Author: Luke Sholl
Valerian root has been a popular natural care product since the ancient Greeks discovered its positive influence on sleep. Keep reading to find out what you need to know about this potent herb, and if it could help address various health conditions.
With use dating back to 460 BC, valerian root has gained a steady following for its wide range of proposed benefits to human health. Of those benefits, one of the most well-documented is the herb's impact on sleep. There's plenty to learn about valerian, so let's jump straight in with the basics—what exactly is it, and where does it come from?
A perennial flowering plant growing naturally across Europe and Asia, valerian is easily spotted thanks to its pink and white flowers. However, despite their attractiveness, the flowers are not the true source of its potential. Instead, we need to look underground, at its roots.
Herbalists quickly realised that dried valerian root had a wide range of effects on human health, most notably on sleep. Of course, what the ancient Greeks and Romans didn't understand was why. Fortunately, putting valerian root under the microscope gives us some clues as to its sleep-supporting qualities.
The key to valerian root's vast influence stems from a sophisticated blend of valerenic acid, isovaleric acid, and several antioxidants. Both acids appear to modulate a chemical messaging system in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short.
The second interaction comes courtesy of two antioxidants: hesperidin and linarin. Although both are influential in their own right, the combination of acids and antioxidants makes valerian root unique. Researchers suspect that valerenic acid potentiates the impact of hesperidin and linarin for a greater influence on human health.
Both valerian and melatonin can influence sleep and sleep quality, are considered natural supplements, and generally seem well tolerated in humans. To determine which one works best for you, it's important to balance their pros and cons against your lifestyle needs.
One quick note, though; we do not recommend taking the two supplements together. Valerian and melatonin each have their own mechanism of action, so a combination may cause unwanted effects.
With the intricacies of valerian root covered, it's time to move on to the most crucial topic—its potential benefits to human health. Valerian root is most known for its impact on sleep, so we'll cover those benefits in greater depth later on. For now, we'll explore the herb’s broader implications on well-being.
• Valerian may boost relaxation: As part of a controlled animal study, several rats were administered valerian root extract. Researchers observed a "significant reduction in anxious behaviour", especially when compared to a separate, ethanol-only group. While the impact on humans is unclear, the study provides evidence that the valerenic acid inside valerian root impacts the GABA system.
• Possible impact on restless leg syndrome: A triple-blind, randomised study suggests that high doses of valerian extract could impact symptoms of RLS while decreasing "daytime sleepiness in patients". There's still a lot to learn about optimal dosing and frequency, but the provisional results are certainly a step toward improved quality of life for those affected.
• Encourage a reduction in menopausal hot flushes: With hot flushes being a frequent symptom of menopause, scientists aimed to investigate the potential impact of valerian root in a 2013 study. Compared to a placebo group, the patients administered valerian root appeared to experience a meaningful reduction in hot flush frequency for up to eight weeks after treatment. The study recognised that valerian root could be a viable alternative for "women who are reluctant to receive hormone therapy".
With the broader appeal of valerian root covered, it's time to move on to an area with a lot more supporting research—sleep. We highlighted earlier how the compounds inside valerian could influence the GABA system. Well, it turns out that interaction has significant implications for those looking to achieve more consistent and restful sleep.
It's estimated as much as 30% of the population suffers from insomnia, a sleep disorder that makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. With sleep crucial to mental and physical well-being, the impact of insomnia can escalate quickly. Fortunately, the body has a system to keep sleep conditions in check; the previously mentioned GABA system.
Among other roles, the GABA system (composed of receptors and the GABA neurotransmitter) is responsible for the modulation of cognition, behaviour, and how our body deals with stress. Provisional studies suggest low GABA levels can worsen the impact of stress while also contributing to sleep disorders such as insomnia.
This is where valerian root could prove instrumental in helping individuals achieve better sleep, as its chemical structure helps to activate the GABA system. A fully functioning GABA system is much better equipped to deal with stress and sleep disorders, allowing you to feel at your best.
Valerian root follows the same dosing approach as many other herbal aids—start slow and find what works for you. We'll cover potential side effects shortly, but doses of valerian extract up to 900mg generally appear safe (for a maximum of six weeks). If you're taking valerian root alongside other natural extracts such as lemon balm, hops, or passionflower, you'll want to stick to a maximum of 400mg.
As for frequency, studies recommend taking valerian once a day, roughly an hour before bed. If you're using valerian to address something other than sleep, the timing will change, but in most cases, the focus is on encouraging a restful slumber.
In mild doses, valerian’s potential side effects appear limited. However, it's important to note that many studies have only examined valerian's short-term impact (4–8 weeks), and we know very little about the implications of long-term use.
For now, potential side effects of valerian include headaches, stomach discomfort, lethargy, and dry mouth. If you experience any unwanted effects, simply stop taking valerian or lower the dose until you feel comfortable again. There have also been some reported interactions between valerian and prescription medications, so you should always discuss taking valerian with a doctor first, as these are case-specific.
Valerian root's proposed modulation of the GABA system could make it a powerful ally in the quest for restful sleep. Whether that's falling asleep faster or staying asleep, the herb appears to encourage the optimal state needed to achieve both.
Of course, many of these studies require further investigation, especially concerning the long-term impact of valerian, its broader impact on human health, and proper dosing. That said, with limited potential side effects, experimenting with valerian appears to be a viable approach to see if it works for you. For anyone looking for natural sleep aid, valerian could be a hugely influential option.
Are you interested in getting a better night's sleep? Browse the Cibdol store for a complete selection of natural sleep aids. Or, if you want to learn more about the importance of sleep for physical and mental well-being, visit our CBD Encyclopedia for everything you need to know.