabilities.

One German study gave Valerian root extract to 120 kids with various behavioral problems and found that after just 3 weeks of the Valerian treatment, 3 out of 4 children displayed improved behavior.

Again, it is thought that Valerian’s effects on Gamma Aminobutyric Acid levels are behind this improvement. As the additional findings of sleep studies have shown, concentration levels are improved in those taking Valerian root.

8. Valerian Can Aid Depression

Valerian can bring about some relief from several of the symptoms that accompany depression.

As a mild sedative able to deliver a restful night’s sleep, Valerian can combat depression that has its roots in a lack of sleep, and also help when insomnia is caused by depression.

With its ability to relieve anxiety, Valerian can also ease aspects of depression which are triggered by unhealthy levels of anxiety and stress.

Valerian isn’t a cure for depression but it is a valuable part of a natural approach to treating the condition.

9. Valerian Root Can Regulate Menstrual Cycles

Many women take the contraceptive pill solely to regulate irregular menstrual cycles. Some forms of the contraceptive pill are known to have side effects, including weight gain, irritability, breast pain, increased incidence of UTI’s and acne.

Valerian root is an emmenagogue which means that it can induce menstrual flow when taken when a period is due.

Valerian, when taken during the course of a period also helps the uterus to relax which eases cramps and it promotes sleep which can be disturbed at that time of the month.

10. Valerian Root Is Used In Herbal Cough Remedies

English herbalist and physician Nicholas Culpeper wrote of Valerian’s benefits for the treatment of a cough in his famed Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

He advised that Valerian should be mixed with liquorice, raisins and aniseed to treat a troublesome cough.

He also advised that Valerian root could be effective against the plague – let’s hope that none of us ever have cause to investigate that recommendation!

11. Valerian Can Reduce Water Retention

As a diuretic Valerian root can stimulate urine production and safely eliminate excess fluid accumulation. In this way it can be especially helpful to anyone who experiences an increase in water weight mid cycle that doesn’t disappear until a period begins.

12. Valerian Root Can Be Used To Bait Rat Traps And Enthrall Cats

Rats have an affinity for the smell of Valerian root and when all else fails to lure them into a trap, Valerian may be just the thing that does the trick.

Legend has it that the Pied Piper lured the rats away from the German town of Hamlin because he filled his pockets with Valerian. The music was just for show.

Cats are also attracted to Valerian, and have been known to crush a plant to death as they roll around in ecstasy on its leaves.

If you decide to grow Valerian for yourself, you will need to use some protection around the plants to keep your own, or neighborhood felines away from the plant.

Who should not take Valerian Root?

The FDA lists Valerian Root as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) but some people should not take the herb:

  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • Children under the age of three
  • Those who drink alcohol or take other depressant substances
  • Those taking ginkgo biloba

Because of its sedative properties Valerian should be taken in the evening or when you know you will be at home. While Valerian, when taken as a sleep aid, doesn’t impair driving or concentration the following day and has been shown to improve concentration, taking it during the day could have a sedative effect.

If you need to take Valerian during the day to help with anxiety or headaches, it is best to refrain from driving.

If you take other herbal medications, it would be wise to consult with a herbal practitioner to check that valerian won’t interact with your other preparations and produce unwanted side effects or reduce the efficacy of your other treatments.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.