Valerian root has a long history as a medicinal herb in Europe for calming nerves and promoting sleep. Acting as a mild depressant on the central nervous system, the roots of the valerian shrub are typically taken in supplement form, as the tea is somewhat bitter and foul smelling. As is common with many herbs, little peer reviewed research has investigated the effects of valerian, but some known dangers include mild side effects and possible issues when combined with other sedatives. Consult your medical provider before taking valerian.
Valerian has been noted for its anti-anxiety effects for 2000 years. In the 2nd century A.D., Galen recommended the herb to treat insomnia. Related species to Valerian officialis have also been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. In the United States, valerian extracts were commonly available and the root was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia until the mid-twentieth century.
Valerian was used to treat “shell shock” in American soldiers returning from World War I, but soon after was replaced by other prescription sedative drugs. However, in many countries in Europe, including Germany, Belgium and France, the herb has retained an active medical role for treating anxiety.
Although valerian is classified by the FDA as “generally safe”, the herbal remedy can cause mild side effects in some users, including nausea, headaches and dizziness. Others paradoxically feel uneasy and excitable after ingestion, and for many others, a reduction in cognitive abilities has been reported, according to the National Institutes of Health. Do not drive or operate mechanical equipment when under the influence of valerian.
Possible Hangover Effect
High doses of valerian may result in a “hangover effect” the following day, including daytime tiredness. However, research reported by the Office of Dietary indicates that valerian does not appreciably affect reaction time, alertness and mental focus the next day.
Valerian is not recommended for long-term use more than four to six weeks, although research is spotty at best. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends tapering off of valerian slowly to prevent possible withdrawal symptoms.
The verdict is still out regarding valerian’s effectiveness for treating insomnia. A surprising health risk includes the possibility that taking valerian regularly can actually increase insomnia in the long term.
- Medline Plus: Valerian
- The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine: Valerian, 2001.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Valerian
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Valerian