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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Free drop-in advice on health and herbal remedies

For anyone in Wiltshire:

Free drop-in advice on herbal remedies:

10am - 12 noon, Thursday 4th February, 2016, at Swindon Pulse Wholefoods (27 Curtis St). No booking required.

I’ll be there to offer free advice and guidance, and to give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding Herbal Medicine.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Rosehip Syrup

Thank you to everyone who attended my herb walk this morning.

Below, as requested, for those of you who don't have access to my Facebook page, is the recipe I use to make rosehip syrup.

Rosehip Syrup
Rosehips (the fruit of the wild rose, Rosa spp) are rich in many vitamins and minerals. Indeed, as fruit became scarce during the war years, rosehips were collected as a vital addition to the diet, having more vitamin C than oranges! Rosehip syrup was given to mothers for their children, and a Ministry of Food leaflet encouraged people to make their own syrup from the hedgerows.





Below is a traditional recipe for a rosehip syrup. Although heating the hips leads to some loss of vitamin C, this method serves the purpose of prolonging storage.




• Add 500g chopped rosehips to 1.5 litres water.
• Boil for 20 min's.
• Strain through double layer of muslin.
• Discard pulp, return the fluid to the pan.
• Simmer until volume reduced by half (approx will do!).
• Measure volume and add half as much sugar (eg. 500ml, add 250g sugar).
• Warm gently until sugar dissolved (stirring), then boil for 5 min's.
• Pour whilst warm into sterilised, warmed, glass bottles.
• Label and store in a cool place. Refrigerate once opened.


NB. Collect rosehips from areas where they will not have been sprayed and away from roadsides.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Free drop-in advice on health and herbal remedies

For anyone in Wiltshire:

Free drop-in advice on herbal remedies:

10am - 12 noon, Thursday 5th February, 2015, at Swindon Pulse Wholefoods (27 Curtis St). No booking required.

I’ll be there to offer free advice and guidance, and to give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding Herbal Medicine.

See www.lynblythe.com for more information on Herbal Medicine.



Saturday, 9 May 2015

High blood pressure (Hypertension)




What is hypertension?
Hypertension is a long-term elevation of the blood pressure (BP) in the arteries. Two readings are taken when the blood pressure is measured with a sphygmomanometer. The first when the heart is beating (the systolic pressure) and the second, lower, reading when the heart is relaxing between beats (diastolic pressure). A "textbook normal" resting BP reading would be 120/80 mmHg, although this varies with such factors as level of activity, anxiety, exercise, etc.

Dangers of hypertension
Ongoing raised BP significantly increases the risk of having a heart attack, developing heart disease and/or having a stroke. It can also lead to kidney damage, narrowing of other blood vessels, potentially leading to such problems as skin ulcers, impotence, amputation or aneurysm (where damaged blood vessels eventually tear). The list of possible health problems due to raised BP goes on and on as all blood vessels are affected.

Symptoms 
Usually none!

High BP tends to remain asymptomatic and is usually found during routine examination. Occasionally it may cause headache or vision problems. Eventually symptoms emerge as the blood vessels become damaged, for example, skin ulcers.

There is also a much rarer form of hypertension, malignant hypertension, where the BP is severely elevated, causing headache, kidney failure, fits and coma. This though is a medical emergency, not the usual ongoing, chronic, raised BP seen more commonly.

Causes of hypertension
Hypertension is divided into two types:

Essential hypertension - accounts for approximately 95% of cases, and merely means the cause is unknown!

Secondary hypertension - accounts for the other approximately 5% of cases, and means the raised BP is secondary to a known cause (see below):
  • Kidney disease
  • Endocrine disease (eg. hyperparathyroidism, Cushing's syndrome - including secondary to steroid treatment)
  • Pregnancy
  • Coarctation of the aorta (a narrowing of the aorta since birth)
  • Drugs (including medications), alcohol, toxins

Variations in BP
There are normal variations in everyone's BP. Not only does normal BP alter from minute to minute, but it also shows variation throughout every 24 hour period, with the lowest readings occurring during the night. However, in normal circumstances, these fluctuations occur within a relatively narrow range, and are carefully controlled.

More recently it has become recognised that larger, abnormal, variations in BP and also the maximum BP reached, are strong predictors of stroke and other vascular events, not just the average BP as previously thought.

Herbs
A vast number of herbs have a long tradition of use to address hypertension.

