Everything You Need To Know About Valerian Root

Cat on Valerian Root

Valerian root is commonly called “poor man’s Valium” because it helps people relax, unwind, and get a good night’s sleep. Not so for Felix. “Valerian root is a stimulant for cats. It promotes play, reducing stress and anxiety,” says Sakura David, a veterinary consultant for CatPet

If your cat is one of the 50 percent that's "meh" about catnip, try valerian root. It has two chemicals that attract cats — actinidine and valerenic acid. It also contains calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin C, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. 

Ready to transform your lazy, fat cat into an exercise machine? Here’s what you need to know about valerian root.

What’s valerian root?

Valerian

Valerian is a perennial flowering plant that grows in the Northern United States, Central-Eastern Canada, Europe, and Eastern Russia. It’s found in lime-rich soil near low, damp meadows, marshy thickets, and river banks.

In the spring, valerian forms a straight, hollow stem and dark green leaves that are pointed at the tip and hairy underneath. It blooms from June to August and is pollinated by bees, flies, and beetles. Its white-pinkish, trumpet-shaped flowers pump out a sweet vanilla-and-clove scent.

Valerian root is light grayish brown and about the size of a finger joint. “But it smells like spoiled cheese or stinky feet,” David says. 

What’s valerian root used for? 

Valerian Root Pieces

The ancient Greeks and Romans used valerian root to treat nausea, gas, heart palpitations, urinary tract infections, and insomnia. They also hung it outside their homes to scare away witches and demons.

The Germanic tribes believed it could tame the wildest of beasts. Hertha, a Teutonic witch-goddess, rode a deer crowned with hops and used a stalk of valerian as a whip. 

During the Middle Ages, astrological botanist Nicholas Culpeper boiled valerian root with raisins, licorice, and aniseed. He used the potion to treat bubonic plague and chest congestion.

In 1620, valerian root was brought to North America on the Mayflower. During World War I and World War II, it was used to relieve stress caused by air raids. It was also mixed with hops and kava-kava to treat shell-shocked frontline troops.

Today, valerian root helps cats cope with separation anxiety, travel stress, and loud noises (e.g., fireworks, thunder, and gunfire). According to the Journal of Human and Veterinary Medicine, valerian root is also used to treat rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, arthritis, and epilepsy in cats.

How do cats respond to valerian root? 

Cat playing with mouse

Valerian root is available in over-the-counter tablets, bite-sized treats, lemongrass-infused sprays, or coarsely-chopped pieces. 

“The preferred method of enjoyment is sniffing the root or stuffing it in a toy for them to play with,” David says. Most cats will chase, kick, or chew their toys. They may purr or drool while they hold them and look like they’re completely blissed out. Cats may also roll around on the floor or run around the room. “The effects of valerian root may last between five and 30 minutes,” David says.

Cats also have a “valerian root gene”. It doesn’t turn on until they're between three and six months old.  According to a study published in BMC Veterinary Research, 60 percent of cats won’t have a reaction.

What are the differences between catnip, silvervine, and valerian root? 

Catnip

Silverine

Valerian Root 

Catnip Silvervine Valerian Root

Scientific name

Nepeta cataria

Actinidia polygama

Valeriana officinalis

Nicknames 

Catswort, catmint

Matatabi, Japanese catnip, and cat powder

All-heal, cat’s love, capon’s tail, garden heliotrope, Phu, setwall, and vandal root

Grows in 

Mountainous regions of China, Eastern Russia, Japan, and Korea

Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America 

Central-Eastern Canada, Europe, the Northern United States, and Eastern Asia

Plant type

Fast-growing, fruit-bearing vine

Herbaceous plant

Perennial flowering plant

Chemicals that attract cats

Nepetalactone

Actinide and dihydroactinidiolide

Actinidine and valerenic acid

Ingestion effects

  • Aggression 

  • Sleepiness

  • Euphoria

  • Purring

  • Meowing

  • Drooling

Inhalation effects

  • Playfulness

  • Hyperactivity

  • Rolling

  • Rubbing

  • Running

Percentage of cats that respond

50 percent

80 percent 

40 percent

Is valerian root safe? 

Valerian root is safe for your cat to eat or smell. “Although it's said that cats can't get hooked on valerian root, my aunt's cat seems a little addicted," David says. "She scratches at the box we keep the root in every other day."

David doesn't recommend feeding your cat the whole root because it can be a choking hazard. You also shouldn't give your cat human-grade valerian powder, pills, or liquids. They might contain harmful ingredients, such as garlic or grapefruit. 

Valerian root attracts earthworms, rats, dogs, foxes, and coyotes. Store it in an airtight container at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

We carry an Organic Catnip with Valerian Root Blend that has catnip leaves, flowers, and valerian root. Click here to buy yours.

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