26 Dec Natural Sleeping Aids
The sleep aid industry has a powerful grip on the world, but even the most effective prescription drugs have their downsides: side effects, limited access and prohibitive costs, which is why it is better to turn to soporific plants that have been tested for hundreds of years by herbalists and naturopaths – versus the standard 6 months of testing for the average pharmaceutical.
On the other hand, some of the more powerful soporific plants can stun, anaesthetise, and even result in death, so we’ve decided to list to you our favourite sleep-inducing herbs:
- Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
- Hops (Humulus lupulus)
- Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
- English Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- Linden Flower (Tilia cordata)
- Ballote (Ballota nigra)
- Poppy Petals (Papaver somniferum)
- Common Vervaine (Verbena officinalis)
From all of these calming herbs, Valerian is by far the most recognised and documented, known to relieve anxiety and remedy sleeping disorders arising from nervous conditions. Several studies have confirmed its efficacy as a sedative for transient insomnia as its main mechanism of action can be explained through the GABA system (gamma amino butyric acid) – the neurotransmitter of relaxation.
Recommended dosages of Valerian range from 3–9 grams of its dried root per day. In dyeing, the usual dose is 2.5–5 ml per day, or 30–60 drops up to 4 times a day. Standardised extracts come in two concentrations – 0.4% or 0.8% of Valerenic acid, and the dose varies from taking 400–900 mg before bedtime. The active ingredients of Valerian are mainly liposoluble (soluble in a fatty substance), which means that it is not very effective in the form of herbal tea.
Another great plant on our list is hops – the flowers of the hop plant – which are primarily known as flavouring and stabilising agents in beer. But besides being used for imparting bitter and citric flavours in beers, they prove to be extremely effective in treating anxious states, restlessness as well as sleeping disorders. Hops should be taken in the form of 0.5–1 grams, 3 times a day. In dyeing, the usual dose ranges from 1–2 ml, and should be taken up to 3 to 4 times a day.
Lets Talk about Herbal Teas
The (greatest) disadvantage of the evening tea is that it fills the bladder at the wrong time. Men of a certain age are then woken by during the night, and may also awaken their partner during the process.
The advantage of the tablets is that you find the ‘totem’ of the plant, that is to say all of the plant’s parts, whereas in herbal teas, most of the plant’s beneficial compounds dissolve spontaneously in hot water. Dyes – plants that have been macerated in alcohol – are just as practical as only a few drops are sufficient. However, if you still prefer to make herbal tea, be sure not to use boiling water as this can destroy certain aromas and active ingredients. The ideal infusion temperature is around 85–90 °Celsius. Also, do not try and limit yourself to one herb, as making combinations, such as a valerian/hops/passion flower can also be beneficial. In particular, the valerian/hops combination has been the subject of several clinical studies, including one in which it has been compared with a benzodiazepine – lorazepam (Ativan). Valerian-hops combination was as effective as Ativan and resulted in a lesser decrease in alertness and residual effect the following morning.
Belladonna: The Plant of Witches
In the Solanaceae family, the plant best known for its soporific effects is the belladonna – known by its botanical name as Atropa belladonna. But it also goes by a more sinister name — deadly nightshade — and is one of the most poisonous herbs in the world!
Belladonna’s wicked magic can be attributed to an alkaloid called atropine. The name atropine derives from Atropos, one of the Three Fates of the Underworld in ancient Greece who determined human destiny. At Atropos’ whim, she would cut the thread of life and kill a mortal in the world above. This is fitting, as the alkaloid affects the central nervous system, leading to an increase of the pulse, confusion, seizures, hallucinations and even death when consumed. In fact, the symptoms of atropine are so horrid that it is often added to addictive painkillers to keep people from getting dependent.
Belladonna has a long history of use – as a medicine, cosmetic and poison! The wife of Claudius, Agrippina the Younger, used it as a poison on advice of Locusta, a lady specialised in poisons, whilst Livia, is rumoured to have used it to kill her husband Emperor Augustus. Macbeth of Scotland, when he was still one of the lieutenants of King Duncan I of Scotland, used it during a truce to poison the troops of the invading Harold Harefoot, King of England, to the point that the English troops were unable to stand their ground and had to retreat to their ships. During the 16th and 17th century witch trials, it was said that witches mixed the herb with other toxic plants to concoct an ointment which, when applied to the skin, provoked vivid hallucinations. It was known as the ‘flying ointment’ and was supposedly used when witches would meet for a gathering of their coven – as by smearing the ointment on their bodies, the ointment allowed them to fly. Medicinally, up until the 19th century, belladonna was even used to anaesthetise patients.
Its name derives from the Italian bella donna, meaning ‘beautiful lady’ as during the Renaissance, women, in pursuit of a more seductive look, used its juice in the form of eye-drops to appear more sexually aroused – and hence attractive as the juice dilated the pupils.
Today, belladonna still has its uses, however it is strictly reserved for pharmaceutical use. It is often found in sleeping pills, asthma drugs and muscle reactants before surgery and when consumed in small doses, it is a calming and powerful painkiller – some homeopathic treatments are made by heavily diluting the poison to treat the cold, earaches, fever, cramps, toothaches, headaches, sore throats and even boils. Nevertheless, it is important to note that you should never take belladonna on your own unless you have direct instructions from a qualified doctor, or the next thing you know, you could be lured into its fatal embrace.