Valeriana officinalis, or valerian root, is a plant commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia and nervous restlessness. Many people use valerian as an alternative to prescription sleep aids. Herbal practitioners also use valerian root for depression, epilepsy, mild tremors and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. You may have considered using herbal remedies or supplements during your pregnancy as an alternative to prescription medications. You should always check with your physician before taking any herbal supplement as it may have an unsafe side effect on you and your baby.
Valerian root is a perennial. The plant grows to about 2 feet tall, and the straight hollow stems have umbrella-like heads. It has dark green leaves with pointed tips and a hairy underside. Valerian has fragrant sweet-smelling flowers that contain white, purple or pink blooms. Herbalists most commonly use the grayish brown root in herbal medicine. Valerian root has been commonly used to treat insomnia and nervous disorders since the second century A.D., according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Hippocrates and Galen both described its properties and Galen prescribed it as a remedy for insomnia. During the 16th century, women used valerian root as a perfume. The herb was especially popular in 17th-century Europe.
If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, you should not use valerian root. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that although studies show no adverse effects on fertility or fetal development, more research is needed to determine its long-term side effects on humans, especially on a pregnant woman or unborn fetus. If you choose to take valerian root, you should discuss it with your physician first.
The FDA has not evaluated valerian root for safety, efficacy or purity and the risks of using this herbal supplement are unknown. Drugs.com explains that there have been incidences where herbal supplements have been sold which contained toxic metals or other drugs. Always consult your physician before taking this or any other herbal supplement.
People who take valerian root may have side effects, according to Drugs.com. Side effects include headache, restlessness, uneasiness, dilated pupils, irregular heartbeat and sleeplessness.
If you are pregnant, you should talk over the benefits and risks of taking valerian root with your doctor. If you choose to use valerian root and your doctor approves, buy herbal supplements from a reputable practitioner, such as a certified herbalist.