Herbalists rarely use herbs singly though. Instead, the herbs most suitable for each patient are selected and combined with additional herbs based on the rest of the medical history (including any medications) and the possible underlying causes of the circulatory problems, mindful of the fact that not all herbs are suitable for all people. This results in a prescription which is most appropriate and more effective for each individual. It is often the case that what not to include is as important as what to include in a prescription!

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp)
Hawthorn, a member of the rose family, has been used safely for heart and circulatory problems for many generations.The flowering tops (ie. flowers plus new leaves) are picked in the Spring, and the berries in the Autumn.

Hawthorn berries


Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus)
Cramp bark has been used for many years to relax "muscle tension", making it a useful herb for a variety of complaints. Such "antispasmodic" herbs are commonly included in prescriptions for people with hypertension.

Cramp bark


Lime (linden) flower (Tilia spp)
Lime flower is another herb commonly included in hypertension prescriptions. It also has an antispasmodic effect. In addition it is believed to make a useful contribution towards helping atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), when used in conjunction with other herbs and some dietary modifications. It is pleasant as a tea. Indeed the tea has a long-standing reputation as a calming drink to aid sleep.

Lime flower


Olive leaf (Olea europaea)
Most people are now familiar with the benefits of good quality olive oil to health, including its positive effects on the cardiovascular system. However, the leaves have also been used as a medicine throughout history. Again, antispasmodic, but they are also thought to have numerous other beneficial effects, such as helping normalise fluctuating blood sugar levels (NB. Not to be used as an alternative to insulin treatment in diabetics though!).

Olive leaf


There are many other herbs which may be selected and included, depending on the individual concerned. Others include herbs such as bilberry, motherwort, yarrow, periwinkle. Frequently, herbs to protect the kidneys will be included, as ongoing hypertension can be damaging to these vital organs.


References and further reading
Edwards, J.E., Brown, P.N., Talent, N., Dickinson, T.A., Shipley, P.R. (2012). A review of the chemistry of the genus Crataegus. Phytochemistry 79 5-26

Kaeidi, A., Mahani-Esmaeili, S., Sheibani, V., Abbasnejad, M., Rasoulian, B., Hajializadeh, Z., Afrazi, S. (2011). Olive (Olea europaea L.) leaf extract attentuates early diabetic neuropathic pain through prevention of high glucose-induced apoptosis: In vitro and in vivo studies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 136 188-196

Kwok, C.Y., Wong, C.N.Y., Yau, M.Y.C., Yu, P.H.F., Au, A.L.S., Poon, C.C.W., Seto, W.S., Lam, T.Y., Kwan, Y.W., Chan, S.W. (2010). Consumption of dried fruit of Crataegus pinnatifida (hawthorn) suppresses high-cholesterol diet-induced hypercholesterolaemia in rats. Journal of Functional Foods 2 179-186

NHS Choices
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Blood-pressure-%28high%29/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Patient.co.uk
http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/hypertension

Patient.co.uk
http://www.patient.co.uk/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension

Rothwell, P.M., Howard, S.C., Dolan, E., O'Brien, E., Dobson, J.E., Dahlof, B., Sever, P.S., Poulter, N.R. (2010). Prognostic significance of visit-to-visit variability, maximum systolic blood pressure, and episodic hypertension. Lancet  375: 895-905

Simon, C., Everitt, H. & Dorp, F. (2010). Oxford Handbook of General Practice, 3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. P252-257

Susalit, E., Agus, N., Effendi, I., Tjandrawinata, R.R., Nofiarny, D., Perrinjaquet-Moccetti, T., Verbruggen, M. (2011). Olive (Olea europaea) leaf extract effective in patients with stage-1 hypertension: comparison with Captopril. Phytomedicine 18 251-258

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Free drop-in advice on health and herbal remedies

For anyone in Wiltshire:

Free drop-in advice on herbal remedies:

10am - 12 noon, Thursday 5th February, 2015, at Swindon Pulse Wholefoods (27 Curtis St). No booking required.

I’ll be there to offer free advice and guidance, and to give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding Herbal Medicine.

See www.lynblythe.com for more information on Herbal Medicine.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)



What is it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has been described as “a recurrent disorder involving seasonal episodes of depression, usually in the winter months”. Occasionally though, the depression may be felt in the summer.

This is not a new problem. It has been written that even in 200 AD a link between sunlight and depression had been recognised, and it was recommended that "lethargics are to be laid in the light and exposed to the rays of the sun"!  

