Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a tall, flowering perennial plant, native to Europe and Asia. Its root extracts have widely been used as a natural remedy to treat anxiety, insomnia and other ailments since ancient times and references to valerian are found as early as 1st century AD Ancient Greek medical texts.
Valerian root has a very strong, unpleasant smell and taste and is why it is more widely taken in capsule form, although it is also available as a liquid extract or tea. It contains compounds and antioxidants that promote sleep and relaxation. Valerian has been shown to increase Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) activity in the brain, in the same manner as prescription drugs, such as Valium and Xanax. GABA functions as a neurotransmitter to dampen the activity of neurons in the brain and nervous system, which results in reduced stress and a calmer mood.
Because of its calming effect, valerian was used in England during both World Wars to treat soldiers suffering from shell-shock. It was also administered to civilians to relieve stress caused by constant air raids.
Several studies have been conducted to measure the effects of valerian on insomnia and anxiety, however, the results are mixed.
In 2018, researchers in South Korea reviewed 79 studies that analyzed the effects of 21 different orally administered single plant-derived extracts on sleep-related conditions in human subjects. While valerian was the most frequently researched extract, the results were conflicting and inconclusive. The team determined that more research was necessary to prove the efficacy of valerian on sleep disorders.
Two studies have examined the effects of valerian for menopausal or post-menopausal women experiencing symptoms of insomnia. In both studies, women aged 50-60 were administered either a dosage of valerian (2011 study) or valerian/lemon balm (2013 study) or a placebo. The women who took the valerian or valerian/lemon balm mixture reported significantly improved sleep quality than those in the placebo groups, allowing the researchers to conclude that valerian may reduce sleeplessness during or after menopause.
For insomnia, the recommended dosage of valerian is 300-600 mg taken 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime. To treat anxiety, take 120 to 200 mg, three times per day. Valerian should be taken regularly for two weeks to realize the maximum benefits but it should not be consumed for more than 28 days without the advice of a doctor.