10 Health Benefits Of Valerian: The Time-Tested Herbal Remedy

Valerian is known as nature's valium, without the side effects.

 Valerian, garden heliotrope, or Valeriana officinalis is a perennial plant that’s been an integral part of the traditional medicine trove for centuries. The roots and rhizomes of this plant are generally used in therapeutic remedies and have compounds such as valerenic acid and valepotriates to thank for its many beneficial properties. Be warned, though, the roots have a distinctively unpleasant odor which some say reminds them of sweaty socks.1 But smell aside, this herb, which is also aptly called “all-heal,” has many benefits to offer you.

1. Helps You Sleep Better

A poor night’s sleep can leave you irritable and unable to focus the next day. And if you grapple with sleepless nights frequently, valerian may offer some respite. Valerian’s role as a sleep aid is one that spans centuries. Studies also show that it can help you fall asleep quicker and improve sleep quality, notably in people who are poor and irregular sleepers.2 It has also been seen to improve sleep structure and quality among insomniacs.3


This sedative effect of valerian is possibly linked to its ability to stimulate the inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) which is involved in regulating brain activity.4 Flavonoid compounds in valerian like 6-methylapigenin and hesperidin have also been found to have a sedative effect.5

But what also needs to be noted here is the controversy over valerian’s effectiveness as a sleep aid, with some studies showing inconclusive results and pointing to its inefficacy for treating insomnia. These researchers note that while valerian seems to have a subjective impact on sleep, with people reporting an improvement, it doesn’t necessarily score on objective parameters.6 While extensive clinical studies will help prove valerian’s role as a sleep aid, many experts are still of the opinion that it has value as a safe and natural sleep aid and relaxant.


2. Tackles Menstrual Cramps And Pain

Many women grapple with dysmenorrhea or menstruation with severe abdominal cramps and pain. One study looked at the effect of taking valerian thrice a day for 3 days from the start of menstruation for 2 cycles among 100 student subjects. Valerian helped reduce the pain severity and frequency. This effect is thought to be due to the antispasmodic effect of this herb on smooth muscles, helping relieve uterine cramps and pain.7

3. Eases Menopause Symptoms

Hot flashes are one of the most common complaints among women who hit menopause. These may start months or even years before menopause and typically continue for many years after you stop having your period. For the many women who find them embarrassing and uncomfortable, valerian may offer a solution.8


According to one study, having valerian root powder (255 mg in capsule form) thrice a day for 8 weeks reduced both the frequency and the severity of hot flashes in menopausal women. Valerian’s phytoestrogens, plant compounds that are similar to the female hormone estrogen, are thought to be responsible for this beneficial effect.9 In another study, postmenopausal women who struggled with problems such as sleep disturbances and insomnia reported better sleep quality after taking valerian extracts (530 mg) twice a day for 4 weeks.10 While long-term extensive studies will help confirm this, valerian has great potential as a non-invasive and simple alternative to hormone therapy.

4. Eases Anxiety

[pullquote]Valerian is often considered nature’s valium, sans all the side effects and with the ability to calm nerves and control agitation.[/pullquote]


All of us worry about things like our health, money problems, or family issues to some extent. But people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) feel extremely anxious, even when there’s no particular reason to feel anxious, so much so that it interferes with their daily life. Valerian has traditionally been used to alleviate anxiety and nervousness. And this traditional use has scientific backing too. One pilot study of 36 people with GAD found that the herb had an anxiolytic effect thanks to compounds known as valepotriates in it. The subjects showed improvements in several markers of GAD.11 In another study, valerian in combination with St John’s wort has also been seen to reduce symptoms and bring relief to people with depressive and anxiety disorders.12

5. Counters Stress

Valerian’s ability to soothe and calm the mind also extends to tackling stress. In one study, researchers asked participants to perform a mental task that induced stress and checked blood pressure and rise in heart rate. Then they were given valerian for a week and asked to perform the stress-inducing task again. There was a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and heart rate reaction to stress when they took the herb.13 Animal studies also confirm valerian’s ability to reduce the levels of corticosterone in the blood. This is the mice equivalent of cortisol, the hormone involved in our response to stress.14 Valerian may also help by maintaining levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in regions of the brain linked to stressful reactions – the hippocampus and amygdala. These neurotransmitters regulate activity in these regions of the brain and help rein in both physical and psychological reactions to stress.15


6. Improves Memory And Cognitive Skills

Valerian can help ramp up your brain power thanks to its effect on memory and cognitive function. In one study, valerian was found to curb memory loss and cognitive impairment typically seen in patients who undergo surgery. The cognitive function of patients who had valerian was found to be much better than the control group after a bypass surgery. Animal studies also show that valerenic acid in it can help improve memory and learning by reducing oxidative stress in the brain’s center of memory, the hippocampus.16

7. Fights Hyperactivity And Attention Problems

Hyperactivity and a lack of focus can lead to problems at work as well in social situations. One study looked at children suffering from these issues and found that the combined effect of valerian and lemon balm, a herb which has been found to improve cognitive performance, attentiveness, and mood, was beneficial for them. Treatment with this combination reduced the percentage of children who had difficulty with focus to 14% from 75%, impulsiveness to 22% from 59%, and hyperactivity to 13% from 61%. The researchers suggested that several constituents of valerian and lemon balm may work synergistically to produce this effect.17


8. Works As An Adjuvant Remedy For Many Illnesses

While valerian does not have a direct analgesic effect, it is often used as a pain remedy because of its ability to relax muscles and control spasms. Its sedative and calming effect may also have a role to play here. The latter is the reason it is often prescribed in treatment regimens for conditions ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to cancer, PTSD, and even HIV.18 19 20

Valerian is often used in cancer therapy to tackle sleep disturbances and fatigue patients struggle with. It has also been found to have a calming effect. What’s noteworthy is that, contrary to what is often believed, some studies show that it has no adverse effect on many cancer drugs. This might mean it can be used safely without worry of interactions.21 Your doctor should be able to confirm whether valerian can be a supplementary remedy if you are undergoing cancer treatment.


9. Helps Treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, a mental condition where people grapple with persistent, uncontrollable obsessions and compulsive behaviors, is typically treated with psychotherapy and medicines.22 But a pilot study indicates that valerian has the potential to help. When valerian was administered daily for 8 weeks to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it significantly improved their condition when compared to a placebo. The researchers concluded that valerian should be studied further as a side-effect-free alternative to mainstream medicines.23

Speak to your doctor if you would like to explore valerian as an alternative remedy. If you are already on medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s important to make sure that valerian doesn’t interact with drugs you are taking.

10. Helps Ease Symptoms Of Restless Leg Syndrome

While not fully established yet, there is some evidence that valerian may help alleviate symptoms of restless leg syndrome. In one study, subjects with RLS who were given 800 mg of valerian for 8 weeks reported an improvement in symptoms and sleep quality.24 Valerian’s sedative and muscle relaxant effects may be at play here. People with RLS often struggle with insomnia and other sleep problems because of the frequency of episodes in the night.

[pullquote]Valerian root and rhizome extracts are available in the form of capsules, tablets, and tincture. You can also prepare a tea by steeping the root in hot water.25[/pullquote]

While valerian’s therapeutic effects are formidable and it is generally considered safe for most healthy adults, know that excessive use may lead to stomach problems and headaches. It may also cause drowsiness if used in large doses. One study also found that taking 900 mg of valerian in the night caused people to feel more sleepy in the morning. A dosage of 600 mg, however, did not result in this side effect. There is also a risk that it can add to the sedative effects of medicines or alcohol.26 27 Because of lack of adequate research information, valerian is best avoided by pregnant women and children under 3.