Most of us are affected to some extent by changes in season, for example, feeling brighter and more energetic on a sunny day. However, for people with SAD, these changes in mood as the seasons change are far more pronounced, and consequently have a significant impact on quality of life during these times. Indeed, some people with SAD report feeling unable to get out of bed in the morning when their mood is at its lowest ebb.

Who does it affect?
SAD is thought to affect approximately 2% of adults, and to affect women twice as commonly as men. SAD is more common in countries where there are significant changes to number of daylight hours, temperature and weather conditions between seasons.

Symptoms
Some or all of these may be experienced:

• Low mood, feelings of guilt
• Apathy
• Lethargy
• Poor concentration
• Anxiety, panic attacks
• Irritability
• Sleep problems – usually more sleep
• Overeating, often with cravings for chocolate and high-carbohydrate foods
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Weight gain
• Possibly lowered immunity, with increased incidence of illness
• Relationship difficulties, inability to socialise

Symptoms usually begin in the autumn months as daylight reduces, and start to improve in the spring. December to February tends to be when symptoms are at their most severe.

Children
SAD is rare in childhood. However, when children are affected, it may present as irritability and sluggishness.

What Causes SAD?
The exact cause(s) are unclear. Women in their reproductive years are most at risk, as is the case for all forms of depression, suggesting a hormonal link. Obviously, reduced daylight is another causal factor. It is thought that this relative lack of sunlight affects levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin
Serotonin, also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine, is a monoamine vasoconstrictor, derived from the amino acid, tryptophan from protein. It is found in high concentrations in many body tissues, including the wall of the intestine, pineal body, in the blood, and the central nervous system. It is involved in mediating numerous functions, such as reducing stomach acid secretion and serving as a neurotransmitter (messenger in the nervous system).

People with SAD have been found to have reduced serotonin levels, especially in the winter. Given the number of widespread roles of serotonin in the body, it is easy to see how low levels would potentially result in many symptoms.

Melatonin
Melatonin is a hormone produced from serotonin in the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin secretion is high at night (which makes us sleep) and low during the day (hence, we wake). It is involved in the regulation of sleep, mood, puberty and ovarian cycles. Indeed, the pineal gland plays a major role in establishing circadian rhythms ("body clock"). Bright light inhibits melatonin secretion, hence it is often recommended that people with insomnia should not use computers or be in other brightly lit situations immediately before bed.

People with SAD have raised melatonin levels. Studies have found that when people with SAD increase their exposure to light, their melatonin levels fall to within normal range, yet continue to experience the symptoms of SAD. This suggests that raised melatonin is not the only causal factor involved in developing SAD.

Disrupted circadian rhythm ("body clock")
The body normally regulates functions such as digestion, sleep and energy levels throughout each 24 hour period. However, reduced sunlight can disrupt this regulation, leading to SAD symptoms such as depression.

Other possible causes or triggers of SAD
Other triggers which have been suggested include:

  • trauma or a major stressful event
  • serious illness
  • medication
  • withdrawal from drugs or alcohol
  • relocation from a region nearer the equator 

Self-help 
General self-help strategies:
  • Exercise helps all forms of depression. Walking is an excellent, safe, exercise for most people.
  • Time outdoors, especially around midday (or sitting by a bright window) increases daylight exposure, so helping symptoms. Limit use of sunglasses when experiencing SAD.
  • Try to be optimistic, reminding yourself that the depression will lift.
  • Tell others you have SAD, so they are likely to be more understanding.
  • Avoid stress as much as possible.
  • Improve diet. Attempt to avoid eating excess carbohydrates. 
NB. Spending time in a sunny location (eg. a holiday) whilst affected by SAD may reduce symptoms temporarily, but then lead to an exacerbation on returning home, since SAD is usually a reaction to changes in season. 

Light Therapy
Light boxes are growing in popularity as a therapy to reduce symptoms of SAD (see links below). They emit bright light, but without the harmful Ultra Violet Radiation (UVR). Light boxes are available in different strengths and sizes. They are generally more effective when used in the early morning, and for approximately half to two hours, but the most effective use varies between people, with the brightness of the day and with the box used. It is advisable to not use them before bed though, as this may cause insomnia (see melatonin above).

Dawn-stimulating alarm clocks, although less bright than light boxes, can be used to gradually increase light in the hour before waking. This can be especially useful if someone finds it difficult to wake up in the morning when affected by SAD.

Occasionally, light therapy may cause headaches or blurred vision.

TANNING SALONS ARE NOT A TREATMENT FOR SAD!
....even though it is sometimes said that they are!

