Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) is a popular and widely available herbal supplement, primarily used to treat insomnia and anxiety. Until recently, its mechanism of action has remained unknown. Neurobiological research has begun to show that the herb, with its active valerenic acid, interacts with the GABA(A)-ergic system, a mechanism of action similar to the benzodiazepine drugs. This series of experiments sought to corroborate these findings with behavioral measures, compare them to the benzodiazepine diazepam, and to analyze the chemical composition of Valeriana officinalis. Rats were administered either ethanol (1 ml/kg), diazepam (1mg/kg), valerian root extract (3 ml/kg), valerenic acid (3mg/kg), or a solution of valerenic acid and exogenous GABA (75 microg/kg and 3.6 microg/kg, respectively) and assessed for the number of entries and time spent on the open arms of an elevated plus maze. Results showed that there was a significant reduction in anxious behavior when valerian extract or valerenic acid exposed subjects were compared to the ethanol control group. The evidence supports Valeriana officinalis as a potential alternative to the traditional anxiolytics as measured by the elevated plus maze.
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