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Herbs for Dreaming

There is an abundance of folklore on herbal teas and recipes to help correct sleeping patterns! Many of these have been used with success for centuries.Through trial and error, it was discovered that steeping certain herbs in warm water would produce a relaxing tea; smelling others made their troubles seem less severe, making their minds more able to welcome sleep. Many of these natural remedies remain today, and are verified ways of battling insomnia.

However, apart from some specific herbs that have been seriously investigated for their therapeutic properties, it is difficult to find details on their biochemical interactions with our brain chemistry. The focus of the information presented here will be specifically on the impact some of these herbs have on the nature and quality of our dreams. However, even if we have narrowed our focus on herbs for dreaming, this remains a very broad and subjective field.


Ashwagandha, Bacopa monnieri, Caffeine, Calea zacatechichi, Celastrus paniculatus, Chamomile, Choline, Damiana, EGCg, Epimedium, Galantamine, Gotu kola, Helichrysum, Heimia salicifolia, Huperzine A, Lemon balm, L-theanine, Mugwort, Mucuna pruriens, Myrica Gale, Passion flower, Rhodiola, Silene capensis, Valerian, , Skullcap, Vervain, Wild Asparagus, Wormwood, Yohimbine   


Lucid Dream Tea

Myrica Gale

There is much hype on some herbal recipees and many products on the market, which makes this topic difficult to navigate with success. And, of course, this is an absolutely subjective field. In addition, this is a highly subjective field. Here is an example of tea currently marketed as Lucid Dream Tea and advertised to enhance Dream Recall. After having tried the commercial product without any noticeable effect on my dreams, I decided to explore further and try to work with fresh material. This was the most enjoyable part of the adventure since it required finding and acquiring the plant material. Sweet Gale is a shrub that grows wild along shores. It likes to have its roots in the water and it is definitively not a plant for the garden! 

After securing many kilograms of the leaves over a few kayak trips and drying them properly, I then started drinking the tea on its own or with other herbs. While I had some success with the other herbs I could never pinpoint any particular vibration associated with myrica gale drank as a tea. In order to go to the bottom of this particular plant as a dreaming aid, I then made an alcoholic tincture following James Green's guidance . No luck with that either! My nights and dreams were apparently not altered by myrica gale’s components. 

Is myrica gale really a dreaming herb? Well, there is no historical foundation to such claim. According to the Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, myrica gale was used in northern Europe by the Vikings to produce good old beers. It surely must contain some psychoactive components. However, in spite of all my efforts, I could not open that door to my perception.


Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)

Ashwagandha is a central herb in Ayurveda, the traditional home medicine native to India. As signified by its Latin name somnifera, meaning sleep-inducing, it has been recommended for sound sleep through centuries. Even though scientific studies also support that crude powder of Ashwagandha promotes sleep, the active component with sleep-inducing property remains unknown. In a recent study, the water extract of Ashwaganda leaf was shown to be rich in triethylene glycol that promoted non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep significantly and changed rapid eye movement (REM) sleep slightly, while the alcoholic extract containing active withanolides showed no effect on sleep. (reference)

Bacopa monnieri

Bacopa is another historical Adaptogenic herb, it has been used in India as a form of Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Modern investigations appear to validate Bacopa’s revered status in Ayurvedic traditions and its longstanding uses as an herbal brain-booster. While Bacopa has dozens of potential active ingredients, science identified botanical compounds called bacosides as its primary nootropic 'active ingredients.'

Caffeine

Thomas Yuschak, an expert lucid dreamer, suggests that low doses of caffeine before bed will inhibit deep sleep but still permit sleep onset and light sleep. This is an easy way to heighten the chance of experiencing sleep paralysis while falling asleep. He recommends 50 mg of caffeine an hour before bed. The technique is more effective if paired with a REM booster, such as galantamine.

Calea Zacatechichi

Calea Zacatechichi is a dream herb that is scientifically shown to increase dream recall, dream intensity and hypnagogic imagery.  It also decreases REM sleep, which of course will instigate a REM rebound later. So calea is helpful coming and going. According to Chontal medicine men, Calea helps clarify the inner senses and induces a state of euphoria.  Other effects include mild auditory hallucinations like being more aware of sound, where it’s coming from, and its distance. Chontal natives call these sounds the 'voice of God' and nicknamed the herb the 'Leaf of God'. The primary effect of Calea is to increase the vividness, depth, and clarity of your dreams.  It helps produce dreams that are rich with personal meaning, deeply symbolic, and even prophetic. While the majority of the effects of Calea takes place in the dream world, it also has some effects on walking life.  Ingesting the dream herb induces a state of relaxation, which is ideal before sleep and helps combat insomnia.

Celastrus Paniculatus

Celastrus has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years for its potent medicinal properties.  In particular, it was used as a brain tonic, appetite stimulant, and emetic.  It was much prescribed in cases of forgetfulness, mental fatigue and memory loss.  Celastrus paniculatus is known for promoting longevity, sharpening the mind and memory, and it aids in concentration. Essentially, you benefit during the waking hours, and the herb keeps working while you sleep to fuel dream recollection! Modern medicinal studies have only confirmed the incredible properties of celastrus seeds in supporting mental function. 

One unique benefit of C. Paniculatus is its effect upon dreams. Almost all users report an immediate increase in the vividness of dreams, as well as the sporadic ability to lucid dream. The plant is sometimes marketed expressly for this purpose. There nare many ways to consume C. Paniculatus seeds. However, mModern research has shown that celastrus seeds are just as effective when consumed with next to no prior preparation.  You can even chew 10-12 seeds at a time, up to 100 a day, to get the same Celastrus paniculatus benefits. 

