Find out all about valerian, including what it does, the benefits to taking it and how much you might need.
What is valerian?
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a herb that’s renowned for its calming, sedative effects.
People have claimed that it helps reduce feelings of nervous tension and helps improve aid sleep, but there is limited scientific research to support this.
You can use valerian orally as a capsule, as a powder, tea, tincture, tablets, or in a bath. There are lots of valerian products on the market, but the amount of valerian root extract in them tends to vary a lot.
The valerian plant is native to Europe and Asia and has been cultivated in North America. It lives for several years and grows to around 1.5m tall.1
Valerian leaves look kind of like a feather – leaflets arranged in 2 rows either side.
Valerian flowers are usually small and white, pink or yellow.
Extract of valerian
Valerian used for dietary supplements are usually made from its roots, rhizomes (underground stems) and stolons (horizontal stems).
These materials are put into capsules or tablets, whereas teas and tinctures are usually prepared with just dried roots.2
What is valerian used for?
Traditionally, the root of the valerian plant has been used for centuries dating back to at least the times of ancient Greece and Rome.
It was typically used to ease:3
- Heart palpitations
In fact, famous Greek physicians and philosophers Hippocrates and Galen were advocates of this herb, with the later prescribing valerian for insomnia.
In the 16th century, valerian was used to treat headaches, trembling, nervousness and heart palpitations. During WW2 it was used in England to relieve the stress of air raids.4
Nowadays, it’s used for:5
- Sleep problems
- Mild anxiety
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.6
This is the same pathway used by common anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives to help relax the brain, too.7
Although a lot of people swear by it and have done for centuries, there is a lack of clinical evidence for some valerian benefits. However, here are 2 of the main benefits of valerian approved by the EU’s Herbal Medicines Committee.
2 main benefits of valerian
Valerian for anxiety
Based on its traditional, long-standing use, the EU’s Herbal Medicines Committee has approved valerian for mild anxiety.8
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 with anxiety, although the researchers concluded that more studies are needed.9
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.10
Handpicked content: Anxiety causes & symptoms
Valerian for sleep
Based on its traditional, long-standing use, the EU’s Herbal Medicines Committee has approved valerian for sleep disorders.
A systematic review of 9 pieces of scientific literature, including multiple clinical trials, has been evaluated to see if there was enough evidence that valerian could help with insomnia. Although these nine trials have flaws, three earned the highest rating of 5.
One of these studies followed 128 volunteers and studied the effectiveness of 400mg valerian extract, a commercial preparation of 60mg valerian and 30mg of hips and a placebo on sleep. The extract resulted in a statistically significant improvement in time needed to fall asleep, sleep quality and less nighttime awakenings.11
Natural sleep remedies: How to get a better night’s sleep
Valerian is one of many natural sleep remedies that could help you get a better night’s rest.
Natural sleep remedies: How to get a better night’s sleep
Does valerian work?
Like many herbal remedies and treatments, valerian will work for some people but not for others – you just have to try for yourself. Here are some reviews from customers who bought a valerian product from H&B.
“Very helpful if my sleep is disturbed for any reason and I can't get back to sleep.” – Sarah Wellington
“I have found these very effective. Within an hour of taking one capsule I am falling asleep and have a good night’s solid sleep. Would highly recommend.” – KirrenIsland
“This is a great calming addition when life gets too stressful.” – Lizzy2121
“A great help for stress and anxiety, some people take a few weeks before they saw any results, but I was about a week. Made me feel so much better and I continue to use.” - Colinportugal
Now you know all about valerian, find out what is considered a normal and safe dosage.
How much valerian is safe to take?
As a general rule, your dose depends on the reason you’re taking the herb:12
- Sleep – 400-600mg 30 minutes to an hour before bed, with an earlier dose if necessary. It can also be sipped as a tea.13,14
- 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.
Who shouldn’t take valerian?
Valerian should not be given to:
- Pregnant or breast-feeding women – it has not been proven safe for this group
- Children under 18 – it has not been proven safe for this group
- 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.15
Is it safe to take valerian every night?
Yes, if you follow the instructions on the back of the product you buy and it says it is safe, then you should be ok.
Can you overdose on valerian?
Yes, stick to the recommended dose and follow manufacturer’s instructions to avoid taking too much valerian.
Valerian side effects
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 cramps16
Last updated: 1 June 2021