On the heels of dishing out my favorite coffee hacks, today I’m sharing my sleepy tea blend. (If you’ve tried all eight coffee hacks in one day, no tea is going to help you sleep, my friend. You’ll just have to wait it out.)
Like so many with autoimmune disease, my sleep needs are like a yo-yo. There are those times when I cannot sleep more than 4 hours. Then there are other times when I’m out for 12 hours, and need several naps during the day. If this describes you, you know how beat-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating it is.
Since Prince Charming and I like to close out the day by sipping a cup of tea, a sleepy tea blend just makes sense. A hot cup and soft conversation make for a smooth transition into rest. However, the commercial tea blends I have tried don’t do a thing for me.
Everyone’s body is unique. Herbs don’t always work the same for every person. And for this person, chamomile is not calming. My homemade blend (no chamomile!) works well for me, and is often my evening cup. This brew hasn’t solved all my nighttime woes, but it has certainly helped.
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What you’ll need
The three herbs in this simple, synergistic blend are:
•Valerian (valeriana officinalis), root
•Passion Flower (passiflora incarnata), stems and leaves
•Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis), leaves
The herbs we’re using for our sleepy tea are loose, not prepackaged in tea bags.
This means you’ll also need:
•a tea kettle
•an infuser for loose leaf tea. (This is similar to what I use.)
Where to get it
Foraging and growing herbs are topics for another post. For now, I’ll assume you’re purchasing your herbs. I recommend buying a little bit to start out with, until you’re sure you like the flavor, and are familiar with how the blend affects your body.
I try to buy locally when I can. The health foods store I frequent carries a variety of herbs in 1-2 oz bags, at a very reasonable price. You may have something similar available to you. If you can, start there.
Depending on storage and product rotation, buying bulk herbs from a brick-and-mortar store may mean compromised quality. Look for herbs that are sealed from air exposure. If they are in a container that’s looking dusty, or has been exposed to light for awhile, pass on it. The oils and other properties in the herbs can be damaged by light and air. You don’t want to waste your money on herbs that are useless.
If buying locally isn’t an option, I encourage you to check out Mountain Rose Herbs. They are sticklers for quality. And they are priced very fairly. They offer much more than herbs, so if you head to their site, be sure to browse around. They’re a pretty great source of education and ideas, too.
About the Herbs
This may go without saying, but I’d rather play it safe. Herbs are effective and powerful. Sure, they often work gently- but they do work. To use them without discretion is just foolish. Before using any herb, please be informed of any possible drug interactions or contraindications that may affect you.
Here are a few links to help you check:
I was introduced to valerian root in the 7th grade. Mom brought home a box of the tea at the recommendation of a friend. We were in an extremely difficult circumstance at the time; our nerves were raw. I clearly remember that first hot cup. It smelled… stinky.
Earthy; akin to sweet soil. It tasted mildly sweet as well. A few sips into my brew, and I was hooked. It was still weird to my 13 year old tongue, but somehow comforting. It became a soothing nightly ritual.
To some people, valerian’s fragrance is too much. Yet, it’s woody notes balance out some of the higher, fruity flavors used in this sleepy tea blend. It is soothing to the brain and nervous system, and is often used for insomnia, stress, and nervousness. There is so much information on this well-loved herb. It’s been used since at least medieval times, and is well known.
(A great source of reference is A Modern Herbal by Mrs. M. Grieve. It’s a two volume set, and a classic. If you are at all interested in learning more, this set dives into the history, science, chemistry, preparation and uses of a vast number of herbs. It’s a fascinating read! The information on valerian is found in book 2.)
A passion flower in bloom is mesmerizing. They are strikingly tropical in appearance, and their lobed foliage is light and friendly looking. (Having come from a region where most plants bear thorns, I do think passionflower leaves look friendly.) You would think with its exotic appearance and a name like this, the herb would act as an aphrodisiac. But instead, it’s a sedative.
One of my standby reference books for medicinal herbs is How to be Your Own Herbal Pharmacist, by Linda Rector-Page. She has this to say about passionflower leaves and stems:
“A primary nervine, anti-spasmodic and sedative, high in flavonoids, and effective for a broad range of nerve disorders…”
“…a specific for almost every nerve, insomnia and seizure condition, for rest and relief without the accompanying ‘narcotic hangover’…”
Lemon balm, melissa officinalis, aka “balm”, is a great herb to incorporate in your garden. It’s in the mint family, and is a characteristically aggressive grower. Bees love lemon balm. If you’re wanting to encourage the pollinators in your area, try including this perennial.
Regarding the dried leaves, Rector-Page describes the herb as “a calming sedating herb”. In his great reference, The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman says “…the gently sedative oils relieve tension and stress reactions, thus acting to lighten depression. Balm has a tonic effect on the heart and circulatory system causing mild vasodilation of the peripheral vessels, thus lowering blood pressure.”
There are of course, several uses for the above herbs. By no means am I giving a thorough overview of each herb and its uses. Just including some of the information that pertains to making a sleepy tea blend.
How to make it
These three herbs work well together for relaxing the body and preparing it for sleep. However, since we’re using them to make tea, we want it to taste good. Right? I’ve already mentioned valerian’s earthy flavor.
I’ve found passionflower to have some bitterness to it. Yet, I don’t find it overpowering in this blend. The exception is when I’ve tried using way too much. Also, when I’ve added passionflower to other teas- sometimes the flavors just don’t jive.
Lemon balm has a sweet, mild, fruity flavor reminiscent of citrus. It adds the higher flavor notes to the tea. If you find the other flavors too strong, cut back on them and try using more lemon balm.
For me, I prefer the herbs in roughly equal proportions. However, I’m not very exact about it. I measure in “pinches”. I use two pinches of each herb for one mug of tea. My tea ball is rather large, and I like my brews strong.
To begin with, take a deep whiff of each herb. Get a sense of it’s aroma. If you’re steeping the herbs in a mug, you might try 1 pinch of each in your infuser. If you’re steeping in a pot, try 2 or 3, but keep your proportions the same.
Boil your water, and pour it into your cup or pot. Let those herbs soak for 3-5 minutes. If you like, add a bit of honey. Leave out any cream or milk- it may affect how you absorb the tea. When it’s cool enough, sip and enjoy.
Once you’ve given it a try, adjust proportions as you see fit. You may want more of one herb and less of another. Experiment and make it your own.
So, the next time you find yourself battling insomnia, or just want to wind down for the night, try this sleepy tea blend. It’s easy to make and effective in helping the body relax. Customizing the brew to fit your taste is simple. I hope you’ll give it a go. Pour yourself a cup at the end of the day and sit down with a loved one. Sweet dreams, friend!