Using Valerian Root for Stage Fright

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From Diane R. Karius, Ph.D., dikarius@FAC1.UHS.EDU

Regarding the use of Valerian Root for stage fright:

The extract of the valerian root is traditionally believed to be a "sleep aid". Scientific studies on the subject are fairly consistent (although some of the studies aren't the best that have ever been conducted)- taking valerian root a few hours before going to bed consistently improved the subjective measures of sleep (subjective = the sleeper's impressions of how well they slept, how easily they fell asleep, etc)(e.g. 5,3). In studies which investigated the objective measures of sleep (EEG monitoring of sleep state, measurement of time spent in the different stages of sleep, etc..) the data is a little more mixed - not all measures of sleep quality showed statistically significant changes from control 1. No toxic effects were noted in the short term.

There is some debate as to whether valerian root acts as a mild to moderate tranquilizer (e.g. 1) or as an anti-depressant 7. What little work has been done into the mechanism of action is consistent with that of a tranquilizer, although in a manner that is at least partially (if not completely) distinct from the action of Valium 8. The experiments that have been done were not designed to test an anti-depressant action, so the jury is out on that.

Of the many chemicals in the root, there appear to be two chemical groups that exert a significant sedative action (the valeopotriates and the sesquiterpenes) 5. The extract contains a high content of only the sesquiterpenes (the valeopotriates have been found to be cytotoxic, although I don't know how much would have be ingested in order to be toxic or what the symptoms are). I guess the lesson here is not to make this yourself unless you really know what you are doing.

For performance anxiety (stage fright): based on what I read, I can see where people would find that valerian root would tend to minimize those symptoms. I don't know whether the tranquilizing action would be sufficiently strong to interfere with actual performance. In reviewing the literature on performance anxiety as it relates to musicians, the current clinical treatment seems to be (in no particular order):

  1. teaching coping skills to minimize the occurrence of anxiety 9
  2. dealing with the causes of the anxiety (could be long-term or short-term depending on person) 5
  3. Pharmacological intervention, including anti-depressants 2 or low-dose inderal to minimize the physical symptoms of the anxiety (e.g. 4; 2).


1 Balderer, G. and A.A. Borbely. Effect of valerian on human sleep. Psychopharmacology 87:406-409. 1985.

2 Jefferson, J.W. Social phobia: a pharmacologic treatment overview. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 56 Suppl.5:18-24.1995

3 Leathwood, P.D., F. Chauffard, E. Heck and R. Munoz-Box. Aqueous extract of valerian root (Valeriana Officinalis L.) improves sleep quality in man. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 17:65-71. 1982.

4 Lehrer, P.M.; R.C. Rosen, J.B. Kostis, and D. Greenfield. Treating stage fright in musicians: The use of beta blockers. New Jersey Medicine 84:27-33. 1987.

5 Lindahl, O. and L. Lindwall. Double blind study of a valerian preparation. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior . 32:1065-6. 1989.

6 Nagel, J.J. Stage fright in musicians: a psychodynamic perspective. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. 57:492-503. 1993.

7 Sakamoto, T., Y. Mitani, and K. Nakajima. Psychotropic effects of Japanese valerian root extract. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 40:758-761. 1992.

8 Santos, M.S.; F. Ferreira, A.P. Cunha, A.P. Carvalho, C.F. Ribeiro, and T. Macedo. Synaptosomal GABA release as influenced by valerian root extract -- involvement of the GABA carrier. Archives Internationales de Pharmacodynamie et de Therapie. 327: 220-231. 1994.

9 van Kemenade, J.F.; M.J. van Son, and N.C. van Heesch; Performance anxiety among professional musicians in symphonic orchestras: a self-report study. Psychological Reports 77:555-562. 1995.

Diane R. Karius, Ph.D.
Department of Physiology
University of Health Sciences
2105 Independence Ave.
Kansas City, MO 64124
email: dikarius@FAC1.UHS.EDU
© 1998

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