Valerian has been utilized since ancient times as a cure for chronic anxiety and insomnia, but the herb can offer so much more.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Capon's tail, tobacco root, setwall, common valerian, all heal, vandal root
  • Scientific nameValeriana officinalis
  • Geographic distributionEurope and Asia
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionEurope
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal

Valerian is one of the most popular herbal supplements worldwide. Its pungent smell and soothing abilities have turned this Eastern Europe native into one of the household names of Western herbal medicine. Extensive scientific research on valerian has helped identify the origin and full scope of its sedative action, as well as other potential applications.

Valerian Medicinal Properties

Quick Facts (Medicinal Properties)
  • Medicinal actionAnxiolytic, Sedative
  • Key constituentsValerenic acid, hydroxyvalerenic acid
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

Health Benefits of Valerian

The sedative and anxiolytic benefits of valerian have found some medicinal uses, including:

  • Treating insomnia. Studies have shown that valerian works on the brain and nervous system, promoting relaxation and inducing sleep.

  • Lowering anxiety symptoms. Valerian's sedative properties help relieve minor anxiety.

Valerian has also proven effective treating hot flashes during menopause and it has been suggested as an alternative treatment for women who are reluctant to receive hormone therapy due to fear or any other reason.

Additionally, although further studies are necessary to fully understand the mechanisms of valerian, the herb has been suggested to possess anti-inflammatory properties.

How It Works

The biochemical composition of valerian has been intensely studied, although much debate still exists about the many specific compounds found in valerian. Valerian's essential oil contains alkaloids, iridoids, flavanones, and sesquiterpenes.

Valerenic acid is a sesquiterpene responsible for the herb's peculiar smell and, in combination with its derivatives (mainly hydroxyvalerenic acid), is believed to be primarily responsible for the sedative effect of the roots. Valerenic acid is thought to interact directly with receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) that handle the production of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation and the onset of deep sleep.

Additionally, the iridoids and alkaloids present in the valerian roots seem to inhibit inflammatory processes.

Valerian root contains phytoestrogens, which have proven effective in the treatment of hot flashes during menopause.

Sedative and anxiolytic properties can also be found in ashwagandha and lemon balm.

Valerian Side Effects

Valerian is likely safe for most people in its medicinal forms. However, valerian use can have mild side effects, including headache, excitability, uneasiness, and insomnia in rare cases. Because it has sedative properties, driving or operating heavy machinery after taking valerian is not recommended.


  • Because of valerian's sedative properties, valerian can slow down the central nervous system. With this in mind, individuals who will be going into surgery should exercise caution before using valerian.
  • While it is possibly safe for medicinal use, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult a trusted medical professional before using valerian.

How to Consume Valerian

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsRoot
  • TastePungent

Valerian flowers have a sweet, pleasant fragrance; however, the harvested parts are the roots, which have a strong scent that make them mostly unsuitable for culinary purposes. Instead, the most effective way of obtaining valerian's health benefits is in medicinal forms of consumption.

Natural Forms

  • Dried. The dried roots of valerian can be used into medicinal preparations, alone or mixed with similar herbs.

  • Infusion. Brewing the valerian roots is a fairly popular method of consumption for treating insomnia and anxiety.

The dried valerian root is a popular alternative for catnip, since felines enjoy its pungent scent.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Tincture. This is a concentrated preparation that needs to be diluted in warm water to reduce anxiety and induce sleep.

  • Capsules. Because of its unpleasant aroma, capsules are one of the most palatable ways of consuming valerian root in order to reduce anxiety.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Natural Forms

Full-sized valerian plants or their seeds can be found at some garden stores and nurseries in spring and summer months, though the plant is less than popular for ornamental growth. The dried roots, in bulk or teabag forms, are readily available at specialized health food stores and through online retailers.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Herbal supplements featuring valerian are widely available in health food stores, supermarkets, and online. Valerian tinctures must usually be sought through online retailers.



Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsRoots
  • Light requirementsFull sun, Partial shade
  • SoilMedium (loam)
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic), 6.6 – 7.3 (Neutral)
  • Growing habitatSwamps and marshlands
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones3a (From −40 °C (−40 °F) to −37.2 °C (−35 °F)), 3b (From −37.2 °C (−35 °F) to −34.4 °C (−30 °F)), 4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F))
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings
  • Potential diseasesRoot rot

An herbaceous perennial herb, valerian cultivation is best done through cuttings, planted fully-grown after the first frost of winter. This will allow germination to take place inside three months prior at temperatures that range from 55 - 86°F (12 - 30°C), under plenty of natural sunlight.

Growing Guidelines

  • Valerian does well in most types of soil. However, it thrives best in rich, heavy loam soils with plenty of water

  • Valerian seeds should be planted 1 to 2 ft (30 to 60 cm) apart

  • Placing manure on the soil before valerian is planted is the best way to ensure this herb will thrive

  • It is important to weed this herb as it is growing

  • Valerian is typically harvested in the autumn, during September or October

  • Many plants do not follow in their first year, but they do produce a luxuriant crop of leaves and yield plenty of rhizome in the autumn months

  • Individual organisms should be clipped so as not to flower if roots will be used for medicinal purposes in order for the nutrients to be stored at a single point.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Valerian grows up to four feet (1.2 m) tall and features divided pinnate leaves. When naturally occurring or allowed in cultivation, valerian flowers have a surprisingly sweet scent and are often pale-white, ivory-white, or slightly pink in hue, although they can be peach colored with pink tips. The highest concentrations of active ingredients, however, can be found in valerian's roots and rhizomes, which are known by its distinctive odor.

  • Classification

    Valerian is the best-known member of the Valerianaceae family, which covers 350 species of herbaceous plants that are known for giving off a strong scent.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Valerian

    Valeriana officinalis is divided into three subspecies: ssp. officinalis, ssp. sambucifolia, and ssp. tenuifolia. Other members of the genus may be commonly confused, but only V. officinalis, or garden valerian, is consumed for medicinal purposes on a large scale. Western valerian, or V. occidentalis, is thought to have similar abilities, though there is insufficient research to support the claim. Alpine valerian, or V. celtica, was previously used in western Asia to scent perfumes, but it is not meant for ingestion. Native to North America, Sitka valerian (V. sitchensis) is similarly inedible, despite widespread growth as a ground cover plant.

Historical Information

Archeological findings has traced the history of valerian back to the Bronze Age. According to written records, valerian has been used medicinally since the time of ancient Greece and Rome. Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, described its properties and Galen later described it as a cure for insomnia. Despite falling out of favor in the 19th century, valerian consumption was revived during World War II, as it was used to calm soldiers in high-stress situations.

Valerian was used medicinally in many different cultures, including the Anglo-Saxons and the ancient Arabs.

Economic Data

Thanks to significant global interest in valerian supplements - particularly in the United States - the herb has enjoyed large-scale cultivation in several countries of its native regions and abroad. Recent data is not widely available, but United Nations statistics from 1998 valued valerian trading in the U.S. at $8 million, with exponential growth predicted in the coming years. After the U.S., leading producers of valerian are Germany, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria.

Popular Beliefs

In medieval Sweden, valerian was sometimes placed in wedding gowns to ward of the envy of elves.

Other Uses of Valerian

  • Cat's attractant. Valerian can be used as an alternative to catnip for cats.

  • Vermin trap. Some reports list attracting rats as one of the possible uses for valerian, as the roots make good bait for traps in areas of infestation.

  • Household uses. Molecularly, valerian attracts many types of slime molds, absorbing the invasive fungi to forestall their spread.


Valerian Benefits