If you have sleep issues, you might have already tried natural sleep aids, including herbal supplements.

Valerian is an herb that’s commonly used as an ingredient in sleep aid supplements as a result of its calming properties.

This herb is often referred to as “nature’s Valium,” and people have used it since the Middle Ages to treat sleep disorders such as insomnia (1).

What’s more, valerian may help you relax and may have benefits for people who experience anxiety and other symptoms.

This article uncovers everything you need to know about valerian, including what conditions it may benefit, its safety, and how to take it.

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Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as valerian, is an herb native to Asia and Europe that now grows wild in many other areas of the world, including the United States and Canada (2, 3).

People have used this perennial plant as a natural medicine since as far back as the time of ancient Greece and Rome (3).

Unlike the plant’s delicately scented flowers, valerian roots have a very strong odor that many people find unpleasant.

The roots, rhizomes (underground stems), and stolons (horizontal stems) of valerian are used to make dietary supplements such as capsules and tablets, as well as teas and tinctures.

How does valerian affect the body?

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how valerian works in the body.

However, research suggests its activity is related to the independent and synergistic actions of compounds found in the plant, including (1):

Certain compounds in valerian, called valerenic acid and valerenol, can act on GABA receptors in the body.

GABA is a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your nervous system.

It’s one of the main neurotransmitters responsible for sleep regulation, and increasing the amount of GABA available in your body has sedative effects (4).

Valerenic acid and valerenol can modulate GABA receptors and increase the amount of GABA available in the central nervous system. What’s more, research has shown that valerenic acid inhibits an enzyme that destroys GABA (3).

Compounds in valerian may also interact with receptors for serotonin and adenosine, chemicals that play important roles in the regulation of sleep and mood (1).

Additionally, preliminary research suggests that valepotriates — the compounds that give valerian its characteristic pungent smell — may have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects in the body (1).

Summary

Valerian contains a number of compounds that may help promote calmness by increasing GABA availability in the body and interacting with certain receptors involved in mood and sleep.

Studies have shown that taking valerian in supplement form may be helpful for treating certain conditions, including anxiety and insomnia.

Valerian root for anxiety symptoms and stress

Research suggests valerian root may help ease anxious feelings that occur in response to stressful situations.

A 2021 study in 39 people undergoing hemodialysis found that they had a significant reductions in anxiety symptoms after taking 530 mg of valerian root 1 hour before bedtime for 1 month, compared with a placebo (5).

The treatment significantly improved sleep quality and depression as well (5).

In addition to valerian root’s potential anti-anxiety effects, limited evidence suggests it may help with chronic conditions characterized by anxious behaviors, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (6).

A high quality study from 2011 looked at the effects of valerian on OCD behaviors in 31 adults with OCD. Those who took 765 mg of valerian extract daily for 8 weeks showed a reduction in obsessive and compulsive behaviors compared with those who took a placebo (6).

A 2014 study in 169 elementary school children with hyperactivity and concentration difficulties looked at the effects of daily treatment with a combination of 640 mg of valerian extract and 320 mg of lemon balm extract.

After 7 weeks, the children who took the treatment showed more than 50% improvement in measures of focus, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness (7).

While these findings are promising, human studies investigating the effects of valerian supplements on anxiety, stress, and mental health conditions are limited. Thus, more research is needed.

Valerian root may help you sleep better

One of the most studied benefits of valerian is its ability to improve sleep.

Research suggests that taking valerian root may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as improve sleep quality and quantity (1).

A 2020 review that included 60 studies concluded that valerian could be a safe and effective treatment to promote sleep and prevent associated disorders (1).

In the same 2021 study in 39 people undergoing hemodialysis mentioned earlier in this article, people had higher quality sleep when they took 530 mg of valerian root 1 hour before bedtime for 1 month, compared with a placebo (5).

In a 2017 study that included 120 people with sleep disturbances, one group took 2 pills of an herbal supplement called Vagonotte 30 minutes before their scheduled bedtime for 20 days.

They fell asleep faster, slept longer, and had fewer nighttime awakenings than the placebo group (8).

Vagonotte is an herbal supplement that contains a combination of valerian, hop, and jujube (8).

A high quality study from 2011 looked at the effects of valerian extract in 100 postmenopausal women who were experiencing insomnia.

Those who received 530 mg of valerian extract twice a day for 4 weeks had significantly improved sleep quality compared with those who took a placebo (9).

Moreover, 30% of the women in the valerian group experienced sleep improvements, compared with just 4% in the placebo group (9).

