If you're having trouble sleeping, you're not alone. On average, a third of the UK population struggle with insomnia. And our collective ability to catch some Zzzzs has only worsened during the lockdown.
Longer days and lighter evenings are enough to disrupt our sleeping patterns, add a pandemic to the mix and you've got a recipe for restless nights. If you've found yourself stocking up on goodnight teas recently, we don't blame you. However, there's no pre-packaged match for the satisfaction gleaned from growing your own herbal remedies.
So, which plants should you grow to take you to the land of nod?
In The Herbal Apothecary, Pursell recommends Nervine herbs such as chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, linden, oatstraw, passionflower, wood betony, skullcap, St. John’s wort, and vervain. It's these plants which "help to calm the body, mind, and spirit," she says, "They also fortify frayed nerve endings that result from chronic stress and unrest. Whether your monkey mind is keeping you awake at night or you’re jumping from fright at the slightest sound, nervines can help."
In the seminal herbalist's handbook Culpeper's The Complete Herbal, (which dates back to the 1600s) the juice of lettuce mixed or boiled with rose oil is said to "procure sleep" when applied to the forehead or temples. Although some of the book's claims are questionable, centuries later wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa) is still makings its way into sleep remedies, thanks to its mild opiate effects.
Wild lettuce enjoys full sun and will tolerate partial shade. Plant in moist, fertile, well-draining soil with a pH of around 7. Germination can be erratic, so scatter the seedlings in pre-moistened soil, make sure they've got plenty of light and don't let them dry out to give them the best chance.
Skullcap was commonly used by Native American healers to regulate menstruation and it can even help soothe the symptoms of PMS. Its sedative properties also make it a great antidote for a racing mind, so this plant should be in every insomniac's garden plot. As Sensory Solutions note in the description of their Sleep Mix: "Skullcap, famous for literally putting a ‘lid on unwanted, stressful thoughts’". The delicate, tubular flowers also make an attractive addition to your herb patch.
Scutellaria lateriflora prefers full sun and a well-drained fertile soil. In the UK, Skullcap grows in wetland conditions.
It's no secret that this iconic member of the mint family is a powerful sleep aid. And with it being such a mainstay of our gardens and public spaces, it's one of the easiest plants to kickstart your herbal journey. Lavendula angustifolia or English Lavender (which is actually native to the Med) is commonly used in aromatherapy. But there's no need to splash out on expensive ointments when you can make your own.
The drought-tolerant perennial prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Combine lavender and chamomile flowers for a fragrant herb pillow or use lavender oil in your DIY sleep spray.
Chamomile's calming properties make this pretty flower a herbalist must-have. The dried flowers make a comforting brew which soothes upset stomachs and stills anxious minds.
The sweet-smelling, daisy-like flowers can be grown in containers or outdoors in well-drained soil in a sunny patch and best of all, can be harvested all summer long. So long as you dry the flowers, you'll have a year-round supply of chamomile tea without stepping foot in a shop.
These gorgeous golden flowers aren't just lovely to look at, they also work wonders when it comes to sleep problems. And before you ask, the opiates are much lower than in the opium poppy. The mild sedative effect stems from the milky liquid that exudes from the crushed leaves and seed pods. The Handmade Apothecary suggests mixing with chamomile and linden blossom for the ultimate good night tea blend.
Sow seeds directly in the ground, keep well watered and you'll be rewarded with this long flowering bloom in weeks. It thrives in gravelly, well-drained soil and this self-seeder is great value for money too. This enterprising flower will crop up in nooks and crannies you never thought to plant.
There's a reason Valerian is sometimes known as "nature's Valium." Valerian root is full of compounds which studies have shown reduce anxiety while helping us drift off. It's an attractive plant with clusters of pretty white flowers balanced on upright stems.
Plant in full sun to dappled shade in well-draining soil and keep the soil moist for a strong healthy plant.
Similarly to chamomile and Californian poppy, lemon balm works has been shown to relax the central nervous system. Combine with Valerian for the ultimate sleep remedy.
This bushy perennial is relatively easy to grow, a sunny spot will do so long as you keep the soil moist. If you know you'll forget to cut the plant back after flowering, it could be worth keeping it in a container to avoid it taking over.
In The Handmade Apothecary, authors Walker and Kim recommend keeping hawthorn brandy on hand as a tonic for insomnia, as well as colds and flues. Commonly used as hedging, forage for or pick the Hawthorn berry in Autumn before crushing and preserving. Add your choice of spices and sweetener for a real bedtime treat.
We do not advocate the use of herbs in lieu of a doctor's visit. Visit your GP before adding herbal remedies to your diet, particularly if you are pregnant or taking other medication.