Having trouble sleeping? Before reaching for the big guns, try these herbal sleep remedies. I’ve chosen these three herbs because they’re effective and you’ll find them growing in your garden.

Whilst the plants listed below contain plant chemicals (phytochemicals) which research has found to be sedating or sleep inducing, a further advantage of these herbal sleep remedies is the act of making your own medicine, mindfully taking care of yourself (studies refer to this as tend and befriend), and the relaxation that comes from that.

Garden Lettuce

herbal sleep remedyRobinson’s new family herbal which was published in 1863 describes the juice from the lettuce as lettuce-opium. An interesting thought, but not quite on the opium scale of sedation. To make your bedtime decoction, simmer 1/4 of a head of garden lettuce gently in milk for 10-minutes. Strain and sip slowly.

Although milk has the added advantage of tryptophan, a tea made with lettuce leaves is also effective if you are dairy free. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which must be included in your diet because your body can’t make it. It’s necessary for the creation of serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitter which also plays a role in regulating sleep) and for melotonin (one of the hormones that plays a role in your circadian rhythms).

Research has found the plant chemical lactucin which is found in your garden lettuce (Lactuca virosa for the gardeners) acts as a painkiller and is equivalent to ibuprofen and that it is also sedating.

Lemon Balm tea

I’ve chosen lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) because it’s happily growing vibrantly in any New Zealand garden this time of year. Best picked when the sun is shining so you maximise those volatile oils, it can be picked whenever you need it and the leaves smell lemony when you pass your hand through it. Dried lemon balm becomes less effective as those volatile oils escape so make the most of your summer harvest with fresh lemon balm tea. Research has confirmed its use in helping reduce insomnia and anxiety. It is also a great digestive tea to take at bedtime.

Make the most of those delicate volatile oils by steeping in boiled water in a teapot or a covered cup for 5-minutes. Sip slowly.

Lemon balm may reduce the ability of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to bind to its receptor so it should be used with caution by people with thyroid problems such as Graves’s disease or if you are taking thyroid hormone replacement therapy.


Lavandula angustifolia is my all-time favourite night time herb. Nothing beats a bath with lavender essential oil.

Research has found lavender essential oil can be helpful in reducing generalised anxiety, restlessness, disturbed sleep and agitation. Lavender essential oil was found to be helpful in both how long you were able to sleep for and the quality of your sleep. Place 6 – 8 drops on your pillow or if you enjoy a bath add up to 10 drops to the bath, soak and inhale. You can drink lavender flowers as a tea but, in my opinion, it tastes a little soapy or perfumed.

If it has been a while since you had a restful sleep

Sleep disturbance happens from time to time and there are a variety of ways to address it. As with all things related to your health, if it doesn’t go away of its own accord within 2-3 weeks, please seek help from a medical professional.

If you are interested in exploring herbal sleep options that are tailored specifically to you, I’d love to help. You can book online to see me at my clinic in the Wairarapa by clicking on this link: https://tracytutty.setmore.com/


Cases, J., et al., (2011). Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Med J Nutrition Metab., 4(3): 211 – 218.

Koulivand, P., et al., (2013). Lavender and the Nervous System. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013. Published online 2013 Mar 14. doi:  10.1155/2013/681304

Yurcheshen, M., et al., (2015). Updates on Nutraceutical Sleep Therapeutics and Investigational Research. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015: 105256.

Wesołowska A., et al., (2006). Analgesic and sedative activities of lactucin and some lactucin-like guaianolides in mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 107 (2), 254 – 258.