Med thumb valerian


[Hi, Van Winkle's readers! Woolly is all about about comfort and yoga and soup and the various ways we rest, relax, and recharge — published and emotionally supported by Casper. Read more here.]

Since early man learned how to nod off, people have been suffering from insomnia, anxiety and other such sleep issues. To calm themselves and conjure sleep, they didn’t turn to prescriptions or over-the-counter meds. Rather, they turned to the earth and the herbs it produced. Through trial and error, it was discovered that steeping certain herbs in warm water would produce a relaxing tea; smelling others made their troubles seem less severe, making their minds more able to welcome sleep. Many of these natural remedies remain today, and are verified ways of battling insomnia. Here are eight you need to know. 

Lemon Balm


As the name implies, this is a lemony herb that can be used as an aromatic or in a decent cup of tea. A long-time cure-all, it is now primarily used to promote calmness and relaxation and helps with depression and anxiety. Studies have confirmed its sedative effects, likely due to an inherent compound which promotes the GABA, a brain chemical that produces feelings of well being.



While generally understood as a component of beer, hops is actually a plant, the flowering part of which is dried and used to make medicine. For centuries hops has been used as a sleeping aid to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders as well as related issues like nervousness and restlessness. It’s been shown to ready the body for rest, but rather than downing a few beers before bed, try using hops in tea or by placing dried bits in a small muslin bag and keeping the bag inside your pillowcase.



In "Game of Thrones," Valerian is a type of steel used to make swords for King Slayers. In the real world, it’s a flowering plant that, for centuries, has been used to cut down insomnia. In 2007, a systematic review of the research surrounding declared the plant to be harmless, yet ineffective. Still, many insomniacs swear by it, saying it reduces both the time it takes to fall asleep and the occurrence of nighttime wakeups. It’s often a go-to for those who have weaned themselves off sleeping pills, though it should not be used in combination with sedatives. 



This familiar purple-flowered plant is known for it’s pleasant odor and calming effect. In fact, studies have proven that aromatherapy with lavender oil will slow the activity of the nervous system and promote relaxation; researchers have also found that lavender increases slow-wave sleep, the very deep sleep in which the heartbeat slows and muscles relax. As with hops, lavender can be made into a sachet to be placed inside your pillow case or brewed in tea.   



Chamomile is a traditional herbal remedy that has been used since ancient times to fight insomnia and a wide range of health complaints. Widely available, studies have shown it to be a safe and mild sleep aid, likely owing to its contents of apidenin, a known relaxant. 

Saint John’s Wort


As with lemon balm, Saint John’s Wort is used frequently to help with depression-based sleep trouble by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, thereby increasing the amount of sleep-enhancing melatonin. Additionally, it may stimulate the GABA receptor.

Passion Flower


Herbalists consider passion flower an important herb for insomnia caused by mental worry, overwork, or nervous exhaustion. It is popular in Europe, likely due to its effectiveness and lack of side effects. Many say that Passion flower provides a deep, restful sleep without morning grogginess. Although researchers aren't exactly sure how it works, they suspect the herb's composition of various flavanoids relaxes nerves and increases GABA.



Kava — also known as kava kava — is a root that grows on South Pacific islands and is the make-up of the national drink of Fiji. Drinking it imparts calmness and relaxation and enhances dreaming, producing brain wave patterns similar to those that taking Valium and related meds produces.