Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 11/9/2022
If you’re one of the 40 million adults who currently have an anxiety disorder, you’re probably searching for a way to manage your anxiety symptoms.
Maybe you want to try a more “natural” treatment for your anxiety. If that's the case, you may have come across valerian root, a plant that’s been used for centuries for its sedative effects.
While there is some evidence that valerian root may have benefits for anxiety — in addition to sleep disorders like chronic insomnia — you may want to have more information before giving valerian root a try.
Here's everything you need to know about the plant, the effectiveness of valerian root for anxiety, whether it’s safe and other ways to cope with anxiety.
Before we look into the use of valerian root for anxiety and how safe this treatment is, here’s a brief rundown on anxiety.
Anxiety is a normal reaction of fear or worries about something and your body’s way of alerting you to a possible threat.
While occasional anxiety in stressful situations — such as nervousness before a job interview or worrying about money — is normal, persistent worry and stress that gets worse over time could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are a common group of mental disorders that can affect how you feel, think and act.
Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders include:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause excessive or persistent feelings of anxiety or worry. People with generalized anxiety disorder may worry excessively about their health, work and social life, among other things.
Social anxiety disorder.Social anxiety disorder can cause intense fear or anxiety of being viewed negatively or rejected in social situations. Sweating, trembling, racing heart, trouble making eye contact or feeling self-conscious are common signs of social anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder.Panic disorder can cause people to experience sudden and frequent panic attacks, either after being exposed to a trigger or at random. Panic attacks involve a rapid heartbeat, trembling, sweating, feeling out of control and chest pain.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).Obsessive-compulsive disorders are characterized by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts and behaviors (obsessions and compulsions). People with OCD may check certain things, wash their hands, clean their home or perform other “rituals” repetitively to provide relief from obsessive thoughts.
Anxiety symptoms vary based on the type of anxiety disorder someone has. However, some common symptoms of anxiety include:
Difficulty concentrating on anything other than current worries or concerns
Feeling nervous and restless
Tiredness or feeling weak
Gastrointestinal issues, such as stomachaches, cramps, diarrhea and/or constipation
Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
Avoiding people, objects or situations that may cause anxiety
Our overview of anxiety disorders goes into more detail about symptoms of anxiety, as well as causes of anxiety and other anxiety disorders.
Everyone experiences this mental health disorder differently and while there’s no “one-size-fits-all” treatment for anxiety, some have proven to be effective for many people. So how effective is valerian root for anxiety?
Valeriana officinalis — the Latin name for valerian root — is an herbal supplement used to promote calmness and improve the quality of sleep. This plant was used for centuries as a remedy for insomnia, fatigue, stomach cramps and migraines.
Valerian root extracts, as well as the underground stems, are typically used today. The valeriana officinalis roots are dried and ground to put into teas or tinctures, or dried valerian extract is put into capsules.
Researchers aren’t entirely sure how valerian root works to improve anxiety, poor sleep or sleep disorders. However, they believe it increases the levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that produces a calming effect in the body.
Common prescription medications for anxiety like diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®) also work by increasing GABA levels, which helps them produce a calming effect.
But similar to most herbal products and supplements, valerian root hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medicinal use.
There are several valerian root products available today, but the dosage can vary between products, which makes it harder to know how much to take. Keep reading for more information about the recommended dosage of valerian root for anxiety or as a sleep aid.
While valeriana officinalis may have been used in the past to improve sleep quality and reduce stress, researchers today are uncertain about how effective the plant is for anxiety.
Many of the studies on the effectiveness of valerian extracts were small, and while some found an improvement in sleep quality and anxiety symptoms, others found little to no effect.
A 2020 meta-analysis looked at multiple studies of valerian root, involving a total of 6,894 people, to try and determine why the research was inconclusive. They found that although the drug had no severe side effects in adults, the inconsistent results could be because of the varying quality of herbal extracts.
Slightly more promising results were found in a 2016 meta-analysis of randomized, placebo-controlled studies (studies comparing groups who take a drug to groups who take an ineffective or “fake” drug), which concluded the effects of valerian root “might” improve poor sleep without side effects. However, the studies varied significantly in the dose of valerian root taken and the length of treatment.
While the evidence is mixed as to the effectiveness of valerian root for anxiety or improving sleep quality, you may decide to try the herbal remedy anyway.
Before you use valerian root for anxiety, you should let your healthcare provider know of any medical conditions you have, such as:
Emotional illnesses like anxiety or depression
Allergy to valerian, herbs, plants or other medicines
Also let your doctor know if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive.
If you struggle with sleep disorders or are one of the one-third of adults who have insomnia, you may have considered trying valerian root to improve your sleep. Based on research, the recommended valerian root dosage for the treatment of insomnia or otherwise poor sleep is 300 to 600mg, 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.
The doses of valerian root for anxiety varied between 400 and 600mg per day in the studies. But be aware that it can cause drowsiness and daytime sleepiness, and side effects may depend on your dosage.
Your healthcare provider may recommend a more specific dosage. Before using this herbal remedy, you should always talk to a healthcare professional first.
You should also be aware of the possible side effects of valerian root. The most common reported side effects included headache, upset stomach, dizziness, changes in heart rate and more.
While you may be tempted to use a natural product such as a valerian root dosage for anxiety, there are other treatments for anxiety disorder that have proven to be more effective.
It’s important to contact a mental healthcare provider for a psychiatric evaluation if you’re struggling with anxiety symptoms, as self-diagnosing yourself with anxiety is not recommended.
Based on your symptoms and their severity, a mental health provider may recommend therapy, medication, lifestyle changes or a combination of approaches.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves working with a therapist to identify the factors contributing to your anxiety and taking action to reduce the severity of your symptoms. Several different forms of therapy are used to treat anxiety, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
Our guide to therapy for treating anxiety goes into greater detail about the types of therapy used for anxiety disorders, as well as what you’ll need to know before starting therapy.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend medication as another option to help manage the many symptoms of anxiety. The different types of anti-anxiety medications include benzodiazepines, antidepressants and beta-blockers.
Benzodiazepines can provide almost immediate relief from specific anxiety symptoms but can also cause side effects or dependence, as well as withdrawal symptoms when stopped abruptly.
One of the most common types of antidepressants prescribed to treat anxiety is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline (Zoloft®), escitalopram (Lexapro®) and fluoxetine (Prozac®).
You can learn more about medications for anxiety in this guide.
There are also easy lifestyle changes you can make to calm down anxiety. Changes like reducing caffeine consumption, exercising regularly, taking up meditation and avoiding alcohol may help to lower anxiety and improve your control over feelings such as fear and worry.
So, how effective is valerian root for anxiety? While the few studies that have been done found no serious adverse side effects, there’s not quite enough research to support taking valerian root for anxiety.
Fortunately, there are other effective treatments for anxiety disorders that can help you learn how to manage and cope with your anxiety symptoms.
If you’re interested in getting help for your anxiety, you can start your search for anxiety treatment online using our telepsychiatry services. We offer online therapy and online group therapy for anxiety, both of which provide you with the opportunity to discuss your symptoms with others and learn effective tools and strategies for managing symptoms of anxiety.
You can also learn more about identifying and treating anxiety with our collection of free online mental health resources.