Inspired by Michelle’s post about tea and health, I thought I would write about the one time I absolutely never drink tea: Late at night. A regular sufferer of insomnia, I have learned through experience that I can’t have caffeine within five hours of bedtime, else I’ll toss and turn for at least a couple hours. There are some decaffeinated camellia teas; I favor black tea with vanilla (my favorite being Harney & Son’s vanilla comoro) with a little heavy cream. Something about the vanilla and cream makes it instantly soothing, in addition to the comfort of a hot drink. But there are drawbacks to decaffeinated tea, especially the extra processing and chemical exposure that it usually involves (more information here).
A reasonable alternative is herbal tisanes. There are lots of options: The list of tisanes to drink for flavor is basically endless. And then there are those that are even known to help with insomnia or trouble sleeping. I’m just going to mention what I think are the big three: Chamomile, lavender, and valerian.
German Chamomile is the first herb many people think of when they can’t sleep. It’s a powerhouse for soothing, relaxing, and calming anxiety; with a mellow, lightly floral flavor that mixes with almost any other herb and helps smooth out the flavor. It can also be very beneficial for people who have digestive troubles that lead to sleep difficulties, as it’s also used for soothing a sour stomach. The bright yellow color is not only cheerful, it’s strong enough to use as dye or for naturally bringing out highlights in hair. It’s safe for almost everyone to use, except for those who are allergic to plants in the daisy family. The only problem I have ever had with chamomile is that the little bits tend to get stuck in my mesh tea strainers and are a hassle to get out!
German chamomile can have some contraindications with medications, including those that contain estrogen, those that are changed by the liver, and some sedatives.
The scent of lavender is downright heavenly, and there’s nothing like walking through a field full of the clusters of purple-topped stems. When used in a tisane, lavender is well known for its mind-soothing effects; and is commonly used to treat restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and headaches. The taste is naturally sweet and very floral with a distinctive flavor, but can be a bit strong. Remedies involving lavender go back for centuries, from ancient Rome onward. I remember learning how to make lavender pillows as a child, a practice that started during the Middle Ages. Queen Elisabeth even used it in tea to treat her migraines. (Source)
Lavender can have contraindications with sedative medications.
Well known and commonly used as a sleep aid, valerian root is on the stronger side. Similar in effect to taking melatonin, it’s a heavy sedative. Some people need to use it regularly for up to four weeks before they see an effect. There are mixed opinions of whether it causes drowsiness in the morning, so some caution might be advised until you are familiar with the effect that it will have on you. When used in a tisane (usually tiny pieces of root) the flavor is dry and musty, so if flavor is important you might want to mix it with something else. (Source)
Valerian Root can have serious contraindications with sedatives and with alcohol.
As always, be extremely cautious of using herbal supplements without first consulting a medical professional with some knowledge of herbs or willingness to research.