Talking therapies
Talking therapies can be a useful adjunct. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which aims to change mood by altering thought patterns, may help. Counselling and psychotherapy are worth considering.

NHS therapists (see your GP to be referred) often have long waiting lists. If considering consulting a therapist privately, it is important to look for one who is properly qualified and registered. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a list of such accredited practitioners in each area (see links below).

Medications
Antidepressant medications are often prescribed. These do not cure SAD, but may reduce symptoms. The antidepressant drugs usually given are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), for example, paroxetine (Seroxat), Fluoxetine (Prozac), Sertraline (Lustral).

Herbs
St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Many people have reported finding St John's Wort beneficial.

NB. Herbalists use whole plant extracts of St John's Wort, rather than extracts which contain isolated constituents from the plant, as tends to be the case in over-the-counter preparations. This is because whole plant extracts are believed to be safer, having been used safely in this way for many generations. In contrast, the use of isolated constituents is relatively new, and has been associated with side-effects.

St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St John's Wort has many useful actions. However, its effect on improving mood is believed to be partly achieved by blocking the re-uptake of dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline and Gamma AminoButyric Acid (GABA).

Although it was once considered that the active constituents in St John's Wort were hypericin and pseudohypericin, it is know known that hyperforin, chlorogenic acid, rutin and quercitin are also required - hence the benefit of herbalists using whole plant extracts which do not remove these other vital constituents! It is likely, as is the case for the majority of herbs, that St John's Wort exerts its action through the synergy of its constituents. It is often the case, for example, that many constituents are required for the main active constituents to be absorbed.  

*St John's Wort can be used in conjunction with light boxes, as the function of these boxes is to act via the eyes (not the skin) and they emit visible light, not UVR, as reported by the Skin Cancer Foundation (see above, and also the relevant link below). It is usually advised to use a light box with a UVR filter in order to ensure this is the case.

St John's Wort may not be suitable for everyone. If in doubt, check!
 
Other herbs which have been used to help mood:
A great many herbs have been used to help mood. A few are mentioned below. Herbalists rarely use herbs singly. Instead, a few herbs are combined, with the individual's case history in mind. A carefully balanced prescription of herbs will select those which work well together and are most suitable for that particular person.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm has a long history of use as a herb to help banish "the blues". Indeed, the 17th Century herbalist, John Evelyn wrote "balm is sovereign for the brain, strengthening the memory, and powerfully chasing away melancholy". Lemon balm has numerous other applications, for example, it is also taken by people to help alleviate anxiety and/or digestive problems. Studies are emerging which appear to back up these traditional uses. Furthermore, there is mounting evidence for the use of lemon balm to address Alzheimer's disease.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Many old herbal texts describe rosemary as a "thymoleptic", ie. to improve low mood. The old saying "rosemary is for remembrance" refers to the age-old use of rosemary for increasing blood flow to the brain, so potentially improving memory. Rosemary has numerous other uses, as is often the case with herbs. These uses are increasingly supported by modern research.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is another plant with a long history of traditional use for easing low mood, anxiety, insomnia and for improving memory. It also has uses in the gastrointestinal tract. Its use as a medicine is not new, having been popular since the late Middle Ages. The herbalist John Parkinson (1640) described lavender as being of "good use for all griefs and pains of the head and brain". It probably goes without saying that this is a wonderfully aromatic plant, rich in volatile oils, which studies show have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.


References, useful links and further reading
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) www.bacp.co.uk
For a list of accredited practitioners in your area, for talking therapies.

Grieve, M. (1931). A Modern Herbal. Mineola: Dover Publications. P76-77

Living Life to the Full www.llttf.com
Free online CBT information, supported by the Scottish NHS

Lumie www.lumie.com
For information on light boxes (as recommended by MIND)

MIND for mental health www.mind.org.uk 
Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (2013) – Fact sheet/PDF [online]. Available from: NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Seasonal-affective-disorder/Pages/Introduction.aspx [Accessed15th January, 2015]

Partonen, T. & Magnusson, A. (2001). Seasonal Affective Disorder: Practice and Research. Oxford University Press. 

Persaud, R. (2007). The Mind. A User's Guide. London: Bantam Press. P205-211

Rang, H.P., Dale, M.M., Ritter, J.M., Flower, R.J. (2007). Rang and Dale's Pharmacology, 6th Ed. Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone. P189-197 

Rosenthal, N.E. (2005). Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA) www.sada.org.uk 
For information and support

Seasonal Affective Disorder shop www.sad-lighthire.co.uk 
Information line: 01704 500 505
For information on light boxes and SAD (as recommended by MIND)

Simon, C., Everitt, H. & Dorp, F. (2010). Oxford Handbook of General Practice, 3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. P1001

Skin Cancer Foundation
For information on how tanning salons are NOT a treatment for SAD!
http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/tanning/seasonal-affective-disorder
[Accessed15th January, 2015]

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Having difficulty sleeping?

