How Is Valerian Root Used for Social Anxiety?

Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis)
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Valerian root (valeriana officinalis) is derived from a plant that originally comes from Europe and Asia. Valerian root has sedative effects and has been used for thousands of years to remedy various conditions such as arthritis, digestive problems, and headaches. Its most common use is to treat sleep problems and anxiety.

While the supplement is not FDA-approved for any medical use, it is generally considered safe for adults for short-term use.

Dosage Guidelines

When used as a supplement, valerian is most often made from the roots of the plant, but it can also come from dried stems, other plant materials, or plant extracts. It is available in several different forms, including:

  • Capsules
  • Tablets
  • Teas
  • Tinctures

No specific preparation or dose is considered best for anxiety. Many studies have focused on dosages between 400 and 600 milligrams per day. It is generally best to start with a low dose and slowly increase the amount until you determine which dose works best for you. It should be taken 30 minutes to two hours before bedtime.

Dosage for the treatment of insomnia ranges from 300 to 600 mg of liquid root extract or the equivalent of 2 to 3 g of dried valerian root. Lower dosages are typically used for treating nervous tension and when the root is combined with other supplements. 

Before taking valerian root, you should read the product label and discuss the dose with a qualified health care provider.

Effects of Valerian Root for Anxiety

The exact reasons why valerian helps anxiety is not known, but it is believed that valerian root has an impact on the availability of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid GABA in the brain. 

GABA is an amino acid that works as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS). In other words, it inhibits nerve transmission, which contributes to a calming effect on the body.

Some research suggests valerian root has mild sedative and tranquilizing properties—less than prescription sleep medication. Other studies suggest that valerian root may be helpful for anxiety. However, these studies tend to be small and their result unreliable due to design and methodological flaws. 

In a 2020 meta-analysis, researchers looked at past research to help determine why some research has shown beneficial effects while others have had no impact. The potential culprit, the researchers suspect, is the variable nature of and quality of the herbal extracts utilized in research.

Better and more consistent control over supplement quality and dose might result in more reliable findings and stronger effects.  

Even though valerian root is used for various problems, there is not enough research evidence to support the herb's effectiveness. The use of valerian root as a sleep aid is supported by some evidence from clinical trials; however, these studies tend to be small and not conducted with strict standards.

However, some people who take the supplement regularly have shared that it makes them feel calm and reduces nervous tension and stress. Physicians who prescribe Valerian root have been surprised to hear positive feedback from their patients.

Recap

There isn't enough research evidence to support the use of valerian root in treating anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder (SAD). It may help promote calmness, but it should not be used in place of professional treatment for anxiety.

Medication Interactions

Valerian root may make you feel drowsy if you take it with prescription medications such as:

You should generally check the package insert and speak with a qualified healthcare professional and/or pharmacist about possible interactions.

You should not take valerian root if you are pregnant or nursing or if you have liver disease. If you are taking monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), other antidepressants, and certain other classes of medication, Valerian root should be used with caution, and may not be appropriate in those cases.

Associated Risks

Unlike prescription sleep medications, valerian root is not believed to carry a risk of dependency. Sometimes, it is even used to help insomniacs with benzodiazepine withdrawal.

However, the supplement should only be used under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional, and caution should be used if you are taking the supplement for an extended period of time.

Do not operate heavy or dangerous machinery until you know how the supplement affects you.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the production of herbs and supplements. Most herbs and supplements are not thoroughly tested, and there is no guarantee about the ingredients or safety of the products. It may be wise to consult with your doctor before taking valerian root for social anxiety disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the side effects of valerian root?

    Side effects of valerian root are rare but may include headache, upset stomach, daytime drowsiness, and dizziness.

  • How long does valerian root stay in your system?

    Many compounds in valerian root metabolize at different rates and through different mechanisms. Research has found that the elimination half-life for the compound valerenic acid is around 1.1 hours. The clinical effects of valerian root appear to wear off after about four to six hours.

  • Where can I buy valerian root?

    Valerian root is available over-the-counter and can be purchased through retailers that sell herbal supplements. Herbal remedies are generally unregulated in the U.S., so it is important to purchase supplements, teas, or liquid extracts through reputable sources. One way to do this is to check the product label to see if it has been certified by an independent agency such as NSF International, ConsumerLab, or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP). 

11 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Shinjyo N, Waddell G, Green J. Valerian root in treating sleep problems and associated disorders—a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2020;25:2515690X2096732. doi:10.1177/2515690X20967323

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  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Valerian.

  9. Anderson GD, Elmer GW, Kantor ED, Templeton IE, Vitiello MV. Pharmacokinetics of valerenic acid after administration of valerian in healthy subjects. Phytother Res. 2005;19(9):801-3. doi:10.1002/ptr.1742

  10. Kapalka GM. Anxiety disorders. In: Nutritional and Herbal Therapies for Children and Adolescents. Elsevier; 2010:219-258. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-374927-7.00008-X

  11. US Pharmacopeia. Dietary Supplements & Herbal Medicines.

Additional Reading

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."