This plant has long been a favorite of mankind. Since the second century, Valerian has been used as a folk cure for insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, and many other conditions. Though there isn’t currently a consensus as to how this particular plant works, it is widely accepted that it does have some effectiveness in aiding with various conditions, even if the research data supporting it isn’t as robust as one might hope.
Valerian Root comes from a 2-foot-tall plant native to Europe. Though it grows in the wild, it has long been used to decorate gardens (to varying degrees of aesthetic enjoyment). When it comes to being used a sleeping aid, at least, there is a consensus that the herb is safe, even if it isn’t 100% effective.
Indeed, that seems to be one of the major selling points of the herb on the whole—even if the intended benefit isn’t conferred in all instances, the fact that Valerian is GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) makes it an attractive option for those looking to reap the benefits without risking the side effects. Those looking for a more surefire solution, though, might find themselves somewhat disappointed with this plant-based remedy.
In addition to helping with insomnia, there are claims that it might also be effective for reducing the symptoms of depression, reducing stress and anxiety and helping users feel more calm overall. The current understanding of Valerian—that it has an effect on neurotransmitter levels—lends some credence to that suggestion. Clinical studies, however, are not readily available to back this up.
As mentioned, Valerian is generally safe and available for supplementation in the form of capsules and powder. Before taking Valerian, one should be aware of its potential interactions with sedatives and medications with sedative-like properties. It can behave synergistically with Benzodiazepines, Barbituates, and other supplements like St. John’s Wort and Kava.
Overall, it seems like a worthwhile option, though discovering it’s true level of efficacy might be useful in nailing down why its powers are hit-or-miss and help us better zero in on the most appropriate way to use this plant.
In addition to its Latin name, Valerian Officinalis, Valerian root is also known as All-Heal, Amantilla, Baldrian, Baldrianwurzel, Belgium Valerian, Common Valerian, Pacific Valerian, Tagar, Fragrant Valerian, Garden Heliotrope, Garden Valerian, Grande Valériane, and a host of other nicknames.
I remember mom giving me Valerian as a kid to help me sleep. Not sure if that was appropriate, but I do remember it being effective. I was eager to find out if this stuff would have the same kind of punch now that I was an adult and sampling/critiquing various supplements on a regular basis. Figuring there was only one way to find out, I got some of the Valerian powder, with the intention of trying some relaxing herbal Valerian tea.
Having read a few dosing guides, I measured out 500 milligrams and mixed it into my normal tea. To be honest, it wasn’t the best tasting stuff, but I was able to cover it with some sugar to get it down. It took about an hour after that, but I felt pretty good. Relaxed, even. In fact, I felt so good I decided an afternoon nap was in order, which lasted for a few hours. Woke up feeling refreshed and ready to do some work. Wasn’t convinced it was the Valerian that helped me get to sleep, though, as I had stayed out late the night before and was dragging for the better part of the day.
I decided to give it another go on a night when I’d normally be wide awake, burning the midnight oil. I tried the same routine and attempted to get some shut eye. Nothing. I was too wired to drift off and had to work for several more hours before I felt even remotely tired. Nothing in the way of anxiety or stress reduction either. Could it be just as the research I read described it? Valerian was certainly safe, but consistent is another thing altogether. If you’re going to try this one out, be ready for some disappointment. Also, get the capsules because that powder was awful.
Opinions of Valerian root seem to vary, which isn’t a surprise. Some seem to believe that it works quite well for them:
“Valerian was a great start for me. My anxiety is now much better! It did make me very drowsy over time however. I now use it as a sleep aid (2x 475mg capsules).”
Others are of the opinion that it didn’t provide much effect at all, and there are far better alternatives on the market:
“Valerian root is veeery weak if noticeable at all. If you’re willing to order online go for kava kava (supposedly similar to benzos but much weaker) or kratom (which feels like a weak opiate buzz). If you can get those they are light years better than valerian root.”
Others still acknowledge that Valerian has some effects, but that they were only coaxed out after taking what could politely be described as more than the recommended dose:
“I took a shit ton of Valerian root pills once and it definitely caused noticeable effects. I felt very spacey it was very strange actually in a good way and hard to describe, but I did also get nausea with it which kinda took away from it.”
So, much like all of the research material regarding Valerian root has indicated, it certainly could be effective, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to work for you every time, if at all.
Valerian’s main purpose is as a sleep aid, but proponents have surmised that it might also influence sleep quality, anxiety, and several other factors. Unfortunately, evidence backing these claims is scant.
