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.
‘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 contains a number of compounds that may promote sleep and reduce anxiety.
These include valerenic acid, isovaleric acid and a variety of antioxidants.
Valerian has received attention for its interaction with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger that helps regulate nerve impulses in your brain and nervous system.
Valerenic acid has been found to inhibit the breakdown of GABA in the brain, resulting in feelings of calmness and tranquility. This is the same way anti-anxiety medications like Valium and Xanax work (4, 5, 6).
Valerian root also contains the antioxidants hesperidin and linarin, which appear to have sedative and sleep-enhancing properties (7).
One study found that treating mice with valerian improved their response to physical and psychological stress by maintaining levels of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in mood regulation (9).
Valerian Root Can Help You Relax
Staying calm while under stress can be difficult.
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 (6).
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 (14).
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) (15, 16).
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 (16).
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 (17)
Valerian is an herb that promotes relaxation and reduce anxiety.
It appears to be safe and non-habit forming when taken at the recommended dosage. In some cases, it may be able to replace benzodiazepines and similar drugs.
Nevertheless, it's important to speak with your doctor before taking valerian, especially if you're taking other medications or have a serious health condition.
While studies suggest that many people experience great results with valerian, others may not see the same improvements.
However, given its safety and potential benefits, you may want to give valerian a try if you have problems with anxiety.