Despite its unusual taste and smell, valerian root is one of the most popular herbs of our time. Valerian root benefits are especially amazing for both anxiety and sleep! In this episode, I’m going to share tips on how best to work with valerian root for anxiety and sleep. And I’m going to show you how to avoid valerian root side effects. You also have the opportunity to access a free ebook all about valerian.
After listening in, you’ll know:
► Why it’s important to match the herb to the person, rather than the herb to a disease pattern
► Why it’s important to test valerian in small amounts and increase slowly until your desired results are found
► What type of valerian root preparation is often best for long-term use
-- TIMESTAMPS --
00:00 - Introduction to valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
03:31 - Valerian root energetics
09:33 - Valerian root for anxiety and sleep
11:57 - Valerian root for muscle tension and pain
13:17 - Valerian root for spasmodic coughing
13:53 - Valerian for digestion
14:32 - How to identify valerian
15:45 - How to avoid valerian root side effects
18:07 - Valerian Fun Fact
I’m here in my garden where valerian grows abundantly. I started with
one small plant many years ago and it has spread here and there, which I
love! Valerian is a fun plant to grow because it’s big, beautiful, and
so many pollinators love it.
I especially love watching the goldenrod spiders on it.
In addition to being a common garden plant, various valerian species grow wild too.
love hiking through wild open meadows in the alpine mountains of the
North Eastern Cascades here in Washington state where valerian can grow
abundantly in small pockets.
On a hot day, the flower’s musky
scent fills the air. I clearly remember the first time I came upon one
of these valerian meadows, I was overjoyed at the beautiful sight.
Valerian root is an herb that has a long history of use around the world. The plant, Valeriana officinalis was an official herb in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1820-1942. Many other native Valeriana grow around the world and are also used medicinally.
you’ve ever taken valerian root or made it into various herbal brews
you’re familiar with its unique scent. Some people will say it smells
like ripe gym socks or animal urine. I think of it as a pleasant earthy
and musky aroma. This may sound strange to some, but it was used in
perfumes in the 16th century.
Do you have experience with
valerian root? What do you think of that smell? I’d love to hear about
it in the comments. Your comments mean a lot to me! I love cultivating a
community of kind-hearted plant-loving folks! Plus, it’s always
interesting and insightful to hear the experiences of plant lovers out
there. Your suggestion may also help others!
Okay, grab your herbal notes and a pen and let’s dive in.
Valerian root relaxes tension and promotes rest and relaxation… but not for everyone.
Before we get to the specifics of looking at valerian root for anxiety and sleep we have to dive into herbal energetics.
An important part of herbalism is matching the herb to the person, rather than simply matching an herb to a disease pattern.
I’ll show you what I mean by this by using an example of a person with insomnia.
if someone has insomnia, you could look up a list of herbs for insomnia
and then start taking all the herbs under this general category.
Sometimes, that works. More often than not it doesn’t. That’s because
there could be ten different people with insomnia with ten different
underlying causes. In other words, there’s rarely a one-size-fits-all
herbal solution. In addition to looking at this holistically, especially
in regards to lifestyle factors, energetically-minded herbalists will
want to know the energetics or constitution of the individual person.
Does the person with insomnia tend to feel hot or cool? Are they more damp or dry?
someone tends to run warm and dry, they are most likely going to get
better results using different herbs than someone who is cold and damp
in this case.
It’s important to understand this when working
with valerian especially, because if you give valerian to one person it
may be wonderfully calming and relaxing but to another it can actually
be a stimulant that can agitating.
That’s right. Valerian can have opposite effects in different people.
seemingly idiosyncratic reactions have been observed by herbalists for a
long time. As a result, many herbalists have attempted to describe the
typical “valerian person” in order to avoid giving it to those who have
opposite reactions. Here are some of those descriptions:
In 1919, Eclectic Herbalist Finley Ellingwood writes, “Its influence upon the nervous system is best obtained when the circulation of those centers is inactive and feeble, especially when there is a paleness of the face and the skin is cool.”17
In his 1922 book, The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Dr. Harvey Wickes Felter writes, “It is one of the best of calmatives for that collective condition termed ‘nervousness.’ To act well it should be given when the brain circulation is feeble and there is mental depression and despondency.”18
recently, herbalist Michael Moore says that valerian increases
digestive circulation, cardiac circulation, and lung circulation.
