How to Make an Herbal Remedy to Help You Sleep: Tincture or Tea (This Saved My Marriage!)
Note: This article has been edited since I first wrote it a few years ago. We now live in Idaho and grow even more herbs. I still use this herbal tincture for periodic sleep issues, and so does Mr. V. It has been a life saver for us as far as herbal remedies go!
The very first herbal remedy I ever made was for my sleep disorder: insomnia. I could NOT stay asleep through the night. It's the herbal tincture that completely sold me on the power of plant medicine because it completely helped me sleep naturally. This DIY herbal tincture radically changed my life in so many positive ways because if you are reading this, then you are aware that lack of sleep (good sleep) can make you just miserable and even dysfunctional.
You may be wondering why all these herbal remedy posts are on a "homestead" website? Well, I believe that it is a powerful thing to be able to use the plants God has given us to meet our needs, medically, physically, nutritionally. So, our little homestead is dedicated to learning and growing in this process.
You don't need a lot of land to grow a few herbs. And if you have no desire or land to grow your own herbs, you can get them easily from places like Starwest Botanicals or other herb growers. With a few herbs, you can easily make your own herbal tinctures right in your kitchen in the middle of a huge city!
Now, let me tell you a story about the beginning of my plant-based journey to wellness and one of my most powerful first interactions with the plant medicine world.
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My Insomnia and Back Pain
There was a time, many many years ago, that I had difficulty falling asleep. And once I did fall asleep, I just prayed that I would stay that way all night. So I hate to admit this, but I turned to the OTC sleep medications: Tylenol PM or Advil PM, etc. I think I took these for at least five years, maybe more! (Obviously this was WAY before I found plant-based and holistic ways of handling my sleep problem.)
Then, during a yoga class, I overstretched my hamstring...like the people around me actually HEARD it TEAR! That began a long journey of back pain (because somehow the torn hamstring translated to disc issues) and burning sciatica.
The really bad thing about going to doctors with pain issues--especially back pain-- is it seems the first thing they want to do is prescribe pain medications. So I ended up on a combination of Xanax (for the anxiety and sleeplessness) and some kind of hydrocodone. I found I could not take the whole dose that was prescribed, so I would take little "nibbles." in order to deal with pain and also to go to sleep.
This went on for some months, and I ended up in a horrible cycle of taking the pain medications to fall asleep and deal with pain; and then to wake up...LOTS of coffee. I was constantly groggy in the mornings, and grumpy all day.
Then we moved to a small off-grid village in the mountains of southern Nevada. I began gardening in earnest and began taking more courses in herbalism. I learned how to make my own tinctures (plant medicines). One of the first ones I ever made was one to help me sleep at night.
I made this herbal tincture, began taking it, and for the first time in years...I no longer needed ANY kind of prescription or OTC medication to deal with sleep issues. It was truly a miracle as far as I was concerned! A MIRACLE. I went to sleep. I woke up refreshed. I was HOOKED on the power of plants!!! Bye Bye Insomnia!
Since that time, I have read numerous books (see the Resources section for some of my very favorites---including the one that began my plant medicine journey), taken quite a few courses online and in person, networked with other herbalists, and I just keep learning more and more every single day.
About the Herbs in This Sleep Remedy:
There are only three herbs in this remedy, and you can grow them in most places. But if you can't or don't want to---just purchase them from a quality bulk herb store.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a powerful herbal sedative, and I love this stuff! Valerian is a sedative herb, as well as having hypnotic and anti-spasmodic properties. (Some people use it for muscle spasms as well.) Valerian reduces tension and anxiety as well. It is non-addictive, and a little bit goes quite a long way.
I have to warn you that the root smells pretty bad--some liken it to stinky feet. But it is worth it if you don't want a bunch of synthetic chemicals in your body! I have been able to grow this where I live, and I'm looking forward to drying my own roots this fall! I'll probably write a post on that later.
Hops strobiles are the flower cones of the Hops plant (Humulus lupulus). They smell yeasty and wonderful, and yes, this is the hops that is used in beer. In fact, we use it in our home-brewed herbal beers! Hops do have a sedative action, albeit not as strong as Valerian, as well as being a hypnotic, antiseptic, and astringent.
Note: You should not take Hops if you are taking anti-depressants, or if you experience depressive feelings.
