Valerian root is a relatively well-known herbal sleep aid, relaxant and anxiolytic. It has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions.
In this post I’m going to go over some uses of this herb and how you can use it to catch some quality Z’s on a moment’s notice or simply get a relaxed moment to yourself during the day.
Valerian root is an effective and relatively safe herb to use, but does have potential side effects, so read on to learn how to use it responsibly.
- 1 What is Valerian Root?
- 2 Where to get Valerian Root
- 3 Effects, Usage and Method of Action of Valerian Root
- 4 How to take Valerian Root
- 5 Valerian Root Side Effects, Interactions and Adverse Reactions
- 6 Valerian Root Hallucinations, Dreams and Natural High
- 7 My experience with Valerian Root
- 8 Conclusion
What is Valerian Root?
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is the root of a humble flowering plant native to Europe and parts of Asia. It has a long history of use as a medicinal herb from the time of ancient Greece and Rome.1
Description of Valerian from Erowid.org:
Valerian is an herbaceous perennial, with a strong, fetid smell. The stem is erect, grooved, and hairy near the base, and sometimes branched above. It bears four to eight pairs of leaves. The dark-green leaves are sometimes divided more than once. The pink-tinged flowers are small and tubular.
Where to get Valerian Root
Valerian is a fairly easy herb to find in stores that have a decent selection of supplements.
Valerian can also be purchased in bulk at Powder City if you like it enough.
Effects, Usage and Method of Action of Valerian Root
Valerian root contains several active chemicals and substances that are thought to most profoundly affect the GABAergic system2 (not unlike the following substances: Kava Kava, Ashwagandha, L-Theanine and Phenibut).
Like other substances that can affect the GABA system, the following effects have been noted:
- Reduced anxiety
- Relaxed feelings
- Drowsiness at higher doses
Valerian has also been used to reduce menstrual symptoms (pain and cramps) in women.
It has also been reported to cause vivid dreams at higher doses before sleep.
How to take Valerian Root
As an anxiolytic and relaxant, most supplements containing valerian root powder can be dosed at about 450 mg, usually up to 3 separate times per day.
Some people may find these supplements to cause unwanted drowsiness during the day, so it may be a good idea to take a stimulant with your valerian.
For sleep, take 450 to 900 mg before bed. If needed, I find that combined with a small amount of alcohol seems to help one fall asleep faster.
Valerian Root Side Effects, Interactions and Adverse Reactions
Valerian root is not standardized, and potency and strength of effects can vary from supplement to supplement. Used at small doses, and paying close attention to your personal reaction can ensure that you have a good experience with valerian.
Most of the side effects listed are exceptions and are not the rule, and I mention them only as precaution. Still, you use this herb at your own risk.
Similar to other GABAergic substances, valerian root has the potential to cause the following at higher doses due to its sedative properties:
- Mental dullness
- Daytime drowsiness
- Depressive feelings
- Potential motor/reflex impairment (meaning DO NOT use while driving or operating heavy machinery)
Because of its effect on the GABA system and general depressive effect on the body, it is recommended that you DO NOT combine with other GABAergics, depressive substances and certain medications:
Valerian also has the potential to cause stomach upset. Generally this means some people should not take it on an empty stomach.
Though it is not prevalent, withdrawl from long term use has also been reported. Like other GABAergics, the potential for withdrawl is real, and so it must be used judiciously and wisely.
Valerian Root Hallucinations, Dreams and Natural High
According to a few experience reports on Erowid, high doses of valerian may cause mild hallucinations. Unless you’re really bored, I wouldn’t bother wasting it for that purpose as there are better substances. Save it for when you need sleep or relaxation.
Also, valerian seems to induce vivid dreams when taken before sleep. This can be good or bad depending on your needs, and may be useful for those who want to induce lucid dreams.
My experience with Valerian Root
I consider valerian root to be the one of the “big guns” in my arsenal of sleep aids as it always seems to give me restful, deep sleep quickly and reliably. I do not use it every night unless I am wide awake but absolutely need to get to sleep to wake up at a certain time the next day.
I avoid taking it during the day because I feel it has a very powerful sedating effect on me, but others may find it useful.
Typically about 30 minutes before sleep I take 1 to 2 450 mg capsules of valerian root before bed. If I don’t feel sleepy within the hour, I take a shot of liquor: usually gin, whiskey or vodka. This seems to potentiate the effects in my experience. If absorption may be an issue, it can be a good idea to make valerian tea or empty the capsules’ powder into some warm or hot water.
Examine.com says more clinical evidence is needed to affirm its effect on sleep3, but I’ve found it to be much stronger and more effective than chamomile, and a very powerful sleep aid. This is one where I will state that science really needs to catch up with all of the anecdotal and personal experiences.4
As for valerian’s effect on dreams, they become very vivid and easy to remember.
Occasionally when waking up in the morning, there is a mild but noticeable “hangover” or afterglow from valerian, usually after taking 2 capsules, but this is usually overcome with a cup of tea, cocoa or another gentle stimulant.
I have used valerian root alongside 5-HTP, and combined they seem to work synergistically to give a very restful, deep sleep that leaves you refreshed in the morning. Of course, your mileage may vary, but this has been my experience.
I have not experienced withdrawls as I do not need to use valerian every day.
Try valerian root once in a while if you have to get to sleep quickly. It can be used if you want to relax during the day, but be careful as too much can make you drowsy.
For good measure, don’t take it with any other depressive/relaxant substances or drugs (especially GABAergics) as it does have the potential for interaction. (When in doubt, talk to an actual doctor. Use at your own risk.)
Valerian Root – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ↩
Examine.com – Valeriana officinalis – Summary ↩
“[V]alerian does not appear to be much greater than placebo for aiding sleep in otherwise healthy persons. This may differ in persons with insomnia but that is not yet tested adequately” ↩
Erowid Experience Vaults: Valerian Main Index ↩