A Natural Sleep Aid
There are few things worse than sleeplessness, yet it’s something millions of people navigate every night and the following morning. Going without a restful sleep is actually physically and mentally dangerous. It’s so detrimental to the human condition that sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique has been labeled as “torture” by some organizations. Even when you aren’t being interrogated, your body and mind cannot function well without proper rest.
That’s why millions of Americans turn to sleep aids in the form of prescription medication. While this can be one of the only viable solutions for some, many prescription and over the counter drugs come with detrimental adverse effects, such as somnambulance (sleepwalking), mental fatigue, burning or tingling of the hands or feet, and digestive issues.
Because of these issues many are searching for a natural solution to their sleep problems, but traditional herbal remedies might seem like nonsense to the average person. For millennia humans have used plants as a means of treating specific ailments, and as science progresses we have learned a lot about the effectiveness of these treatments and how they work. While there are numerous methods of administering these herbs, Herbalists and Naturopathic Doctors tend to recommend herbal tea for insomnia because of its ability to soothe nerves and sedate would-be sleepers without the side-effects associated with sleeping pills.
Valerian Root Valeriana oficianalis
Valerian is a plant that grows up to 6 feet tall throughout the world in moist meadows and wetlands. The root of this plant is a powerful Western Herb that has been known to help with general nervousness and insomnia, as well as help relieve gas, spasms, pains, and general symptoms of stress. The plant’s white or pink flowers have a pleasant smell, which is a stark contrast to the root which is normally chopped finely and has a pungent smell and taste. This factor can honestly be a bit much when used on its own, but when put into a tea blend Valerian Root can be an extremely effective component of herbal remedies for sleeplessness.
Passionflower Passiflora incarnata
Passionflower is a climbing vine that grows as tall as 3 feet and produces beautiful flowers. There are many species of passionflower, but the one generally known and used for its sedative properties is Passiflora incarnata. When harvested during bloom, the whole of the above-ground plant is dried and processed to be used as tea. The taste is mild, but the effects can be quite potent. Passionflower is generally known for its potential to provide relief for anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, and as an antispasmodic. It has also been shown to lower blood pressure by dilating the arteries and lowering the pulse, and might even be helpful in the treatment of nicotine addiction.
Chamomile Chamomilla recutita, nobile
Chamomile is a flowering herb that most people are aware of as it has been used for centuries as a tonic to calm the nerves and soothe the digestive system. With yellow flowers, these plants grow like weeds in light, sandy, and moist soil, preferring full sunlight.
Chamomile has a wide variety of uses, the most common of which are to reduce anxiety and insomnia and soothe gastrointestinal issues. Studies have also shown Chamomile to have the potential to help with Eczema, Colic, inflammation, cardiovascular conditions, Osteoporosis, wound-healing, seizures, and immune response. One study has even shown chamomile to have significant anti-cancer properties.
The many different varieties of chamomile all have similar properties, though the most commonly used is German Chamomile (recutita). With it’s lightly sweet and aromatic flavor, these flowers are a great addition to many herbal remedies.
Oatstraw Avena sativa
Oatstraw is exactly what it sounds like. It is the straw harvested from the common oat plant at maturity around the world. It generally has a golden hue with some green highlights from the plant, and it should be fully dried.
Oatstraw is known as a nervine as it has light sedating properties and is full of great nutrients that keep you hydrated and balanced. It’s flavor and aroma are slightly sweet, which give a nice body to tea blends, decoctions, and other herbal remedies .
Linden Tilia spp.
The Linden tree is found throughout the world and has developed into a very wide variety of species. These species all hold similar botanical properties in regards to herbalism and are often considered interchangeable.
The leaves and flowers are dried and used for their antispasmodic (reducing muscle spasms), astringent, diuretic, and sedative properties. The antispasmodic properties have anecdotally been said to help with restless legs in particular. In recent studies, the flowers have even been shown to induce a hepatoprotective (liver protection) quality.
When brewed as a tea, Linden has a light woodsy aroma and flavor, which often complements other more floral and aromatic herbs.