Finally, beautiful Lavender (Lavender officinalis)
Just about everyone is familiar with these lovely purple flowers. Lavender has many powerful properties, being antispasmodic, antidepressant, and carminative to name just a few. I like to use lavender in this tincture because it is relaxing and the lovely taste helps (a little) to overcome the highly bitter taste of the Valerian and Hops.
Other herbs you could actually use in this tincture are Passion Flower and Skullcap. Both are relaxing herbs. Always do your research first, however, as herbs can and often do interact with medications you may be taking. Especially if you are pregnant or nursing, you MUST research and speak with a medical professional before experimenting with herbal remedies!
How to Make a Sleeping Remedy that Works:
You can actually make these herbs into a tea if you prefer. However, I love tinctures because they are so quick and easy to take. They don't taste that great, but they go down fast! You can find out more about tinctures in this article. And, to make a perfect herbal tea infusion, click that link.
I originally found this recipe in Rosemary Gladstar’s excellent book: Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, years ago. I have no idea any more if this is the exact recipe she uses or not, as I have been making it by “eyeball” for years, but the herbs used are the same. These are approximate amounts I use of each herb in this tincture.
Ingredients for Sleep Tincture:
** 3 parts Valerian Root, cut and sifted or powdered
** 2 parts Hops
** 1 part Lavender Flowers (this will help a little with taste too)
** 80 proof or higher grain alcohol (I like to use Vodka)
Directions to Make the Tincture:
Making an herbal tincture is really quite simple. The hardest thing about making your own tinctures is having patience because they do take some time to process.
Step 1) Measure the herbal parts into a Mason jar.
Step 2) Pour the alcohol to fill the jar to within one inch of the top. Shake well. Add more alcohol if need be. You want the alcohol to completely cover the herbs and be within about an inch from the top, give or take.
Step 3) Place in a sunny window and shake daily for four weeks or even longer if you want. You can tell when they are completely macerated (broken down) usually. Although roots are a little more difficult. If you allow to macerate for at least 4 weeks, you should be very safe!
Step 4) Strain out the herbs (this is called the marc) from the liquid. I just use a simple strainer over a Pyrex measuring cup with a spout. If the mixture contains powders, I may use layered cheesecloth or even a paper towel to filter the tincture further.
Step 5) The liquid is your tincture! Bottle it in a dark (I like amber colored) bottle(s) and store in a cool dark place. This tincture should last at least a couple of years or even longer. Always date your bottles and label what they are. It's easy to forget after a long time goes by!
I always put my tinctures for use in smaller amber glass bottles with a dropper like these:
The droppers are generally a standard size amount, regardless of the size of the bottle. You can buy them in a variety of sizes from 1/2 ounce to about 4 ounces. I like the 2 ounce bottles the best.
Take 1 full dropper to start. You can increase the amount to 3 full droppers. Take this before bed. If you do happen to wake in the middle of the night and can't return to sleep, it is ok to take one more dropper full. But I personally don't like to take it too close to when I have to get up...It is a sedative, after all.
My Personal Experience with Sleep Tincture & Insomnia
What I have found over the past four plus years that I have been making my own sleeping tincture is that 1) I don't need as much, and sometimes none at all now. 2) I don't wake up feeling groggy like I did when taking the OTC/prescription medications. 3) It's a LOT cheaper in the long run. 4) I can't remember the last time I had to take a prescription or OTC med of any kind. (I pretty much make every kind of medicine I use from plants).
Really....What's not to like about plant medicine? It's less expensive. It's less invasive and damaging to your body. You can make your own (or even purchase herbal tinctures in good stores nowadays). And if you are really adventurous, you can grow your own plants to use so you have all the ingredients from seed to bottle! :-)
Hugs, Health, & Self-Reliance!
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NOTE: I began my herbal education by reading and experimenting plus growing my own herbs. Then I branched out into foraging as well as taking courses. If you are interested in learning more about herbal medicine, see the sidebar for an excellent academy. The New England Academy of Herbal Medicine is just fabulous! I'm in their advanced course right now and loving it!
Disclaimer: The information in this article, elsewhere on my blog, in my shop sites, in conversations, and on labels is for informational purposes only and not meant to cure, treat, diagnose, or prevent any medical condition. I am not a medical doctor, so please see a medical professional for concerns. I simply provide my own personal advice based on experience and study for ways to live a healthy and natural way of life. I disclaim any liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any of the information contained in this article or elsewhere on this website. Each person is responsible for knowing his/her own body and doing their own research accordingly. Each person is responsible for their use of self care. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.