Valerian is a strong-smelling herb that is well-known for its sleep-inducing properties.
While you might see valerian mainly used in sleep aid formulas, this ancient plant has many uses.
In this article, we will dig into the uses and benefits of valerian.
Table of Contents
Valerian has a long history of use in western medicine as a mild sedative, in fact, it was even recommended by Dioscorides and Galen, two ancient physicians and fathers of western medicine.
Valerian was traditionally used as a sedative for individuals with conditions of “nervous unrest”.
Similarly, valerian has been recommended for individuals with depression due to its “gentle stimulating influence”.
Health Benefits of Valerian Root:
Below, we’ll dig into the various health benefits of valerian root.
1. May Help With Insomnia
Sleep is one of the most important aspects of human health. It impacts everything from brain function, to energy levels, physical recovery, etc… Getting enough sleep, especially deep sleep, is crucial for health. This is where valerian shines as one of the best natural sleep aids.
Valerian is well regarded for helping individuals with insomnia. Valerian contains phytochemicals, including valepotriates and valerenic acid, that are reported to have relaxing, sleep-inducing properties.
Valerian works by depressing the central nervous system. This essentially means that it dampens the activity of your central nervous system. This helps to ‘wind down’ your brain and prepares your body for sleep.
One interesting point is that valerian doesn’t cause physical muscle relaxation. So, unlike many sleep drugs or OTC products, Valerian users report that they wake up with little to no grogginess.
Many clinical trials have been completed on valerian and sleep, and while some have produced amazing results, others have not. It appears that the dosage and form of valerian are the keys to having a positive experience.
A recent meta-analysis review of 60 studies on valerian showed that valerian is an effective supplement for promoting sleep. The studies supporting valerian can be broken down into two primary categories, those that improved sleep quality and those that decreased sleep latency (i.e. the time it takes to fall asleep).
A. Increased Sleep Quality
One study showed sleep quality improvement in study participants. The study noted that the increase in sleep quality was “most notable among poor or irregular sleepers and smokers”.
Another interesting study found that patients with insomnia (due to benzodiazepine withdrawal) improved their overall sleep quality as compared to placebo.
B. Decreased Sleep Latency
‘Sleep latency’ is simply a scientific way of saying “how long it takes to fall asleep”. Decreasing sleep latency is a major benefit for people that struggle with falling asleep.
Research shows that valerian can help to reduce sleep latency in individuals when compared to placebo.
Another study showed that Valeriana edulis helped to reduce sleep latency and can improve the overall sleep quality of children with hyperactivity.
Another study showed that valerian worked to reduce sleep latency from 21 minutes to 13 minutes in patients suffering from psychophysiological insomnia.
Summary:Studies show that valerian may help increase sleep quality and decrease sleep latency.
2. May Reduce Anxiety
Similar to valerian’s sleep benefits, it’s no surprise that valerian has the ability to help reduce anxiety by relaxing your mind.
In one study, valerian helped to reduce anxiety levels in individuals with elevated levels of anxiety.
Another study showed that valerian and kava (Piper methysticum) helped to reduce anxiety in individuals placed in stressful situations. Interestingly enough, this study also found that this combo of valerian and kava helped to reduce systolic blood pressure.
Summary:Valerian has been shown to reduce anxiety, however, more clinical research is needed to confirm this finding.
3. May Reduce PMS Symptoms
A study showed that valerian can have a positive impact on Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). In this study, the participants received 2 pills containing valerian daily in the last seven days of their menstrual cycle (for 3 cycles) and recorded their symptoms.
Researchers noticed a significant difference in emotional, behavioral, and physical premenstrual symptoms in the participants. This indicates that valerian might be beneficial as an aid for easing PMS symptoms.
Summary:Research indicates that valerian may help ease symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome.
4. May Improve Brain Function
A study showed that valerian may be beneficial in boosting mental cognition. In this study, 39 hemodialysis patients were given either valerian or a placebo. The valerian group showed an incremental increase in focus and mental cognition.
A separate study showed that valerian induced a slight improvement in task concentration.
Summary:Although further research is needed for verification, valerian may improve mental cognition and task concentration.
Types of Valerian:
There are several different varieties of Valerian, with Valerian officinalis L. being the main variety used in western medicine. Other varieties include V. edulis (Mexican valerian), V. wallichii (Indian valerian), and V. fauriei (Asian valerian).
Why Doesn’t Valerian Work For Me?
Although valerian is a popular sleep aid with a long history of use, it doesn’t always work for everyone. In some individuals, however, valerian stimulates the brain instead of relaxing it.
It has been estimated that between 5%-10% of the population experience this effect. If valerian doesn’t work for you, consider trying Chamomile, Skullcap, or Kava Kava.
Various respected herbalists and researchers note the following as appropriate dosages:
•250mg-450mg of valerian extract per day (in capsules form)
•3-9g dried root/rhizome per day
•2-6mL of 1:2 liquid extract per day
•5-15mL of 1:5 tincture per day
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook, the most trusted source on herbal medicine safety, valerian has a safety class rating of 1 (the safest class) and an interaction class B (some outside interaction).
It is noted that taking valerian with central nervous system depressants and/or alcohol can increase the effects. While no case reports have been noted, it is recommended that you take caution when mixing valerian with these substances. See the “Drug and Supplement Interaction” section below for more information.
Valerian is well regarded as a safe herb. It can be used for a substantial time. No adverse effects are expected if consumed within the recommended dosage (see above).
Pregnancy and Lactation:
If used within the normal dosage range, valerian appears to be safe for consumption during pregnancy.
Drug and Supplement Interaction(s):
Caution is advised if you are currently taking barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or other sedative drugs as valerian could potentially increase the sedative effect of these drugs.
Valerian Root vs. Other Herbs:
Valerian is often compared with many other different types of herbs. We have put together helpful articles going over the most common comparisons.
•Valerian Root vs. Ashwagandha
•Valerian Root vs. Passionflower
Not only is valerian a safe and effective natural alternative to many of the pharmaceuticals available in the marketplace, but it is also an herb that has many benefits such as improving insomnia, reducing anxiety and PMS symptoms, and supporting brain function.
As always, make sure to consult a healthcare practitioner before making adjustments to your diet or adding a new supplement.
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