Therefore, “If you are an adrenocortical-stress person, with a strong and demanding intestinal tract, good moist lungs, and the cardiovascular excess…then Valerian will stimulate the functions that are already excessive, and leave you with both sedation and physical stimulations – not your herb.”19 he says.
David Winston gives his specific indications for valerian as someone who is restless, nervous, and agitated with a pale face and cool skin.20
simply put, many Western herbalists don’t recommend valerian for people
with warm or excess constitutions and instead use it for those with
cold or deficient constitutions.
While this seems like a good
general rule, I haven’t seen it be so clear cut in practice. Herbalist
Jeremy Ross, who practices in England, lists valerian as cooling and
bitter and best used for those with heat tendencies. He does hypothesize
that valerian in Britain may be different than what is found in North
tend to avoid recommending valerian with those who have warm
constitutions. Also, when recommending valerian to someone, I first ask,
“have you ever taken valerian root? If so, what was your experience?”
If they have never taken it, I recommend they start with small doses to
gauge their reaction.
If you’re new to the concepts of herbal
energetics and understanding if a person or plant is hot or cold or
damp or dry then I highly recommend my free Herbal Jumpstart Course.
short video course takes you through the ins and outs of herbal
energetics and by the time you finish you’ll have increased your herbal
knowledge 10 fold.
One person who did the herbal jumpstart course wrote in to say,
“Your herbal jumpstart course is amazing! I love everything about it! . . . from the beautiful presentation that just draws you into the course and into a fresh appreciation and delight in herbs; to it being clear and simple yet giving a deep understanding of the nature of herbs and herbal medicine. I did a certificate in herbal medicine years ago but didn't cover anything like the concepts you have talked about in this course. Thank you so much!" L Norrell
This course is entirely free to everyone who joins my herbal newsletter community. But just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. I recently had someone write to me wondering if they forgot to pay because the course was so in depth they couldn’t believe it was free.
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Valerian root has many gifts but it’s most well-known for its
sedating and relaxing properties. It has long been used for people with
anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia.
have studied valerian’s sedative qualities extensively. It has
repeatedly been shown to be effective, even when compared to
In one study, researchers concluded
that valerian was just as effective as oxazepam (a benzodiazepine) when
taken over a 6-week period.2
Another study compared the use of a three-herb formula containing valerian, passionflower and hops to the sedative, zolpidem.
researchers concluded that the herbal formula “is a safe and effective
short-term alternative to zolpidem for primary insomnia.”3
Another interesting study reported that people taking valerian root “reported significantly better subjective sleep quality than those taking a placebo, after benzodiazepine withdrawal.”4
2021 study showed that patients who took 530 mg of valerian root
following coronary artery bypass graft surgery slept better than those
taking a placebo.
Several studies have shown valerian’s ability to promote sleep in menopausal women.5,6
has also been shown to be effective for helping nervous and agitated
children, as well as children who have difficulty with sleep.7,8 However, I want to note that valerian isn’t recommended for children under three.
Three studies have been done to evaluate how valerian might influence reaction time, alertness, concentration, psychomotor effects, and next-day sedation. All studies show that there was no negative impact.9,10,11
However, I know from being in clinical practice and working with lots of folks that slight grogginess after taking valerian isn’t unheard of. So when trying valerian for the first time it’s a good idea to take it slow and evaluate your individual reaction. It’s also a good idea to take it on a night when you don’t have to wake up early or have a lot of responsibilities that following day.
Valerian root’s relaxing effects decrease muscle tension and, as a result, relieve pain relating to that tension. Consider using valerian for muscle cramps, menstrual cramps, restless legs, and neck and shoulder tension. If these issues are chronic, also consider magnesium deficiency as a possible root cause of these issues.
