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.
|↑1||Valerian. University of Rochester.|
|↑2||Leathwood, Peter D., Françoise Chauffard, Eva Heck, and Raphael Munoz-Box. “Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 17, no. 1 (1982): 65-71.|
|↑3||Donath, F., S. Quispe, K. Diefenbach, A. Maurer, I. Fietze, and I. Roots. “Critical evaluation of the effect of valerian extract on sleep structure and sleep quality.” Pharmacopsychiatry 33, no. 02 (2000): 47-53.|
|↑4, ↑26||Valerian. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑5||Marder, Mariel, Haydeé Viola, Cristina Wasowski, Sebastián Fernández, Jorge H. Medina, and Alejandro C. Paladini. “6-Methylapigenin and hesperidin: new valeriana flavonoids with activity on the CNS.” Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 75, no. 3 (2003): 537-545.|
|↑6||Fernández-San-Martín, Ma Isabel, Roser Masa-Font, Laura Palacios-Soler, Pilar Sancho-Gómez, Cristina Calbó-Caldentey, and Gemma Flores-Mateo. “Effectiveness of Valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.” Sleep medicine 11, no. 6 (2010): 505-511.|
|↑7||Mirabi, Parvaneh, Mahrokh Dolatian, Faraze Mojab, and Hamid Alavi Majd. “Effects of valerian on the severity and systemic manifestations of dysmenorrhea.” International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics 115, no. 3 (2011): 285-288.|
|↑8||Hot flushes. National Health Service.|
|↑9||Mirabi, Parvaneh, and Faraz Mojab. “The effects of valerian root on hot flashes in menopausal women.” Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research: IJPR 12, no. 1 (2013): 217.|
|↑10||Taavoni, Simin, Neda Ekbatani, Maryam Kashaniyan, and Hamid Haghani. “Effect of valerian on sleep quality in postmenopausal women: a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Menopause 18, no. 9 (2011): 951-955.|
|↑11||Andreatini, Roberto, Vania A. Sartori, Maria LV Seabra, and José Roberto Leite. “Effect of valepotriates (valerian extract) in generalized anxiety disorder: a randomized placebo‐controlled pilot study.” Phytotherapy Research 16, no. 7 (2002): 650-654.|
|↑12||Müller, Diethard, T. Pfeil, and V. Von den Driesch. “Treating depression comorbid with anxiety–results of an open, practice-oriented study with St John’s wort WS® 5572 and valerian extract in high doses.” Phytomedicine 10 (2003): 25-30.|
|↑13||Cropley, M., Z. Cave, J. Ellis, and R. W. Middleton. “Effect of kava and valerian on human physiological and psychological responses to mental stress assessed under laboratory conditions.” Phytotherapy Research 16, no. 1 (2002): 23-27.|
|↑14, ↑16||Nam, Sung Min, Jung Hoon Choi, Dae Young Yoo, Woosuk Kim, Hyo Young Jung, Jong Whi Kim, Soo-Yong Kang et al. “Valeriana officinalis extract and its main component, valerenic acid, ameliorate D-galactose-induced reductions in memory, cell proliferation, and neuroblast differentiation by reducing corticosterone levels and lipid peroxidation.” Experimental gerontology 48, no. 11 (2013): 1369-1377.|
|↑15||Jung, Hyo Young, Dae Young Yoo, Sung Min Nam, Jong Whi Kim, Jung Hoon Choi, Miyoung Yoo, Sanghee Lee, Yeo Sung Yoon, and In Koo Hwang. “Valerenic Acid Protects Against Physical and Psychological Stress by Reducing the Turnover of Serotonin and Norepinephrine in Mouse Hippocampus-Amygdala Region.” Journal of medicinal food 18, no. 12 (2015): 1333-1339.|
|↑17||Gromball, Jürgen, Frank Beschorner, Christian Wantzen, Ute Paulsen, and Martin Burkart. “Hyperactivity, concentration difficulties and impulsiveness improve during seven weeks’ treatment with valerian root and lemon balm extracts in primary school children.” Phytomedicine 21, no. 8-9 (2014): 1098-1103.|
|↑18||Taibi, Diana M., Cheryl Bourguignon, and Ann Gill Taylor. “Valerian use for saleep disturbances related to rheumatoid arthritis.” Holistic nursing practice 18, no. 3 (2004): 120-126.|
|↑19||Meyerhoff, Dieter J., Anderson Mon, Thomas Metzler, and Thomas C. Neylan. “Cortical gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate in posttraumatic stress disorder and their relationships to self-reported sleep quality.” Sleep 37, no. 5 (2014): 893-900.|
|↑20||Ahmadi, Motahareh, Hossein Khalili, Ladan Abbasian, and Padideh Ghaeli. “Effect of valerian in preventing neuropsychiatric adverse effects of efavirenz in HIV-positive patients: A pilot randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Annals of Pharmacotherapy 51, no. 6 (2017): 457-464.|
|↑21||Kelber, Olaf, Karen Nieber, and Karin Kraft. “Valerian: no evidence for clinically relevant interactions.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014 (2014).|
|↑22||Obsessive-compulsive disorder. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑23||Pakseresht, Siroos, Hatam Boostani, and Mehdi Sayyah. “Extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) vs. placebo in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind study.” Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine 8, no. 1 (2011).|
|↑24||Cuellar, Norma G., and Sarah J. Ratcliffe. “Does valerian improve sleepiness and symptom severity in people with restless legs syndrome?.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 15, no. 2 (2009): 22.|
|↑25||Valerian. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.|
|↑27||Angier, Bradford. Field guide to medicinal wild plants. Stackpole Books, 2008.|