The data on Valerian on a sleep aid is mixed. On the one hand, you have plenty of anecdotes detailing how Valerian has helped people catch some “Zs.” Scientific data, however, is much less charitable on the whole. Take the appropriately named, “Systematic Review Of Valerian As A Sleep Aid: Safe But Not Effective,” for instance:
“A comprehensive search of studies investigating valerian was conducted through computerized databases and hand searches of reference lists…Overall, the evidence, while supporting that valerian is a safe herb associated with only rare adverse events, does not support the clinical efficacy of valerian as a sleep aid for insomnia.”
Still, in some specific circumstances, it seems that Valerian can be useful in treating insomnia:
“Supplementation of valerian root at 530mg twice daily for a period of four weeks in postmenopausal women who also reported insomnia noted that 30% of the treatment group reported significant improvements to their insomnia.”
So, perhaps the sleep benefits only work on particular groups consistently, and applies to other groups sporadically?
Stress & Anxiety
A big deal has been made about some supposed relief that Valerian root is supposed to provide for stress and anxiety. The reasoning goes that if it can make you sedate, it should also be able to calm you down and alleviate stress. The problem is, Valerian doesn’t consistently help sedate people, and data seems to suggest that it’s not much better than placebo at treating anxiety:
“Supplementation of valerian valepotriates at 81.3mg daily for four weeks in persons with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) compared to both placebo and diazepam noted that the valepotriates were not significantly effective relative to placebo despite a positive trend.”
Still, anecdotal evidence for this benefit seems to be strong. Perhaps additional research will reveal this to be true?
Valerian Root is supposed to have a range of additional health benefits. Specifically, supporters say it can relieve chronic fatigue, joint pains, restlessness, and even ease the discomfort associated with some menstrual disorders. Research supporting these claims is still preliminary, though, and will require more substantiation.
The exact nature of how Valerian works is unknown, but there are some decent hypotheses that tackle the answer. From the University Of Maryland Medical Center:
“Scientists aren’t sure how valerian works, but they believe it increases the amount of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming effect on anxiety. Drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) also work by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. Researchers think valerian may have a similar, but weaker effect.”
This explanation makes sense of many of the health claims people make about Valerian. Research, however, still hasn’t shown it to be as effective as folks claim. When it does work, though, Valerian usually begins to take effect within an hour of consumption and lasts for several hours.
When used as a sleeping aid, Valerian Root should be taken roughly an hour before you want to sleep in a dose of 400-500 milligrams. Those looking to supplement with Valerian to reduce anxiety and stress should try daytime supplementation with meals. These should be doses of about 300 milligrams taken two to three times a day. You won’t need to adjust your dosage based on sex or body weight.
Side effects with Valerian root are reportedly very mild and include headache, gastrointestinal distress, brain fog, dry mouth, drowsiness, and “strange dreams.” There are also drug interactions you should keep in mind. Drugs.com recommends avoiding medications that can make you sleepy while taking Valerian (sleeping pills, narcotics, muscle relaxers, antidepressants, etc.). They also recommend that individuals with specific conditions like cancer, asthma, depression, and several others avoid Valerian Root until they consult with a physician.
Stacks with Valerian Root include substances that users believe will help you in falling asleep or enhance the hypothetical anti-stress properties of the plant. These include popular options like 5-HTP, Ashwagandha, and St. John’s Wort.
5-HTP works on the brain to produce serotonin and can affect both sleep and mood. When combined with Valerian Root it is supposed to produce a boosting effect that helps to sedate and calm the nerves.
Ashwagandha and St. John’s Wort are both herbal remedies that are said to have an anti-stress/anti-anxiety component to them. They might help cover the perceived lack of effectiveness that Valerian Root has in these areas, while the Valerian Root helps induce a calmer physical state.
With these particular stacks, you can use normal amounts of each supplement but bear in mind that since the Valerian has the potential to induce a drowsy state, you might want to reduce the dosage in order to get some of the calming effects without knocking yourself out.
Valerian Root, as we’ve covered, is safe but inconsistent. If you’re looking for something that will hit more than it misses, you might want to look into these alternatives:
Phenibut is a powerful nootropic known for being a GABA and Dopamine enhancer that induces tranquil states. As it turns out, the compound can also help in getting you to fall asleep quickly when taken at night. By using a reduced dose before bed, you should be able to take advantage of the fast-acting sleep induction.
Drugs in the Racetam family are known for their cognitive effects, but Aniracetam has the distinction of being able to help with sleep quality by keeping you from waking up prematurely. You’ll be more likely to get a full night’s sleep if you use a bit of Aniracetam right before you want to fall asleep.
Huperzine is normally used as a memory supplement, but it has a dual use as a sleep aid as well. It can increase the deeper states of sleep, leading to a more restful experience that leaves you refreshed once you wake up. Like the other alternatives, it should be used roughly half an hour before the time you want to fall asleep.