Sweet Dreams: Herbs and Natural Treatments for Insomnia

Discover the benefits of reishi mushrooms, hops, valerian and passionflower for sleep.

| September/October 2016

  • Valerian is a very effective form of natural sleep aid.
    Photo by iStock
  • Passionflower may reduce spasms during sleep.
    Photo by Fotolia
  • Reishi mushrooms are recommended to relieve insomnia.
    Photo by iStock
  • Valerian is a very effective form of natural sleep aid.
    Photo by Fotolia

As an herbalist, I find most of my solutions for insomnia in the plant world. The type of herb and the dose depend on a person’s specific condition; the dosages listed here are those recommended by the German Commission E when noted. Always discuss changes to your health regimen with your doctor beforehand.

A note from the editors: It’s critical to exercise caution when using sleep aids. Never combine sleep aids, whether herbal or pharmaceutical, and don’t use them with alcohol or other medicines with sedative effects. Never use sedative herbs before driving or using machinery, and discontinue use at least two weeks before surgery. Always inform medical professionals of any herbal medicines you take, and never take any sleep aids without advice from a medical professional if you are pregnant or nursing.

Reishi Mushroom

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is the herb I use most often to relieve insomnia. Though it’s not traditional in Western herbalism, reishi seems to resolve disturbed shen qi, calm a person during the day, reduce anxiety, help overcome environmental distractions and regulate sugar metabolism. Reishi’s active ingredients include polysaccharides, which stimulate the immune system, and triterpene acids, which may help reduce blood pressure.

Dose: Three 1-gram tablets three times a day. Studies indicate reishi is generally safe to use, although there are few reports on its long-term use. Don’t take reishi if you’re taking blood thinners (including warfarin) or medication for diabetes, or if you have low blood pressure or an immune system disorder or take medication for these conditions.


Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) contains alkaloids and flavonoids believed to help tranquilize the central nervous system. I find that using passionflower for sleep gives one a feeling of well-being while reducing spasms and anxiety and aiding sleep.

Dose: For occasional insomnia, drink a cup of tea made by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1⁄2 teaspoon of the dried herb; steep, then sip before going to bed. Passionflower contains alkaloids that can reduce the effects of a class of antidepressants known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors; the German government allows passionflower preparations to contain no more than 0.01 percent of these alkaloids. Do not take passionflower if you’re taking anticoagulant medication or medication for anxiety.

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