By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 10 February 2015)
Valerian has been a popular remedy for insomnia, restlessness, and anxiety for several centuries. “Germany’s Commission E approved valerian as an effective mild sedative and the United States Food and Drug Administration listed valerian as ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS)” (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2011).
How Valerian Reduces Anxiety
Scientists believe that valerian works by increasing the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain (those who suffer from anxiety disorders tend to have underactive GABA systems). This means that valerian has a calming effect similar to tranquillizers, though weaker, and side effects are less common or debilitating than with pharmaceutical medications.
Head and Kelly (2009) note that many studies have shown valerian to be effective against general anxiety states. However, overall study findings for anxiety relief are mixed, with some studies showing anti-anxiety benefits with valerian supplementation and others yielding no effect. More research is required to confirm or refute the benefits of this supplement for panic disorder, though there is enough evidence to suggest that it can help with sleep problems (Griffin, 2010), which are often associated with anxiety disorders and can make anxiety worse.
Valerian supplements are available as tinctures, extracts, capsules, and teas. Although research results have not provided any firm conclusions regarding valerian’s possible anti-anxiety benefits, the majority of reviews for many of the valerian products available on Amazon and other sites are positive, suggesting that many users are receiving anti-anxiety benefits (either from the supplement itself or due to a potent placebo effect).
If you decide to use valerian in tea form, keep the leaves out of reach of cats – they’re a cat attractant much like catnip, and many cats will tear open packages containing valerian leaves (not all cats are responders, but the majority seem to be). Even the scent of valerian on your hands can induce some crazy (though entertaining) behaviour in a responding cat.
Valerian should be safe for most people, but it may interact with certain medications. In particular, it may increase the effects of sedating medications or anesthesia. Possible side effects may include excitability, uneasiness, headache, and morning sluggishness, particularly with high doses. Although short-term use may help some people with mild to moderate anxiety, concerns have been expressed about long-term use, given the lack of long-term studies on humans and the fact that stopping after long-term use appears to trigger a withdrawal syndrome in rats similar to withdrawal from benzodiazepine tranquillizers (Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research, 2015). Dr. Hall-Flavin (2012) recommends that valerian be used for no more than a few weeks at a time.
Always check with a doctor before taking supplements.
Other Natural Anxiety Remedies
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Medical concerns should be referred to a qualified doctor.
- Griffin, M.R. (Reviewed by D.C. Leopold, MD, 2010, December 7). “Valerian.” WebMD.com.
- Hall-Flavin, D.K., MD. (2012). “Is There an Effective Herbal Remedy for Anxiety?” The Mayo Clinic, MayoClinic.org.
- Head, K.A., ND, & Kelly, G.S., ND. (2009). “Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep.” Alternative Medicine Review, 14(2), 116-140).
- Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research. (2015). “Valerian.” TangCenter.uChicago.edu.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (2011, March 28). “Valerian.” MedlinePlus, NLM.NIH.gov.
- University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011). “Valerian.” UMM.edu.
- WebMD. (2015). “Valerian.” WebMD.com.