Valerian root is often referred to as "nature's Valium." In fact, this herb has been used since ancient times to promote tranquility and improve sleep.
What Is Valerian Root?
Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as valerian, is an herb native to Asia and Europe. It is now also grown in the US, China and other countries.
Flowers from the valerian plant were used to make perfume centuries ago, and the root portion has been used in traditional medicine for at least 2,000 years.
Unlike its delicately scented flowers, valerian root has a very strong, earthy odor due to the volatile oils and other compounds responsible for its sedative effects.
Interestingly, the name "valerian" is derived from the Latin verb valere, which means "to be strong" or "to be healthy." Valerian root extract is available as a supplement in capsule or liquid form. It can also be consumed as a tea.
Valerian Root Can Help You Relax
Staying calm while under stress can be difficult.
Research suggests that valerian root may help ease anxious feelings that occur in response to stressful situations.
In one study, rats treated with valerian root prior to a maze experiment displayed significantly less anxious behavior than rats given alcohol or no treatment.
A study in healthy adults given challenging mental tests found that a combination of valerian and lemon balm reduced anxiety ratings. However, an extremely high dose of the supplement actually increased anxiety ratings.
In addition to decreasing anxiety in response to acute stress, valerian root may also help with chronic conditions characterized by anxious behaviors, such as generalized anxiety disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In an eight-week controlled study of adults with OCD, the group who took valerian extract on a daily basis showed a significant reduction in obsessive and compulsive behaviors when compared to the control group.
What's more, unlike many of the medications commonly used to treat OCD, valerian didn't cause any significant side effects.
Another study suggests that children who have trouble maintaining focus or experience hyperactive behaviors may benefit from valerian.
In this controlled study of 169 elementary school children, a combination of valerian and lemon balm improved focus, hyperactivity and impulsiveness by more than 50% among children with the most severe symptoms.
Valerian Root May Help You Sleep Better
Sleep disorders are extremely common.
It's estimated that about 30% of people experience insomnia, meaning they have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or achieving high-quality, restorative sleep.
Research suggests that taking valerian root may reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, as well as improve sleep quality and quantity.
In a controlled study of 27 young and middle-aged adults with sleep difficulties, 24 people reported improved sleep and 12 of those reported "perfect sleep" after taking 400 mg of valerian root.
Slow-wave sleep, also known as deep sleep, is important for repairing and recharging your body so you wake up feeling well-rested and energetic.
One study in adults with insomnia found that a single dose of valerian allowed them to achieve deep sleep 36% faster. Additionally, the time they spent in deep sleep increased during 14 days of taking valerian.
Valerian may also help people who have insomnia after they stop taking benzodiazepines, sedative medications that may lead to dependence over time.
In a study of people who had withdrawal symptoms related to stopping benzodiazepines after long-term use, significant improvements in sleep quality were reported after two weeks of valerian treatment.
Although most research looking at valerian's effects on sleep has been conducted in adults, there are a few studies suggesting children who have trouble sleeping may also benefit from it.
In a small eight-week study of developmentally delayed children with sleeping disorders, valerian reduced the time it took to fall asleep, increased total sleep time and led to better quality sleep.
However, although systematic reviews of several studies have concluded that valerian is safe, some researchers feel there isn't enough evidence to confirm that it is more effective for sleep disorders than a placebo.