One study set
out to evaluate valerian’s effectiveness for people diagnosed with
restless leg syndrome. The studied concluded that “the use of 800 mg of
valerian for 8 weeks improves symptoms of [restless leg syndrome] and
decreases daytime sleepiness.”12
Valerian has clinically been shown to decrease pain associated with menstrual cramps. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, 100 female students were randomly assigned to receive either valerian or a placebo. Those taking the valerian reported that their pain was significantly reduced in comparison to those taking the placebo. The researchers concluded, “Valerian seems to be an effective treatment for dysmenorrhea, probably because of its antispasmodic effects.”13
One of my favorite ways to work with valerian root is for spasmodic coughing. I don’t often see this mentioned elsewhere but valerian powerfully calms repetitive spasmodic coughing. I use it frequently for those end-of-illness dry coughs that tickle your throat as soon as you lay down, and then result in lung-wrenching spasmodic coughs. It not only calms the coughing reflex, but can also promote sleep.
While most famously used for anxiety, restlessness, muscle pain, and insomnia, valerian can also correct stagnant digestion. Dr. Harvey Wickes, an Eclectic herbalist from the early 20th century says, “Owing to its volatile oil it is a good carminative in flatulence, with nervous unrest, and relieves the disagreeable sense of fullness felt after a meal by causing a rifting of gas.”16
More simply put, herbalist Michael Moore says that “Valerian stimulates digestive functions.”15
There are many different species of valerian. For this section I’ll focus on Valeriana officinalis which is native to Europe and Asia and grows commonly in North America.
Valerian is an herbaceous perennial that grows 1 to 8 feet tall.
It prefers lots of sunlight and damp soils, and will readily re-seed in garden conditions or in wild meadows.
The compound leaves grow opposite along the stem. There are also basal leaves at the foot of the plant.
flowers are most often white and some species have a bit of pink, which
I love because I fervently believe that pink is the best color in the
world. The flowers grow as umbels on long hollow stalks. Each flower has
The spindly roots are a creamy white to yellow. They are ideally harvested for medicinal use in their third year, when the essential oils are at their peak.
If you harvest the roots of a really old plant you’ll find that they are quite woody and don’t have the characteristic strong musky scent.
Valerian is powerfully relaxing. It brings deep restful sleep and
relieves muscle tension. But only to those well suited to this very
Valerian is generally regarded as safe.
However, as I shared earlier, some people have a negative or opposite
stimulating reaction to valerian. These effects don’t last more than 12
hours or so but if you experience agitation rather than relaxation after
taking valerian, then you’ll want to avoid this plant in the future.
Instead, you could look into lemon balm or skullcap as cooling relaxant herbs.
Reported adverse effects to valerian root are rare, but can include diarrhea, headache, and gastrointestinal disturbance.25 It’s not recommended to take valerian, or other sedative herbs, while also taking barbiturate drugs as their effects could be amplified.
In regards to pregnancy and breastfeeding, the Botanical Safety Handbook writes, “Animal studies and human case reports have indicated no adverse effects of relatively high dosages of valerian in pregnancy.” However, the safety of valerian during lactation has not been conclusively established.26
Another way to avoid valerian root side effects is to stick with fresh-root tinctures.
Herbalist Michael Moore wrote that the continued use of dried root
preparations may cause emotional agitation in some individuals.22
Lastly, as with most herbs, it’s a good idea to start with low amounts to see your initial reaction, and then increase slowly until your desired results are found. Preferred dosages vary widely with valerian root.
Valerian roots have a strong smell! Either you love it or hate it but
it’s hard to be neutral about it. And humans aren’t the only ones.
Cats and rats alike are stimulated by the smell, with a reaction reminiscent of catnip-induced flurries. One time I brought in a bag of fresh valerian root and when I turned my back the cat jumped on it and went a bit berserk. But just like humans, valerian doesn’t have that effect on all cats. Another interesting tidbit about valerian is tied to the medieval Pied Piper story. The story goes that Pied Piper led an infestation of rats out of Hamelin, Germany by playing his trusty flute. In some variations he also had valerian root in his pocket.
If you enjoyed this video on the health benefits of valerian root and you value trusted herbal information, then I hope you’ll stick around! The best way to get started is to subscribe to my newsletter at the bottom of this page so you can be the first to get my best herbal insights and recipes.
Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Healand co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.