However, not all studies have found that valerian provides sleep benefits.

A 2011 study looked at 227 people who were undergoing cancer treatment. Those who took 450 mg of valerian 1 hour before bedtime for 8 weeks did not have any significant improvements in sleep, as measured by sleep quality indexes.

Yet the study did find that the valerian treatment led to improvements in fatigue (10).

Even though valerian may be helpful for improving certain aspects of sleep in some people, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Other potential benefits of valerian root

There is less published research on the effects of valerian on other conditions. However, some studies suggest that valerian root may provide benefits for:

  • Menopausal symptoms. Valerian may help reduce hot flashes in menopausal and postmenopausal people. In a 2018 study, taking 1,060 mg of valerian per day for 2 months reduced hot flashes in postmenopausal women (11, 12).
  • Menstrual issues. People who experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or painful menstruation may benefit from valerian. One study found that it improved physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of PMS (13).
  • Restless legs syndrome. In 2009, an 8-week study in people with restless legs syndrome found that taking 800 mg of valerian per day improved symptoms and decreased daytime sleepiness (14).

Keep in mind that research investigating the potential health benefits of valerian root is ongoing and scientists are still learning about the ways valerian affects human health.

Summary

Research suggests valerian root may help improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety, improve symptoms of OCD, and reduce hyperactive behavior in children. It may also offer a few other benefits. However, more research is needed.

Valerian is considered safe for most people when used at the recommended doses.

For example, a 2020 review of valerian’s safety and effectiveness for sleep and associated disorders found that none of the 60 studies included in the review reported that participants experienced serious adverse effects (1).

Although side effects from taking valerian are uncommon, some people may experience (1):

  • headaches
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • stomach issues such as diarrhea and stomachache
  • vivid dreams
  • metallic taste in the mouth
  • fatigue

Additionally, rare cases of liver injury have been associated with valerian use. However, these were usually related to the use of valerian in combination with other herbs, including black cohosh and skullcap, so we don’t know whether valerian was the cause (15).

You shouldn’t take valerian while pregnant or breastfeeding and should not give it to children or teens unless recommended and monitored by a physician (16, 17).

Valerian may interact with certain medications, including drugs metabolized by the CYP3A4 enzyme, like cyclosporine and certain antibiotics (18).

In general, consult a healthcare professional before adding any herbal supplements to your routine. They can help you determine whether valerian could be an appropriate choice for your specific needs.

Summary

Valerian is unlikely to cause serious adverse reactions, though some people have reported minor side effects. Consult a healthcare professional before taking valerian because this herb is not safe or appropriate for everyone.

Valerian will provide the best results when you take it as directed.

According to the latest evidence, a dose of 450–1,410 mg of whole valerian root per day for 4–8 weeks may help support sleep quality (1).

For tension relief, some experts suggest a dose of 400–600 mg of valerian extract or a dose of 0.3–3 grams of valerian root up to 3 times per day (1).

Doses ranging from 530–765 mg per day may be effective for reducing anxiety and OCD symptoms, while doses ranging from 765–1,060 mg may help reduce hot flashes during and after menopause (5, 6, 11, 12).

However, these doses may not be appropriate or effective for everyone with these symptoms. These are simply the doses the current available evidence has shown to be effective.

If you’re interested in trying valerian, it’s important to work with a trusted healthcare professional to determine the safest and most effective dose for you.

Summary

Depending on what symptoms you wish to treat, suggested doses of valerian range from 400–1,410 mg per day. Speak with a knowledgeable healthcare professional to find out whether valerian is appropriate and safe for you.

Some evidence suggests that valerian supplements may help improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and improve symptoms related to OCD, menopause, and PMS.

However, research is currently limited and scientists are still learning how valerian affects human health.

Even though it’s considered relatively safe and is unlikely to cause serious side effects, valerian is not safe or appropriate for everyone.

This is why it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional before taking valerian, especially if you’re taking medications or other herbal supplements or if you have one or more health conditions.

Just one thing

Try this today: Start learning more about your sleep issues. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could be due to stress, diet, or an underlying health condition.

Getting to the bottom of your sleep challenges may take time, but it’s critical to know the potential causes so you can get the right treatment.

Consider discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional so they can recommend appropriate testing to rule out common causes of sleep issues. Also note that supplements might not be the right solution for you.

Even though many supplements are marketed as natural sleep enhancers, it’s important to understand that several factors influence sleep, and a supplement such as valerian may not be an appropriate choice for everyone.