Valerian root is one of the more interesting herbal remedies out there. It’s not a potent antioxidant, and it doesn’t seem to have much use in terms of disease-prevention and general health. However, it’s one of the few that can promote feelings of calm and help you relax, and there is genuine research to back up these claims.
The problem is, nothing is ever quite that simple with valerian, especially when you’re talking about valerian tea, as we shall discover.
What is Valeriana Officinalis?
Valerian, or Valeriana Officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia but it has also been introduced to North America. Its root is used in herbal medicines, either as a powdered preparation or an extract. Many health claims have been made about it and some are backed by promising studies.
It is not classed as a medicine and is still seen as a food supplement by many authorities, but the European Medicines Agency has approved it for use in the treatment of mild nervous tension and sleep disorders.
It has also been approved for similar purposes in Germany, where they tend to be more accepting of herbal remedies.
We spend a lot of time researching the herbal teas we include in the Shelgo Tea range. We have a long list of criteria each one needs to meet, including the fact that it has to be either organic or picked wild; it has to taste great; and there has to be a wealth of scientific literature to back up its efficiency and safety.
A few herbs have fallen short of meeting these criteria, and valerian is one of them. It’s possible to get organic valerian root, it’s safe to consume, and as outlined below, there is a lot of promising research out there concerning its benefits. So far, so good. The problem is, it tastes like a smoothie made from the contents of a cat’s litter tray.
It’s not just an acquired taste; it’s one that you can’t possibly enjoy if you have working taste buds. What’s more, the health studies that highlight the effectiveness of this herb have used relatively large doses, much more than what you find in the average cup of valerian tea. In other words, the only possible way to make a cup of palatable valerian tea would be to use very little actual valerian root and a lot of some other herb, but doing so would essentially render all those potential benefits redundant.
If you want to try valerian for yourself, we recommend taking it in capsule form. It’s easier, and you can consume a therapeutic dose without making yourself sick. The act of drinking tea is quite therapeutic in itself, so by all means drink a cup of tea at the same time (try our organic CatNap blend, made from three other calming herbs) but don’t ruin a good cup of tea by adding valerian root to it.
Valerian as a Sleep Aid
Some promising research suggests valerian root can be used to treat sleep disorders, but just as much evidence suggests it is no more effective than the placebo in prolonging sleep or improving the quality of sleep in healthy individuals.
Whenever sleep disorders are present, the results are generally positive. (1) (2) In most of these studies, extracts of between 300mg and 900mg were used, with the smaller doses reporting very few adverse reactions (we wouldn’t recommend consuming more than 300mg without consulting a medical professional first).
There is also an often-cited study that compares valerian to a strong and addictive prescription sedative and suggests it is just as effective and also produces fewer side effects. However, this particular study was designed to put valerian in a positive light and its results are therefore biased. This study also goes against all other research, which suggests that valerian is effective at treating insomnia when studied over large groups, but that it will not work for everyone and doesn’t have much of an effect in healthy individuals.
Valerian as an Anti-Anxiety Drug
Valerian root may help reduce anxiety, but only at smaller doses between 100mg and 200mg. Larger doses may lead to drowsiness and sleepiness if consumed throughout the day—and it would need to be consumed throughout the day if you want to use it for this purpose.
A few studies have compared valerian to placebo and noted few, if any, effects on anxiety symptoms, but other studies have found that it can have a positive impact on levels of stress and that it works on GABA receptors the same way as diazepam does. (3) A wealth of anecdotal evidence suggests it can promote feelings of calm and reduce anxiety, and it has been used in this manner for hundreds of years.
Valerian may work better when combined with other herbal remedies. In one study, patients were given valerian root in addition to lemon balm, but while they noted that 600mg of valerian and lemon balm was effective at reducing levels of stress and anxiety, they found that higher doses actually increased anxiety. (4)
Valerian root may prove effective at reducing some of the issues associated with high levels of stress, chronic sleeplessness, and anxiety. It has also shown to be somewhat effective at reducing restless legs syndrome and panic attacks. However, more research needs to be conducted on larger groups of individuals before any concrete conclusions can be made and we start seeing valerian prescribed for such conditions.
Side Effects of Valerian Root
Valerian root has been known to cause drowsiness, feelings of unease, nausea, headaches, dry mouth, and even strange dreams. In extreme cases, it can also cause liver damage and allergic reactions, and if you experience any of these side effects (or any side effects not listed here) then you should stop using it immediately and contact your doctor.
It’s always recommended to start slow when using an herbal remedy like valerian. Start with a small dose to assess tolerance and gradually increase this until you’re taking the recommended therapeutic dose. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If you have a preexisting medical condition, are using medication, or are pregnant, then you should consult a doctor before consuming valeriana officinalis.
Herbs Similar to Valerian
We mentioned our CatNap blend above, which was designed as a soothing herbal blend to be consumed on an evening. The main component of this blend is organic Greek camomile flowers, which you can read more about here. It also includes lavender, the mere scent of which has been shown to aid with relaxation and calm, and lemon verbena, which has also been studied for its role in relaxation.
These three herbs have a certain synergistic effect, but like valerian root, they are not going to knock you out, nor are they going to mimic the effects of a strong sedative. The truth is, no natural and safe herb or herbal remedy (hot toddy included) will, but they are a safe, non-addictive, and highly tolerated alternative to prescription sedatives, and they work for millions of people.