How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

How do Herbs Influence Sleep and Dreams?

Many dreamers are affected by the energy in and around their bedroom. In fact, just the other night, while sleeping over at a friend’s house, I had the experience of incorporating her alarm clock- a new sound to me- into my dream. Lights, sounds or the people nearby us when we sleep, and even the bedroom itself can subtly influence our dreaming.

We can also consciously set up a sleeping environment to effect and enhance our dreaming. One of my favorite ways to do this is with plants, or what we herbalists refer to as: “sleeping with herbs.”

Mugwort: The Dream Herb

The plant most associated with dreaming is mugwort, artemisia vulgaris. Named after the Greek moon goddess, Artemis, mugwort is sacred and revered wherever it grows. Like its botanical relative, sagebrush, mugwort has a long use in folk medicine for cleansing and protection.

An old Summer Solstice tradition among the Slavic people of Poland was to make huge bonfires of mugwort. Everyone in the village, including the animals, would pass through the smoke of mugwort to protect themselves from negative energies such as illness or the evil eye.

Mugwort is also one of the most renowned plants for dreaming. Mugwort can enhance dreams and assist with dream recall. It is a great plant to work with if you have a difficult time remembering your dreams. It can also increase the vividness of dreams. I’ve heard many reports of mugwort giving the dreamer vibrant, technicolor “Alice in Wonderland” type dreams.

Healing Dream Ally

Mugwort, which I like to call “the queen of medicinal herbs” is a great ally to support your practice of healing dream incubation. Mugwort is a principal herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as moxibustion. The herb is safely burned near or on the body to stimulate energy in the acupuncture points and meridians. According to TCM, the energy of mugwort is identical to that of the human body.

As a healing herb, mugwort has great potential to assist in our healing when we are both awake and asleep. Try incorporating mugwort into your practice of incubating healing dreams. This powerful herbal ally can help to potentiate the healing you receive on many levels in your dreams.

However, for people who already have very active dream states, mugwort may be too powerful of an herb to work with. Sometimes dreaming with mugwort can translate to a night of non-stop, active dreaming- the kind of night that leaves you tired in the morning. I once woke up in the middle of the night and tossed my stalk of mugwort out of my bedroom. My dreams that night were incredibly vivid and intense and I felt like I just needed a good night’s sleep!

There are several ways you can incorporate mugwort into your dreamtime. One is to simply put a piece of the plant, fresh or dried, on your altar or under your pillow. Or you could sew a mugwort dream pillow. Another option is to take a 3-5 drops of a mugwort tincture before going to bed. You can also try drinking mugwort tea, but it tastes too bitter for most people.

Mugwort is also a good plant to use as smudge (incense). If you smudge your bedroom with mugwort before going to bed, you are guaranteed to notice the effect in your dreams.

Do not take mugwort internally if you are pregnant or nursing. Mugwort has a powerfully stimulating effect on the uterus and can cause uterine contractions and possibly miscarriage in early pregnancy. In this case, it is best to work with mugwort as a smudge, dream pillow or as an object on your altar.

For more suggestions about how to use mugwort as a dreaming aid, see DreamTribe member Ryan Hurd’s post: Mugwort Helps with Remembering Dreams

Chamomile: A Remedy for Nightmares

Chamomile is an incredible plant with many healing benefits to the physical body. It can help us with sleep and dreams.

Chamomile is a great ally for alleviating nightmares. If you are plagued with bad dreams, try drinking some chamomile tea before bed or placing some chamomile under your pillow. A chamomile bath before bed is a lovely way to prepare for a good, peaceful night’s rest. Simply fill a muslin bag or an old clean sock with a handful of chamomile and add it to a hot bath. Relax, enjoy and soak in the medicine!

Chamomile can be especially helpful to help relieve nightmares in children. As adults, we may have enough understanding of dreams to know that nightmares can be helpful messages from our psyche. However, to a child a scary dream monster may just be plain scary and can seriously interfere in their ability to sleep. In this case, chamomile can give us the courage to face and transform our frightening dreams.

