What Is Valerian Root?

Herbal sleep aid may also treat anxiety and hot flashes

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is an herb from regions of Europe and Asia with medicinal use dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. It is believed to have many benefits, including as a treatment for both insomnia and anxiety. However, the research is lacking.

Valerian root contains valerenic acid, an active ingredient with sedative effects. Specifically, valerenic acid is thought to act on brain receptors for the chemical (neurotransmitter) gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA calms and slows the brain.

This article will discuss what the research shows about valerian root's uses, as well as potential side effects, dosage information, and what to look for when buying valerian root.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. 

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredient(s): Valerenic acids
  • Alternate name(s): Setwall, Valerianae radix, Baldrianwurzel, phu
  • Legal status: Legal in the U.S. and available over the counter
  • Suggested dose: There are no approved dosage guidelines for valerian root
  • Safety considerations: Side effects may include headache, upset stomach, excitability, and heart disturbances, among others

Uses of Valerian Root

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. 

Complementary and alternative medicine practitioners believe valerian root may benefit those with certain health conditions. Some of these uses have garnered attention from researchers.

At least some preliminary evidence suggests valerian root may help with:

The evidence supporting these claims is generally mixed, but some promising research has come to light.

Insomnia

Valerian root is probably best known as a remedy for insomnia. Although valerian root is one of the most studied plants for sleep, evidence is mixed over whether it can promote sleep or improve sleep quality.

In its 2017 insomnia-treatment guidelines, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommended against using valerian due to weak evidence that it's effective.

The body of evidence has grown in the past few years, though.

A 2021 review of studies on herbal sleep aids looked at their effect on GABA. The review said valerian root had the most evidence of altering GABA activity and that it may directly interact with serotonin (another key neurotransmitter involved in sleep).

Valerian root has also been shown to provide sleep benefits for people with certain health issues:

  • Sleep quality during kidney dialysis: A 2021 study found valerian root significantly improved sleep in people undergoing dialysis.
  • Sleep quality after heart surgery: A 2021 study reported valerian root may be a safe option for improving sleep after coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
  • Post-operative sleep: A 2022 study reported promising evidence of improving sleep problems after surgery in women, adults 65 years and older, and people with long hospital stays.

Although these results appear promising, many of the human trials performed on valerian root for insomnia have been small. Larger human trials may be necessary to prove its role in sleep conditions further.

Anxiety

Some tout valerian root as a safe and natural alternative to prescription anxiety drugs that target GABA receptors. However, there is only weak evidence on this matter.

A 2015 review contended that of 12 traditional herbs used to treat anxiety (including hops, gotu kola, and ginkgo), valerian root was the "most promising candidate" for treating anxiety associated with bipolar disorder.

More recent research appears to have similar findings. A 2021 study on people receiving kidney dialysis recorded significant reductions in illness-related anxiety and depression.

Another study suggested that valerian root can significantly improve anxiety and other disorders that may result from insomnia.

Stronger research is still needed to fully understand how exactly valerian root may improve anxiety symptoms.

In the meantime, it is important to remember that no supplement or herbal remedy should replace standard medical care. Always consult a healthcare provider for medical guidance for any health condition.

Hot Flashes

Valerian root may minimize hot flashes from menopause. However, the exact mechanism of action is unknown since valerian root does not appear to influence hormone levels directly.

A 2013 study involving 68 women with menopause reported that valerian root capsules, in 225-milligram doses given three times a day for eight weeks, reduced the severity and frequency of hot flashes compared to a placebo.

Several later studies had similar results, according to a review of studies published in 2021. The authors concluded that the evidence was promising but said more high-quality studies using consistent participants and methods were needed.

Other Uses

Historically, valerian root has been used for additional uses. These uses include:

However, there is little scientific evidence to support these uses.

Valerian, tincture, capsules, tablets, and tea bags

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

What Are the Side Effects of Valerian Root?

Whenever you start a new supplement, it's important to be aware of any possible side effects. Although valerian root is thought to be mostly safe, side effects are possible when using it. These side effects may be mild or severe.

Common Side Effects

Most clinical studies have shown that the herb is well-tolerated and safe for short-term use. Side effects of valerian root, if any, tend to be mild and may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Itchy skin
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

Interestingly, insomnia, one of the most popular reasons people use valerian root, has been reported as a result of using it.

Severe Side Effects

There have been little to no reports of severe side effects for valerian root. For the most part, if they do occur, valerian root side effects are mild.

Yet, research on the herb is still emerging, meaning severe side effects may be possible.

In rare instances, valerian root has been associated with liver damage, but mostly when combined with other herbal remedies. Experts don't yet know whether valerian root itself caused the damage or if it is due to contaminants in valerian products.

In general, side effects are more likely to occur when too much valerian root is taken. For this reason, valerian root should only be used as directed.

Precautions

Some people may need to take extra precautions when using valerian root.

Due to a lack of safety research, it is recommended that people who are pregnant or nursing should avoid using valerian root. Some of the chemicals in valerian root are suspected of harming the fetus or breastfed newborns.

Additionally, it is unknown whether valerian root is safe for use in children, especially those under the age of 3.

Due to the potential risk of liver damage, people with liver disease or who drink high amounts of alcohol may need to avoid using valerian root.

Talk with your healthcare provider about these or other health conditions before taking valerian root.

