Find out all about valerian, including what it does, the benefits to taking it and how much you might need
Written by Beth Gibbons on December 13, 2018
Reviewed by Fiona Hunter on January 6, 2019
What is valerian and what does it do?
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herb that’s renowned for its calming, sedative effects. Traditionally, the root of the valerian plant has been used for centuries to ease:1
Nowadays, it’s used for:2
- sleep problems
- mild anxiety
You can use valerian orally as a capsule, as a powder, tea, tincture, tablets, or in a bath.
Benefits of valerian
What does valerian do in the body?
Valerian relaxes the brain isn’t yet understood, but one theory is that compounds in the plant stimulate a chemical messenger in the brain called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which works to calm the nervous system.3 This is the same pathway used by common anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives to help relax the brain, too.4
Based on its traditional, long-standing use, the EU’s Herbal Medicines Committee has approved valerian for both mild anxiety and sleep disorders.5
There are few high-quality studies looking into the effects of valerian. However, a 2006 review by the University of California reported that valerian can help improve the quality of sleep, although the researchers concluded that more studies are needed.6
Scientists think valerian works better over a period of time, so you may need to take it for two to four weeks before you see an effect.7
How much valerian is safe to take?
Valerian root is considered safe to take at the recommended doses, so read the label carefully.
As a general rule, your dose depends on the reason you’re taking the herb:8
- sleep – 400-600mg 30 minutes to an hour before bed, with an earlier dose if necessary. It can also be sipped as a tea.
- mild stress or anxiety – 400-600mg, up to three times a day
If your symptoms worsen get worse after two weeks, speak to your doctor.
Valerian should not be given to:9,10
- pregnant or breast-feeding women – it has not been proved safe
- anyone under the age of 18
- anyone allergic to valerian
- anyone drinking alcohol or taking sedatives – valerian also has a sedative effect
- anyone already taking medication for sleep or anxiety
- steer clear of using a valerian bath product if you have an open wound, fever, skin problems, or serious heart and circulation issues, too.11
What are the side-effects of taking valerian?
While it’s considered safe, there are some common side-effects from taking valerian:
- daytime drowsiness – it’s important to avoid driving or operating machinery after taking valerian
- abdominal cramps12
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. Jacquelyn Cafasso. Healthline. Valerian Root Dosage for Anxiety and Sleep.
2. European Medicines Agency. Valerianae radix.
3. Shi Y, et al. Herbal Insomnia Medications that Target GABAergic Systems: A Review of the Psychopharmacological Evidence.
4. Healthline. What Does Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Do?
5. As Source 2
6. Bent S, et al. Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
7. European Medicines Agency. European Union herbal monograph on Valeriana officinalis L.radix.
8. As above
9. As Source 7
10. As Source 1
11. As Source 7
12. As Source 7