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When you can't get to sleep, rest easy - there's more than hop pillows to help.

THERE has been a lot of media interest recently in hops (humulus lupulus).

The tall plant grows throughout Europe and Asia and is a member of the Cannabaceae family and contains bitter properties.

In herbal medicine the female plant's flowers are used, generally for their nervine or sedative properties.

But they are also an excellent digestive aid and have a beneficial effect on the liver.

Traditionally hops have been incorporated in herbal pillows to enhance sleep. But if they are a suitable medicinal choice for an individual, an internal prescription might be more appropriate.

It should be remembered that hops contain phytoestrogens but, as yet, no conclusive trials have been completed in relation to phyotoestrogens and certain hormone sensitive conditions, for example breast, cervical and prostate cancer.

My opinion is that it would be best to avoid hops in such cases.

The herbal pharmocopia states that hops are also contra-indicated in certain types of depression.

There are also a range of other plants worthy of mention in relation to sleep disturbances. The most obvious is valerian (valeniana officinalis) - the plant has the most unusual smell and cats find it irresistible.

A good sedative and a powerful antispasmodic, valerian can be useful when pain and spasms accompany insomnia.

I have used passion flower (passiflora incarnata) in the past for sleep problems, because I find it not quite as drastic a sedative as valerian.

Passion flower could also be appropriate when an overactive mind prevents sleep.

Scullcap (scutellaria lateriflora) cannot really be classed a sedative. It is more of an old-fashioned nerve tonic. I would certainly prescribe the plant in cases where a patient has had prolonged stress.

Scullcap should be prescribed for use in the day, quietening the nervous system in preparation for a sedative at night.

Mistletoe is also worth a mention. This plant has many complex and diverse uses, but for the purpose of this article, I will concentrate on the nervine properties.

Mistletoe could be one of the first plants of choice when a patient is showing signs of stress, with accompanying hypertension.

Obviously, it is vital to investigate the cause of hypertension before any treatment commences.

There are a multitude of plants with sedative and nervine properties, each one slightly different from the next. This is why it is vital that the correct plant is used.

In some cases a simple cup of camomile tea will be sufficient to lull a person to sleep. With other individuals it can take a large dose of valerian to have any effect whatsoever.

Generally I will not combine the more powerful sedative plants. I feel it is rather more logical to use one plant at a time, as two plant constituents could cause a slightly different effect than might be expected.

The use of tinctures needs to be questioned when using sedative plants. The alcohol used in the preservation process is 100% sugar cane alcohol. So is it the alcohol or the plants having the relaxing effect?

I always prescribe either the actual plant or the pure herb powder. But do remember that herbs are not miracle workers.

The person needs to look at lifestyle. Adequate exercise is important and correct diet.

It is also important to consider any underlying medical conditions, such as hyperthyroidism, before embarking on a course of herbal medicine for insomnia.

Liz Sanders is a herbalist in Trecastle. She can be contacted on 01874 638873


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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Mar 23, 2009
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