An Herbal Ally for Treating Insomnia

Chamomile is very nourishing and relaxing to the nervous system and can be very useful to prevent and treat insomnia. Chamomile helps us to relax the tension we hold in our physical body. If pain or stiffness is keeping you awake at night, you might want to try drinking a cup of chamomile tea or taking a bath with it before bed.

Chamomile is also very healing to the emotions. It helps to relieve fear and anxiety that may be keeping you awake at night. In this case, the tea, tincture or bath of chamomile might be helpful. Another suggestion is to make a dream pillow of chamomile of put a few drops of chamomile essential oil on your pillow so you are able to inhale the healing scent of the plant all night long.

How Have You Dreamed with Plants?

Many other plants can have a healing effect on our dream state. I will continue to write about this topic in future posts and welcome your stories about dreaming with plants.
For more useful tips on how to work with plants and dreams, please refer to my earlier post: 7 Ways to Dream with Plants

Upcoming Class: Mind-Body-Healing Dreamgroup

I have a few spots left in my dreamgroup which starts April 8. It’s an intimate gathering in Berkeley, CA. If you’re interested in learning more, click here: Dream Group

chamomile image by Eddie 07 @ flickr.com

About the Author:

Inspired and guided by her ancestors, Atava has been studying and practicing healing arts for over 20 years. Atava teaches across the country and sees clients in her healing practice Ancestral Apothecary in Oakland, CA. She also has a unique line of herbal products infused with prayer and magic. Her website is www.ancestralapothecary.com

13 Comments

  1. Kit Cooley April 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Atava, for another great article. I also had to ban mugwort from my bedroom for now. Too much “action,” not enough rest. I will try the chamomile for my aching joints and insomnia. (I recommended the same to my mom yesterday, as she has the same complaints.)

    I’m putting together some dream pillows to sell at the farmer’s market this year. Dreaming with you in spirit, sister.

  2. Jennifer April 3, 2011 at 10:32 am - Reply

    I love suggestions like these! I’m a natural health freak and always intrigued with expanding my subconscious capabilities… or just getting a GOOD night’s rest! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Please keep ‘em comin’!

  3. Jessica April 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    I have also smoked mugwort in an herbal ‘cigarette’. The first time doing this I experienced very bright epic dreaming that lasted all night. It was very like Alice in Wonderland. I adore mugwort as moxibustion. Thank you for this article.

  4. Sleeping Realities April 5, 2012 at 9:00 pm - Reply

    This is neat! I have a 4-year-old with frequent insomnia/hard time falling asleep. I’m going to try giving him some chamomile tea. If he won’t drink it, I’ll see if I can figure out how to get my hands on enough dried chamomile to make a little pillow. Not sure how I’d do that, though… Thanks for the article!

    • Atava Garcia Swiecicki April 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm - Reply

      A simple way to make a chamomile pillow is to stuff some chamomile in an old sock & tie it up! A chamomile bath could be helpful too for your son. You could use the same sock full of chamomile & put it in the tub to make a bath tea. Good luck!

  5. Rene Graboski June 6, 2013 at 9:51 am - Reply

    The term aching is usually used to describe an uncomfortable sensation that makes you want to shift position. It is a sort of pain, but not a sharp pain. The discomfort is a very vague sensation, you know your legs ache, but you can’t really identify where the pain is coming from exactly. Tired, aching legs can become a problem if they are like that a lot of the time and prevent you working, getting out and doing every day thins, or if they stop you sleeping well..-”,

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  10. Natasha July 7, 2014 at 6:19 am - Reply

    Thank you for this article! I think I can attribute my recent dream patterns to a tea I’m taking. I’m drinking throat coat tea with lemon echinacea by Traditional Medicinals and I’ve noticed my dreams are not only more enhanced, but more fantastical and action packed. I’ve even woken up in a sweat. I think I will stop drinking this before bed, and with dinner instead. I’m already a vivid dreamer. This joggles my head quite a bit!

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