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Valerian Root for Anxiety

Chandramita Bora
The root of the herb valerian is a popular natural remedy for anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness. This story will give you a brief overview of the healing properties of valerian root, and its effectiveness in treating anxiety and insomnia.
The perennial flowering plant, Valeriana officinalis, and its roots have a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, mainly for treating anxiety and insomnia. The plant is native to certain parts of Asia, South Africa, and Europe. The use of this medicinal plant can be traced back to the times of ancient Greeks and Romans.
Even the father of medicine, Hippocrates, acknowledged the medicinal properties of Valerian. This herb was recommended for treating insomnia by Galen, a Greek anatomist.

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In medieval times, this herb was used as a condiment. Valerian has also been used as a herbal remedy for digestive problems, liver problems, nervousness, nausea, epilepsy, and hysteria. In modern times, the plant and its roots have become popular as a remedy for anxiety and insomnia.
There are several species of Valerian, of which Valeriana officinalis is commonly used for therapeutic purposes, while the other species have not been studied closely.

Possible Health Benefits

» Valerian has been approved by the Germany's Commission E as a mild sedative, while the FDA of the United States has recognized this herb as 'Generally Recognized As Safe' (GRAS).
The main benefit of this herb is that it can produce a calming effect on the brain or the central nervous system. In other words, this herb can help relax the nervous system, and thus, reduce stress or anxiety.
» It can also promote sleep due to its sedating or tranquilizing properties. This herb can help treat sleep disorders, insomnia, and anxiety. Apart from these, it may help treat certain other disorders of the nervous system, such as epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, and seizures.
For women, this herb has some additional benefits. It can help women cope with the annoying symptoms of menopause.

How Valerian Root Can Reduce Anxiety

» What exactly makes this herb effective in promoting sleep and reducing anxiety is not very clear. Scientists have discovered several chemical constituents of the valerian root, and some of these compounds have been found to increase the level of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.
» This inhibitory neurotransmitter is known to produce a calming or sedative effect on the brain by inhibiting the activity of the nerve cells. The most important chemicals found in valerian are valerenic acid and valepotriates. Valerenic acid can inhibit an enzyme that can destroy GABA.
» It has been observed that the effects of this herb on the brain are somewhat similar to the effects of benzodiazepines, which are sedative drugs used for the treatment of depression and anxiety. These drugs activate the GABA receptors present in the brain. Drugs like Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam) also increase the amount of GABA in the brain.

The Effectiveness of Valerian in Reducing Anxiety

»Though Valerian and its roots have been used for promoting sleep and reducing anxiety for a long time, the results of the scientific studies carried out to evaluate the effectiveness of this herb as a sleep aid is largely conflicting in nature.
Some studies comparing this herb with a placebo have found that it is more effective than placebo in treating insomnia, while others have not found any difference between the two.
» Some studies have found that valerian helps people fall asleep faster, besides improving the quality of sleep. The main advantage of this herbal medicine over the prescription medications used for insomnia, is that it usually does not produce morning 'grogginess' and 'sleep hangover'. Moreover, it is non-addictive in nature, and does not cause dependence.
» A German study was carried out in 202 adults over a period of 6 weeks to compare valerian extract to oxazepam. The study observed that people taking this herb reported equal improvement in the quality of sleep as those taking oxazepam.
» A clinical finding also reported that this herb reduced anxiety symptoms in patients included in the trial. But it was also admitted in the report that more studies are required to confirm this effect, as the number of patients included in the trail was small.
One study observed that this herb was not more effective than placebo when it was used for 14 days. But the same study noted that when used for 28 days, the herb improved the quality of sleep considerably. So, some experts are of the opinion that this herb may need to be taken for a few weeks to experience its sleep-promoting effect.
A randomized clinical study carried out in 400 people to compare valerian with kava or placebo found that valerian and kava were not better than placebo in reducing anxiety or promoting sleep. This finding was reported in 2005. So, not every study or clinical trail has found this herb to be effective in treating anxiety and insomnia.
Nevertheless, German health officials have approved this herb as a mild sedative and sleep aid on the basis of the findings of some animal studies and clinical trials. But many experts are of the opinion that more research is needed to find out the efficacy of this herb in promoting sleep or reducing anxiety.

Possible Side Effects

Valerian is generally considered safe. As mentioned already, this herb is not addictive in nature, and it usually does not cause dependency and withdrawal symptoms, though it affects the central nervous system.
It has not been found to cause any major side effects. However, some individuals can experience a few minor discomforts like:

✧ Headaches
✧ Dizziness
✧ Gastrointestinal problems
✧ Apathy
In addition to these side effects, people allergic to this herb can develop an allergic reaction after ingesting it, which can produce the following symptoms:

✧ Skin rash and hives
✧Unusual swelling of the mouth, throat, and the lips
✧Shortness of breath and wheezing
» The excessive use of valerian, and the simultaneous use of alcohol and valerian can damage the liver, which can produce symptoms like pain in the upper right portion of the abdomen and jaundice.
Jaundice can cause yellowing of the white portion of the eye, as well as the skin. People with preexisting liver diseases should avoid this herb and its supplements, or talk to their physicians before using it.
One should never use this herb along with antidepressant drugs, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors. It can also interact with Xanax, benzodiazepines, Valium, and certain pain medications.
The long term use of this herb may produce withdrawal symptoms in some individuals. Breastfeeding and expectant mothers should not use this herb without consulting their physicians.


Valerian supplements are available in the form of tablets, capsules, and tinctures. To avoid the possible side effects associated with an overdose, it is important to know the daily recommended dosage of valerian. To promote sleep, 300 to 900 mg valerian extract can be taken, if you are going to use the tablet form.
It has to be taken an hour or two before bedtime to promote sleep. However, be sure to talk to a herbalist or a health care provider to know the appropriate dosage of valerian for treating insomnia and anxiety, and for how long this herb can be taken.
It is always better to consult a physician or herbalist before taking herbs and herbal supplements for therapeutic uses. The same goes for valerian. It is true that this herb has been claimed to be more effective and gentler than the prescription medications used for treating anxiety and insomnia. But it can take time to produce the desired effects.
So, if you do not experience any positive effect in a few days, don't increase the dosage without consulting your doctor. Finally, Some individuals may experience more anxiety and restlessness while using the valerian root for stress reduction. If you experience such an opposite reaction, be sure to talk to your health care provider as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This story is for informative purposes only, and should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice.