Valerian Root

Valerian, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. The root of the plant has long been used as a herbal remedy to treat insomnia. 1The use of valerian root dates back to the Greek and Roman Empires and was noted by Hippocrates to treat headaches, nervousness, trembling, and heart palpitations.

Valerian contains a substance known as valerenic acid that is believed to affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. It is believed that one of the purposes of GABA is to control fear or anxiety experienced when nerve cells are overexcited. By doing so, valerian may act as a mild sedative and anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing drug).2

Also Known As
Garden heliotrope
Tagar (in Ayurvedic medicine)
Xie cao (in traditional Chinese medicine)
Valerian is available in teas, extracts, tinctures, capsules, tablets, and essential oils. Valerian extract and essential oils are also used as a flavoring in foods and beverages.2

Health Benefits
Alternative practitioners believe that valerian root can treat a variety of health conditions, including insomnia, anxiety, headaches, digestive problems, menopause symptoms, and post-exercise muscle pain and fatigue. The evidence supporting these claims is generally mixed.

Here is a look at some of the more common uses of valerian root:

Valerian root is probably best known as a remedy for insomnia. Despite its popularity among consumer, there is little evidence that it can promote sleep or improve the quality of sleep.1

A 2015 review of studies in Sleep Medicine Reviews concluded that valerian root (or similar "calming" herbs like chamomile or kava) had no discernable impact on sleep in 1,602 adults with insomnia.

Valerian root is touted by some as a safe and natural alternative to prescription anxiety drugs, most especially those like Xanax (alprazolam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam) that act on GABA receptors.

There is some evidence, albeit weak, to support these claims. 3Valerenic acid appears to act on receptors in a way that enhances GABA transmission but without the pronounced sedative effects of a drug like Valium. This may benefit people on treatment for anxiety and other mood disorders.

A 2015 review from Harvard Medical School contends that of 12 traditional herbs used to treat anxiety (including hops, gotu kola, and gingko), valerian was the "most promising candidate" for treating anxiety associated with bipolar disorder.

Hot Flashes
Valerian root may be useful in minimizing hot flashes commonly affecting women during menopause. The exact mechanism of action is unknown since valerian doesn't appear to directly influence hormone levels.4

A 2013 study from Iran involving 68 women with menopause reported that valerian capsules, when taken thrice-daily in 225-milligram doses for eight weeks, reduced the severity and frequency of hot flashes compared to a placebo.