Dosage: How Much Valerian Root Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

Valerian root supplements do not have well-established dosages. This is due to a lack of high-quality human research.

Many valerian root capsules and tablets are in doses ranging from 300 to 600 milligrams (mg).

In some studies, people have taken as much as 900 milligrams of valerian root extract without major side effects. Other studies have used smaller doses of about 400 to 600 milligrams of valerian root daily.

It should be noted that many studies done on valerian root have used different forms of the supplement as well as different doses. To find the right dose for you, talk with your healthcare provider.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Valerian Root?

Valerian root is considered mostly safe, but adverse effects may be more likely if you take more than you should.

Whether valerian root is toxic has yet to be proven one way or the other. Yet, taking more valerian root than recommended may increase the likelihood of side effects, which can be unpleasant.

In a few rare cases, valerian root has been implicated as toxic to the liver. However, researchers have not been able to pinpoint reported liver damage to any of the active ingredients in valerian root.

In one documented case, a person attempted to overdose on valerian root. However, despite taking a very large dose of valerian root, an overdose did not occur.

You may need to seek medical attention if you suspect you’ve taken too much valerian root. Always be sure to follow supplement dosage and usage guidelines correctly.

Interactions

Valerian root may interact with various medications, foods, and supplements.

Valerian root interactions are not well-documented, but the herb is believed to potentially interact with:

Other interactions may exist. However, according to a 2014 review, there is little to no evidence of clinically relevant interactions with valerian root.

Regardless, it is essential that you carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of any supplement to know which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications. 

Valerian tablets
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

How to Store Valerian Root

Supplements must be stored properly to maintain their shelf-life.

Store valerian root supplements in a cool, dry place and keep them out of direct sunlight.

Typically, valerian root does not need to be refrigerated, but you should follow the storage directions listed on the packaging.

Be sure to discard any leftover valerian root supplements once they have reached their expiration date.

Similar Supplements

Many other supplements available today may work similarly to valerian root.

Supplements that are similar to valerian root include:

  • Lavender oil: Lavender oil has long been thought to promote better sleep, making it a possible option for those with insomnia. In a small study performed on college students, those who wore a lavender oil inhalation patch while sleeping for five nights reported better sleep quality than those who did not use lavender oil. Lavender oil is said to have sedative and even hypnotic properties.
  • Saffron: Saffron extract has been studied as a potential treatment for anxiety. In one double-blind, randomized study, participants took either saffron extract or a placebo for eight weeks. At the end of the study, those who took the saffron extract had lower depression scores and improved social relationships.
  • Black cohosh: A perennial plant, black cohosh may be useful for those with hot flashes, a common symptom of menopause. In one study on postmenopausal women with hot flashes, black cohosh was found to be more effective than primrose oil in improving hot flashes. Also, black cohosh was found to reduce the severity.

Ask your healthcare provider about taking more than one supplement for the same purpose at once. Typically, just one is recommended at a time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is valerian root safe during pregnancy?

    We do not know for certain whether valerian root is safe to use during pregnancy. There is not enough evidence to support its use.

    For this reason, it is recommended that people who are pregnant avoid using valerian root.

    If you are pregnant, ask your healthcare provider about alternative options for insomnia.

  • Does valerian root increase serotonin?

    Some evidence suggests valerian root may increase the activity of serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays an important role in mood and sleep. However, more research is needed before this relationship can be determined.

  • Is it okay to take valerian root every day?

    Valerian root is considered safe if used for 28 days or less. This is because only short-term studies of up to 28 days have been performed on valerian root. Therefore, it is unknown whether valerian root is safe to use every day and for the long term.

Sources of Valerian Root & What to Look For

A food-first approach is always recommended when it comes to getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. However, sometimes dietary supplements, like valerian root, may be recommended to you by your healthcare provider.

Food Sources of Valerian Root

Valerian root is not naturally found in foods. Although, some people prefer to use dried valerian root to make tea.

To make valerian tea, combine:

  • 2 to 3 grams of dried valerian root (roughly 1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • One cup of hot water
  • Steep for 10 to 15 minutes

If tea is not your preference, there are other forms of valerian root.

Valerian Root Supplements

Valerian root is available as a capsule, tablet, powder, gummy, or extract. Valerian tinctures and extracts can vary in concentration. Generally, you should never exceed the recommended dosage on the product label.

Valerian root essential oil is mainly used for aromatherapy and is not intended for internal use. Even food-grade essential oils used for flavoring should never be taken by mouth for medicinal purposes.

Because herbal remedies like valerian root are largely unregulated in the United States, steps should be taken to find products that are safe and reliable.

One way to do this is by checking the label to see if the supplement has been certified by an independent agency like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

These certifying bodies ensure that the supplements voluntarily submitted for testing contain the active and inactive ingredients listed on the product label and are free of contaminants. But keep in mind that certification doesn't guarantee safety or effectiveness.

Summary

Valerian root is an herbal remedy that has shown some promise in certain studies as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety, hot flashes associated with menopause, and other health conditions. However, the evidence is mixed. It's believed to affect the activity of the neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin, which are involved in sleep and mood.

It is generally considered a safe supplement, but side effects are possible when taking valerian root, and certain people should avoid it. Be safe and talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Brittany Lubeck, RD
Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process