Insomnia, or difficulty sleeping, is a very common complaint, and one with far reaching consequences, as good quality sleep is necessary for the body to maintain normal physical and mental function.

Simply put, we need good quality sleep to maintain (or restore) good health.

Someone may have difficulty falling asleep (sleep-onset insomnia), or frequent or early awakening (sleep-maintenance insomnia).

Stages of sleep

Normal sleep involves alternating between two types of sleep:

(i) Slow-wave sleep - most sleep is of this type.
This type of sleep is sub-divided into stages 1-4, where stage 1 is the lightest stage of sleep, and stage 4 the deepest. Typically a person will move from stage 1 to 4 in less than one hour.

This is the deep, restful sleep. There is decreased blood pressure, respiratory rate and metabolic rate.
Although this phase of sleep is sometimes referred to as "dreamless sleep", dreams do sometimes occur, but are usually not remembered.

(ii) Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep - occurs in episodes throughout the sleep period.
REM episodes occur approximately every 90 minutes, each lasting between 5 and 30 minutes. When a person is very tired, the duration of REM episodes is short. As the person becomes more rested as their sleep progresses, the duration of their REM episodes becomes longer.

This stage of sleep is not so restful, and is associated with vivid dreams. The brain is highly active, and brain metabolism increases by as much as 20%. In fact, electroencephalograms (EEGs) show a pattern of brain waves similar to those seen during wakefulness. The heart rate and respiratory rate are often irregular.

Functions of sleep

Whilst it is accepted that sleep is very important to maintain health, the precise reasons remain unclear, and research into this continues. For example, since 50% of an infant's total sleep is of the REM type, compared to 25% REM sleep in an adult, it is proposed that REM sleep in infants is important for maturation of the brain.

As brain blood flow and oxygen use is higher during REM sleep, it is postulated that this type of sleep is necessary for body tissue repair. It certainly appears to be the case that as health recovers from some long-term illnesses, sleep quality and dreaming is restored and is seen as an indicator of health improvement.

The majority of Growth Hormone (GH) secretion occurs during sleep. It is thought that many of the functions of sleep are mediated via the release of this hormone. GH is sometimes called the "antiaging" hormone as studies suggest it stimulates tissue regeneration, muscle building, normalisation of blood glucose levels, to name but a few of its actions.

Various studies have linked insomnia to an increased risk of raised blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression, in addition to impaired thinking and quality of life.

Tryptophan and brain serotonin

The amino acid, tryptophan (found in most proteins) is a precursor of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. This is important because serotonin is involved in mood (and many other widespread functions). Thus, low serotonin is thought to contribute to insomnia, as well as to anxiety and depression.

This would perhaps explain how poor diet and/or poor digestion (ie. low levels of available tryptophan) can lead to insomnia. (It should be noted though that supplementation with tryptophan is unlikely to remedy this situation as it cannot cross the various barriers into the brain. Clearly, the long-term solution is to address diet and digestion issues instead).

Causes and Treatments

Many insomniacs resort to over-the-counter preparations to address their lack of sleep, whilst others seek stronger medications from the GP, often with various unwanted side-effects. However, a thorough history taking will often reveal likely cause(s) of the problem, thus leading to a long-term solution, and eliminating the need for medications. 

Possible causes of insomnia are many and varied, and include existing health complaints such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, poor control of blood glucose levels, pain, restless leg syndrome, poor digestion (including food intolerances), low mood and side effects of medications.

As always, the importance of determining the cause of the insomnia in the individual cannot be overstated.

Herbs

Fortunately, over the generations, many herbs have been recorded as useful for helping sleep. Studies are now being performed which are attempting to elucidate their mechanisms.

Herbalists rarely use herbs singly though. Usually these herbs are combined with others in order to address the perceived underlying cause(s) of the problem in each individual person.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Chamomile


Chamomile tea has a long-standing reputation as a drink to promote sleep. Herbalists frequently use chamomile tincture, usually in conjunction with other herbs.

Marcello Spinella, an Assistant Professor of Psychology, has written that the calming, sedative effect of chamomile is a consequence of the constituent apigenin binding to benzodiazepine receptors. It is probable that many other constituents are also needed to achieve this effect though.

