Valerian: An Herbal Alternative for Anxiety Relief?

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One of the most popular plants in herbal medicine, valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is sometimes taken to alleviate anxiety. Also frequently used as a natural remedy for insomnia, valerian is said to reduce anxiety by producing a calming effect on the nervous system.

More: Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Why Is Valerian Sometimes Used for Anxiety Relief?

Preliminary research has identified certain factors that may play a key role in valerian's possibly anxiety-relieving effects.

For example, a rat-based study published in Phytomedicine in 2014 determined that valerenic acid (a substance found in the essential oil of the valerian plant) may reduce anxiety by interacting with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Comparing valerenic acid's anxiety-reducing effect to those of diazepam (a medication commonly used in the treatment of anxiety disorders), the study concluded that valerian may potentially serve as an alternative to conventional anxiety medications.

Research on Valerian and Anxiety

While there's currently a lack of large-scale clinical trials testing valerian's effectiveness against anxiety, several small studies have shown that the herb may help reduce anxiety in certain cases.

These studies include a small clinical trial published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences in 2014, which found that valerian may help lessen anxiety among people undergoing dental treatments.

The study involved 20 people undergoing third molar surgery, which is one of the most common procedures performed in oral surgery.

For the study, patients received a single dose of either valerian or a placebo prior to their surgery. According to evaluations carried out by the study's authors and by the surgeon performing the procedure, patients treated with valerian were more relaxed during surgery.

What's more, use of valerian was associated with greater maintenance of certain physiological markers of anxiety, such as blood pressure and heart rate.

In addition, a small pilot study published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine in 2011 suggests that valerian shows promise in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (a type of anxiety disorder marked by recurrent, unwanted thoughts).

For eight weeks, 31 adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder took either valerian supplements or a placebo each day. By the study's end, those given valerian showed a greater improvement in symptoms, compared to those given the placebo.

There's also some evidence that taking a combination of valerian and lemon balm may offer anxiety relief. In a small clinical trial published in Phytotherapy Research in 2006, for instance, an experiment involving 24 healthy volunteers showed that a combination of valerian and lemon balm was more effective than placebo in decreasing anxiety triggered by a stress-inducing situation.


Although valerian generally appears to be safe for most people when taken for up to six weeks, little is known about the safety of long-term use of this herb. In some cases, valerian may cause mild side effects like headache, dizziness, upset stomach, and tiredness in the morning after its use.

Since anxiety disorders may worsen when improperly treated, valerian should never be used as a substitute for mental-health-professional-prescribed treatment of any anxiety disorder. 

Alternatives to Valerian for Anxiety

Like valerian, herbs such as kava, passion flower and ashwagandha may help control everyday anxiety.

Some studies have shown that alternative therapies such as acupuncture and massage may be helpful for anxiety management as well.

Because anxiety and stress are closely linked, it's possible that practicing stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and guided imagery may also help soothe your anxiety.

Before using any type of alternative medicine (including valerian) in the treatment of an anxiety disorder, make sure to consult your physician.


Becker A, Felgentreff F, Schröder H, Meier B, Brattström A1. "The anxiolytic effects of a Valerian extract is based on valerenic acid." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Jul 28;14:267.

Kennedy DO, Little W, Haskell CF, Scholey AB. "Anxiolytic effects of a combination of Melissa officinalis and Valeriana officinalis during laboratory induced stress." Phytother Res. 2006 Feb;20(2):96-102.

Murphy K, Kubin ZJ, Shepherd JN, Ettinger RH. "Valeriana officinalis root extracts have potent anxiolytic effects in laboratory rats." Phytomedicine. 2010 Jul;17(8-9):674-8.

Pakseresht S, Boostani H, Sayyah M. "Extract of valerian root (Valeriana officinalis L.) vs. placebo in treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder: a randomized double-blind study." J Complement Integr Med. 2011 Oct 11;8.

Pinheiro ML, Alcântara CE, de Moraes M, de Andrade ED. "Valeriana officinalis L. for conscious sedation of patients submitted to impacted lower third molar surgery: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled split-mouth study." J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2014 Apr;6(2):109-14.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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