It is important, in treating any condition, to determine if you are facing an acute or chronic state. Even in chronic states there is a place for first aid, but only as a form of short term relief, while the underlying cause is investigated and a holistic approach developed to resolve the malady.
It is also important to remember that not all conditions require a herbal solution. A review of diet or lifestyle may resolve the problem, as can the application of naturopathic approaches.
A number of years ago a student from my professional organisation came down to train with me for a time in my clinic. At one point I took her out into my herbal garden and was discussing The Doctrine of Signatures with respect to Valerian. She related to me her experience with another practitioner whereby he professed that Valerian did not work. It is evident how this position may develop if our understanding of Valerian’s workings is purely on a biochemical level. However, if we remove the considerations of absorption, insufficient or inconsistent dosage, why should Valerian fail to deliver a consistent result? Yet, this is sometimes the case. In my view, it is because the biochemical aspect must be considered in the context of that plant’s overall energetic nature, and with respect to how this relates to the needs of the patient profile in question.
In my practice I make an initial distinction between two types of insomnia. There are those patients who cannot fall asleep, which usually betrays an overactive mind and/or bad dietary or lifestyle habits.
The second distinction concerns those who can fall asleep, yet tend to wake often in the night. These tend to be patients of a nervous disposition. They require a different approach and subsequently different herbs and/or Bach Flower treatment.
In this post on insomnia, I wish to concern myself mainly with Verbena officinalis (Vervain) and Matricaria recutita (German chamomile flowers) in respect of our Natural First Aid kit. However, I find it difficult, like with many of the other conditions I have approached, not to share with you other possible choices, and to present them to you through an understanding beyond that of the biochemical one.
Within that category of nervine/sedative/hypnotic herbs that can be applied to states of sleeplessness, two herbs stand out. In the first two pictures on the left are Passiflora incarnata (Passion flower) and Humulus lupulus (Hops).
Both of these plants are of the vine variety….climbing and clinging….yet the fruits of their efforts can pull them down from time to time.
With respect to The Doctrine of Signatures, for me, it is the Passion Flower that best illustrates the state of insomnia. It is that state of sleeplessness where you are so wide awake that the eyelids seem to peel back and the eyes themselves protrude from the sockets. The wide open Passion Flower, with its Iris pattern and “blood-shot” suggesting tendrils mirror this very state. It is for this reason that Passion Flower is indicated in insomnia where there is a restlessness of the mind. This can often be the result of a destructive chronic pattern of behaviour, whereby the day’s events and problems are resolved in bed. In such chronic states, means need to be employed to alter that habit before natural restful sleep can be resumed.
Humulus lupulus (Hops) is also a vine that is clinging….It reflects that aerial kind of exhaustion (in traditional witchcraft Hops are associated with the air element) where there is an over stimulation of the nerves and exhaustion is deep but gone beyond the ability to let go into sleep. The strobiles (the hops) droop, betraying the deeper exhaustion the climbing, nerve-like, vine seeks to deny. I find the very smell of Hops ethereal, carrying you over into dreamland away from the grounded realities of this world that can fray our nerves. It is no wonder that “hop-pillows” alone are considered beneficial, and I speak from personal experience in this matter. This understanding betrays the type of insomnia where Hops would be best suited.
I appreciate that, for some, my description of the herbs as an explanation of their working might seem quite fanciful. It is because the reductionist understanding of existence dominates in our society and therefore, by its familiarity, sits more comfortably. Yet, as I explained in a previous post, an energetic understanding strives to get an overall sense of a plant rather than dissecting all its parts never to find its spirit.
All herbalists have their favourites. These are the list of herbs that both resonate with them on a spiritual level and have served them well in practice. For me, Verbena officinalis (Vervain) is one of them.
Vervain is connected to the earth element. This is significant in understanding two aspects of its working in cases of insomnia. On one level, its connection to the earth element makes it nourishing, and as a nervine, specifically so to the nerves.
On a second level, the ground symbolically represents the mundane or day to day in our lives. The physical characteristics of Vervain illustrate this understanding. It is a plant that is heavier at the base and therefore more closely grounded affected by the mundane, but as it grows upwards it translates that experience into a series of long, nerve-like, sprays each expressing through its flower only a few, spark-like, electric pulses at any given time, like the ends of so many sparking synapses. Whenever I come upon a cluster of Vervain growing it reminds me of a hysterical “bad hair” day (as evident in the fourth picture from the top)…a vast sea of frayed nerves.
Subsequently, Vervain is excellent for patients who are too heavily grounded in day to day life such that they have lost the ability to shield themselves from the slightest upset. They take life too seriously. This sensibility is translated directly to the nerves and they tend to fret over small detail and are perfectionist in nature. Support for this idea is evident in the Bach remedy Vervain, which balances people who are overly engaged in life (deeply grounded) such that they cannot withstand setbacks and translate them physically into nerve related expressions such as insomnia.
Interestingly, Vervain has a positive effect on both liver and kidneys, two organs associated with anger and anxiety respectively, both possible sources of insomnia when they are allowed to develop out of proportion.
Vervain grows in open fields and there seems to be a connection to horses. I found it growing often in places where horses have been kept. This may be because horses favour other plants over Vervain, or there is some other explanation with respect to the benefits that the horse provides the soil with!
The herb is gathered for use when in flower. Some sources suggest just the flowering parts be harvested. However I have functioned for years with good results, using the whole herb, cut at the base. It can then be hung up in bunches in an airy place, out of direct sunlight, to dry.
The adult dosage I prepare is 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb to a cup of boiled water and infused for about 15 minutes, then taken three times a day.
My final insomnia herb is Matricaria recutita (German chamomile), which has already been added to our Natural First Aid kit.
Chamomile is affected by the fire element but is tempered and thus warming. It brings its heat to the digestive tract and is anti-spasmodic and warming, characteristics that can resolve insomnia brought on by dietary indiscretion. It warms nerves that have been worked to the cold stage of exhaustion….and gently brings on a deep relaxed sleep.
For me there is something eternally innocent and child-like about Chamomile. I think of it greatly as a child herb…or a herb that speaks to the child in us. Perhaps this has something to do with its smaller size and cheery flowers.
Chamomile flowers should be gathered on a dry day, and dried quickly in moderate temperatures. Once fully dried it should be kept in an air-tight container to preserve its aroma and healing properties.
As an adult I would take 1 teaspoon to a cup of boiling water and infuse for 5 minutes. It helps to drink this about twenty minutes before going to bed…and better still after a hot bath.
If the length of this post has not helped you with your insomnia, I hope the herb suggestions will!
Health and Happiness
The Green Man
For those of you suffering from a chronic condition and would like further help, please contact me through the information given on my website.
I am also developing a “quickie” consultation service which will be offered via Skype or E-mail and allow you to tap into more detail and answer any questions related to posts or problems you might have. Details will be available soon.