However, chamomile has far more wide-ranging uses than this. It has been described as the "Mother of the gut", hinting at its use for helping gut inflammation, nausea, bloating, spasms and generally aiding digestion. It has also been used by those with hayfever, sinusitis and catarrh, in addition to headaches, especially those caused by poor digestion or stress.

Cooled chamomile tea can be used to soothe hot/itchy skin conditions such as heat rash or urticaria (hives).

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

Passionflower


Passionflower is another herb commonly used by those struggling to get a good night's sleep. Whilst various species have been used, Passiflora incarnata is the main one used in Europe. Again, as with chamomile, there is a long history of traditional use of this herb for sleep and for other nervous system complaints.

Modern research continues to investigate the mechanism of action of various constituents. It is thought that the various flavonoids are likely to be important.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian


Valerian has been used to ease anxiety and aid sleep since Roman and Greek times. Dioscorides described it as having a mild sedative effect. It is said that a minority of people find it "stimulating" though - so it may not be the herb of choice for everyone!

Valerian has attracted a great deal of scientific interest, with numerous studies supporting this traditional use, although often the valerian was used in conjunction with other herbs too. The debate concerning the exact mechanisms continues. It is thought that GABA receptors are likely to be involved as these are also targeted by benzodiazepines, barbiturates and anaesthetics. Studies are investigating the possible importance of adenosine, serotonin and/or melatonin receptors. It has been reported that some studies concluded valerian was as effective as benzodiazepine sedatives, but without addiction, so it's definitely worth considering whether it might be a suitable alternative.

Limeflower (Linden blossom) (Tilia spp)

Limeflower


Limeflower is another herb commonly used in night-time teas. Traditionally it has been used to calm the mind, and for stress and panic, as well as for "nervous palpitations".

Generations of herbalists have also added limeflower to prescriptions for headaches, especially stress-induced, high blood pressure, catarrh, sinusitis and for colds and 'flu'. Limeflowers can be used to make a lotion to soothe itchy skin as they contain mucilage.   

Wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

Wild lettuce


Wild lettuce is a less well known herb, and hardly the showiest (!), but still often used by herbalists. It is gathered when it is in flower in late Summer, and the leaves and white latex used. Dioscorides (1st century AD) wrote that the effect of the wild lettuce resembled that of opium poppy - so, again, hardly a new sleep remedy!

Wild lettuce can also be made into a cough remedy, frequently in combination with liquorice. Herbalists also use it combined with other herbs, as appropriate, to address pain.


The list of herbs to help insomnia could easily go on and on and on....! The herb(s) most suitable though will depend on the individual and on the underlying cause of the insomnia. Additionally, not all herbs are suitable for all people. If in doubt, seek advice.



Useful references and further reading

Chevallier, A. (1996). The Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants. London: BCA.

Chien, K., Chen, P., Hsu, H., Su, T., Sung, F., Chen, M. (2010). Habitual sleep duration and insomnia and the risk of cardiovascular events and all-cause death: report from a community-based-cohort. Sleep 33: 177-184

Guyton, A.C. & Hall, J.E. (2011). Textbook of Medical Physiology, 12th Ed. Philadelphia: Saunders. P721-725

Johnson, E.O., Roth, T., Breslau, N. (2006). The association of insomnia with anxiety disorders and depression: exploration of the direction of risk. J Psychiatr Res 40: 700-708

Jones, D.S. (2010). Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor: The Institute for Functional Medicine. P641-643

Neckelmann, D., Mykletun, A., Dahl, A. (2007). Chronic insomnia as a risk factor for developing anxiety and depression. Sleep 30: 873-880

Pizzorno, J.E. & Murray, M.T. (2006). Textbook of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed. Missouri: Churchill Livingstone. P1829-1835

Roane, B., Taylor, D. (2008). Adolescent insomnia as a risk factor for early adult depression and substance abuse. Sleep 31: 1351-1356

Spinella, M. (2001). The Psychopharmacology of Herbal Medicine, plant drugs that alter mind, brain and behaviour. Massachusetts: The MIT Press. P226-229

Tortora, G.J. & Derrickson, B. (2006). Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 11th Ed. Hoboken: Wiley. P565-567

Vgontzas, A., Liao, D., Bixler, E., Chrousos, G., Vela-Bueno, A. (2009). Insomnia with objective short sleep duration is associated with a high risk for hypertension. Sleep 32: 491-494