Scullcap Scutellaria laterifolia
Scullcap is an herb that’s been used for centuries to alleviate symptoms of distress and ailments to the nervous system. In the 1700’s settlers even promoted the herb as an effective treatment for Rabies. Herbalists have used the herb ever since as relaxing nervine that promotes calmness and rest.
The plant itself is a perennial mint plant that has ridged leaves and flowers that vary in color. It is found through much of the eastern United States in forest and swampland, and grows from 1-3 feet tall. Its flavor is often quite bitter, and can add a bit of bite to your brew, but herbs such as chamomile and lavender can bring balance to your natural sleep aid.
Research has shown a variety of benefits from Scullcap. Specifically the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and sedative effects are touted as a beneficial supplement for those plagued by physical and mental stress. A recent study has even delved into the effectiveness of the baicalensis species of Scullcap as a neuroprotectant, possibly leading to more research of its use in the field of neurodegenerative diseases.
Catnip Nepeta cataria
That’s right. The herb that makes your feline friend go crazy has a lot of uses for humans as well. Catnip has been used for a very long time for its therapeutic properties and can be traced back to uses in European folklore as a calming agent.
The Catnip plant is a perennial plant that produces 2-3 foot mint-like stems that are covered in grayish-green leaves. These heart shaped leaves are the portion of the plant that are generally used for their relaxing effects on the body and specifically the digestive system. The flavor and aroma is pleasant and light, making it a perfect addition to many herbal remedies.
Research into Catnip has shown it to be a capable calmative, relaxant, carminative (relieves gas), and diaphoretic (increases perspiration). Being a diaphoretic, consuming catnip tea in excess may make you sweat without increasing your body heat, which has incited its use in breaking fevers.
Lavender Lavendula angustifolia (officianalis)
There are many types of lavender that have recently become popular, but the species that most people are familiar with is angustifolia. This species is known as English, French, Common, and True Lavender depending on the circumstances and location. Another type of lavender on the market that is a little different, but with similar effects, is properly known as Lavandin. This lavender is brighter in color and has a slight camphor smell alongside the typical floral lavender scent.
Lavender, with its aromatic little flowers has been consumed as a tea and seasoning for centuries. It is used in ointments and creams for its aroma as well, but recent research is starting to uncover that Lavender may help reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate headaches and sleeplessness, and even heal cuts, burns, and skin conditions such as eczema.
Because Lavender is so floral, it is recommended that you use this in moderation in tea blends.
Tea Blend Recipes
The easiest way to blend these ingredients is to put them into a bag or container by scooping them individually, then shaking the receptacle to mix the herbs as much as possible.
Pour 8oz of boiling hot water over 2-4 tsp of loose leaf tea inside of a tea strainer or muslin bag. Steep for 15 minutes. It is important to steep for this long as many flavonoids, terpenoids, and phytochemicals (the active ingredients) take time to extract into the water. Sip and enjoy.
Recipe #1: Knock Out Tea
This blend makes a strong tea that works to calm the body and quiet the mind in the evenings. The chamomile and lavender bring a pleasant flavor to the brew, while the Oatstraw works to keep the body hydrated and calm while this natural sleep aid takes effect. The Valerian, Scullcap, Linden, and Passionflower make this tea potent, so approach the first cup slowly. You can also add 1 part Catnip, Peppermint, or Spearmint for a smoother cup that soothes the digestive system.
- 3 parts Chamomile
- 1 part Lavender
- 1 part Oatstraw
- 1 part Valerian Root
- 1 part Scullcap
- 1 part Passionflower
- 1 part Linden
- Chamomile 33%
- Lavender 11%
- Oatstraw 11%
- Valerian Root 11%
- Scullcap 11%
- Passionflower 11%
- Linden 11%
- Chamomile 43%
- Lavender 14%
- Linden 14%
- Oatstraw 14%
- Catnip 14%
Recipe #2: Gentle Sleep Tea
For something a little gentler, try this blend. There are fewer components, and it doesn’t contain some of the more powerful and pungent ingredients from the first recipe. This natural sleep aid can ease you into a sense of well being before bed.
- 3 parts Chamomile
- 1 part Lavender
- 1 part Linden
- 1 part Oatstraw
- 1 part Catnip