The root of the valerian plant, a member of the daisy family, has a long-standing history of use as a naturopathic treatment for anxiety, insomnia and depression. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, valerian root tea is approved by Germany's Commission E as a weak sedative, and U.S. governing bodies have declared it generally recognized as safe. However, despite the herb's overall safety, it is not recommended for use during any stage of pregnancy. If you are pregnant, consult your obstetrician or midwife before using valerian or any other medicinal herb.
Benefits and Uses
Valerian tea appears to work in a manner similar to benzodiazepines, a class of prescription drugs that includes Xanax and Valium. The University of Maryland Medical Center says valerian tea may alter levels of the sedative chemical gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, in the brain. As a result, a person coping with anxiety may feel calmer and more restful. Some health care providers may recommend valerian as an alternative to stronger prescription drugs for women coping with severe anxiety disorders during pregnancy. Because its effects are weaker, it may be safer than Valium and Xanax, which are considered to be very dangerous during all stages of pregnancy.
General Side Effects
Side effects from valerian tea are relatively rare. The National Institutes of Health note that valerian tea can cause headaches, dizziness, upset stomach, hangover-like drowsiness and unsteady gait. Rarely, some people experience a paradoxical response, resulting in stimulant-like side effects such as insomnia and nervousness. The National Institutes of Health additionally notes that valerian can cause addiction if it is used in very high doses for several months at a time. Withdrawal symptoms are mild and include increased heart rate and mood disruptions.
Effects During Pregnancy
Small-scale studies have found that valerian tea has no apparent effects on pregnancy or on the health of a developing fetus, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. However, no large-scale human trials have conclusively proved its safety during any stage of pregnancy. Valerian tea's active compounds may cross the placenta and cause side effects for the fetus. The National Institutes of Health notes that some valerian tea compounds are mildly toxic, and a fetus's detoxification organs are poorly developed. In theory, a mother who drinks several cups of valerian tea per day may give birth to a baby with addiction symptoms. Additionally, the University of Maryland Medical Center warns that valerian root can interact with some forms of anesthesia, which you may receive during labor if you need a Caesarean section.
No large-scale studies have established a safe or effective dose for pregnant women. Your health care provider can offer specific guidelines for the use of valerian during pregnancy. In general, an adult can drink 1 cup of valerian tea daily without experiencing side effects or dependence. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends steeping 1 tsp. of valerian root in 1 cup of boiling water for five to 10 minutes. Because it is a sedative, it is best to avoid taking valerian tea within several hours of driving or operating machinery.
An obstetrician or midwife will only recommend valerian if safer treatment options have failed. Safer holistic anxiety treatments during pregnancy include massage, relaxation exercises, certain forms of aromatherapy, color therapy and counseling. Take part in regular physical activity and eliminate caffeine and other stimulants from your diet. If your health care provider determines that valerian tea's benefits are worth the potential risks, take it exactly as directed and discontinue use when it is no longer needed.