Before we get to recipes, let's take a mini-dive into the specifics of Chamomile, a plant you've probably heard of, and which will show up in many of the formulations I'll share. This is it, pictured above, in all its flowering glory. Flowers are the medicinal parts of chamomile, so if you've ever had whole-leaf (/flower) tea, it will look just like this in your cup. Often It's dried and ground up before being commercially packaged.
Chamomile, matricaria recutita, is a European flower now ubiquitous in North America as well. It's a member of the Asteraceae, or Aster/Daisy family. The main identification giveaway for members of this plant family are the unique central structures in the flowering head. (The yellow part in the center of each flower in this picture.) If you look closely, this is not actually the head of the flower, but is actually a composite of dozens of tiny flowers! Chamomile is a small flower, but look closely at the center of a huge sunflower the next time one blooms near you - they're also members of Asteraceae. One "flower" actually contains 100 or more flowers!
Chamomile is worth a blog post of its own for its wide, systems-spanning forms of medicine. It is useful in the gastrointestinal, digestive, muscular, and nervous systems especially. This post, I'll just focus on its relaxant, nervine and sedative actions, as those are what come into play when thinking about insomnia. Chamomile makes a beautiful blue essential oil, and contains volatile oils which lend it a strong fresh scent. Flower essences and aromatherapy are sister studies to plant medicine, and both would say that these oils are calming when their scent is inhaled. When ingested, chamomile's medicine is even more pronounced. It's a relaxing nervine, which means it specifically relaxes the nervous system. Much insomnia is caused or compounded by an overactive nervous system, making us anxious, stuck in our heads, unable to turn off at bedtime.
So I'll open the recipe section by saying that a simple chamomile tea might go a long way in ameliorating trouble sleeping. Pour 1c hot water per 1T flowers over the dried or fresh plants (dried will make a stronger brew), and drink before bed. (Note: chamomile won't make you drowsy, so it's ok to drink it throughout the day to cope with stress as well!)
Other plants to consider, from my delightful copy of Culpepper's Complete Herbal, first published in 1658(!!):
-Dandelion root, decocted
-Wild lettuce, boiled and the juice drunk
-Peach pits, simmered in milk 10min, strained and drunk
-California poppy seeds, boiled 5-10min, strained, and drunk. (**This is the nuclear option. It won't help with underlying causes of insomnia, but it will knock you right out. Don't do this if you are regularly drug-tested; poppy seeds will read on sensitive tests as opioids. There wasn't much employer-mandated drug testing in 1658.)
A few formulations from Rosemary Gladstar:
3 parts chamomile
1 part oats
1 part passionflower
1 part valerian
1/2 part hops
Infuse 1T herbs in 1c hot water, let sit 15minutes, strain, and drink before bed.
California Poppy Blend
1 part California poppy flowers and/or seeds
1 part chamomile
1 part milky oats (different than regular oats. These will only be sold at herb stores or online. Very unlikely to be at even health food stores.)
1/2 part marshmallow root
Infuse to same proportions as Nervine Tea. Drink as much and as often as needed. Keep in mind note on California Poppies.
Sleepytime/Sad time Tea
For insomnia exacerbated by depression.
2 parts chamomile
1 part borage flowers, if available
1 part lemon balm
1/2 part lavender flowers
1/2 part rose petals
Infuse as above recipes. Drink 1 cup three times daily.
In addition to the above plant allies, consider the rest of your life as it relates to your sleep. Are you looking at screens up until the second you turn out the lights? Is your phone on and/or inches away from your head all night? Have you moved your body to the point of a higher heart rate in the last 24 hours? When was the last time you ingested sugar or caffeine? Making structural changes to your schedule and habits will boost the good work you'll be doing with your herbs. Sleep well!
Culpepper's Complete Herbal, Nicholas Culpepper
Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman
Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health, Rosemary Gladstar
*Legalese: In our society, only MDs get to say they are "treating" disease. As such, this blog post has not been analyzed by the FDA, and the advice within has not been scientifically proven to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. Please see a health practitioner for medical treatment.