Chamomile

Chamomile has been used as an herbal remedy for insomnia for thousands of years. A recent double blind study by University of Pennsylvania researchers found that chamomile significantly reduces the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

Choline

Choline is brain fuel, heightening the effect of galantamine by providing more acetylcholine in the brain. An amino acid found in many common foods, such as eggs, bananas, and potatoes, it's also cheaply found over-the-counter as soy lecithin.

Damiana (Turnera diffusa)

Damiana affects the psyche, producing a mild emotional uplift that can last for up to ninety minutes. Taken before bed, damiana relaxes one for love-making and promotes pleasant dreams. The dried flowers and leaves of the damiana plant are commonly smoked as an aphrodisiac. Although the primary action of damiana is as an aphrodisiac, it is regularly used to induce dream states, as well. 

EGCg (epigallocatechin gallate extracted from green tea)

EGCG is a polyphenol, a group of plant chemicals with health benefits for humans. It is the most bioactive compound in green tea and occurs almost exclusively in green and white teas. EGCg has been demonstrated to improve memory functions.

Epimedium

Epimedium plant is also known as barrenwort, fairy wings or the more common ‘horny goat weed’ because of its proven aphrodisiac properties. The Epimedium plant is said to contain certain chemical compounds, otherwise known as flavonoids that has antioxidant properties, in addition to having phytoestrogens which have effects similar to the estrogen. This phytoestrogen, known as epimedium icariin is said to block the activity of a certain enzyme in the body, Studies have shown that the administration of icariin has been able to increase the blood flow to the brain and showed improved learning ability and memory. The effect is mainly attributed to the plant’s antioxidant properties and its effect on the nerve impulses as well as the circulatory system.

Galantamine (Galanthus Caucasicus)

This natural supplement has been used for centuries in China as a memory enhancer, and was even noted by the ancient Greeks for its powerful mind-inducing effects. Galantamine is known as a cholinergic agent or a cholinesterase inhibitor. In the brain, the compound blocks the action of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This important neurotransmitter lengthens the REM dreaming phase of sleep and, at heightened levels, increases dream recall, dream vividness, and lucid dreaming. Also, not only does galantamine increase the period of sleep that gives us dreams, but it also seems to help with recalling those dreams upon awakening. 

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)

Gotu kola has safely been used as a natural sleep aid for thousands of years. Gotu kola is an important natural remedy in Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian Ayurvedic medicine  its health benefits are legendary. In traditional Chinese medicine, gotu kola is believed to promote longevity and, in fact, its Chinese name means 'fountain of youth.' Yogis have used it as a meditation aid and it has been thought to restore balance to the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Gotu kola protects your brain from damage incurred by the assaults of everyday life. So far, studies show it protects the brain from neurotoxins like lead, arsenic, aluminum and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a ubiquitous food additive that causes brain fog, migraines, and mood swings. (reference)

Helichrysum Odoratissmum

Helichrysum odoratissmum, better known as Imphepho is native to southern Africa, growing in the midlands of South Africa and the highlands of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Imphepho is valuable in stimulating deep states of meditation, trance, and lucid dreams. It has been used to treat several common ailments among the tribes of South Africa. It was most commonly used to relax people with anxiety disorders and to help sedate those with insomnia. Typically the dried leaves and flowers were smoked several hours before bedtime. Other medicinal uses include using the tea to treat coughs and colds.

Ethnographic reports cite firsthand accounts from shamans from the Lesotho region of South Africa who describe entering a hypnagogic state where dreams are experienced with liveliness and the clarity of normal consciousness. It is in this state of semi-consciousness that the shaman is able to communicate with the spirit world and receive the blessings and knowledge of past generations. They also report that as the body falls into a dream state they feel physically paralyzed, while mind and memory remain intact and coherent. By maintaining this state of awareness over a period of time they are able to enter the dream world with complete faculties and recollective abilities.

Heimia salicifolia

Hemia salicifolia, or Sinicuichi for Sun Opener, is a flowering shrub that grows from Mexico to Argentina and is widely cultivated through its range. Hemia salicifolia has a Shamanic tradition dating to the Aztecs. In addition to aiding lucid dreaming, Heimia Salicifolia is thought to aid astral travel. Those who ingest the herb say that they sometimes experience time travel and out of body experiences. There is speculation that lucid dreaming and astral projection stem from the same part of the brain.

Huperzine A (Huperzia serrata)

Huperzine A is extracted from Huperzia serrata, an herb used in Chinese medicine. It is marketed as a dietary supplement to improve brain function. It may help to improve memory by protecting the nerve cells and has been used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in Asia. Huperzine A is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which means that it inhibits an enzyme that naturally destroys the learning neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Huperzine A is the main component of many commercial supplements advertised to foster lucid dreaming.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

This lemon-scented member of the mint family has been a sleep-inducing superstar for ages, but it seems to be most effective in combination with another herb called valerian. Lemon balm indirectly encourages sleep by improving mood and inducing mental calmness. Lemon balm can be considered a nootropic or a brain-enhancing supplement since as it can improve cognitive performance. It may be a great addition to your dream pillow.

L-Theanine

L-theanine is an amino acid that is found in tea leaves. L-theanine promotes relaxation and facilitates sleep by contributing to a number of changes in the brain. . L-theanine elevates levels of GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters, and they work in the brain to regulate emotions, mood, concentration, alertness, and sleep, as well as appetite, energy, and other cognitive skills. L-theanine also reduces levels of chemicals in the brain that are linked to stress and anxiety. This may also be a way that L-theanine can protect brain cells against stress and age-related damage. In addition, L-theanine enhances alpha brain wavesthet are associated with a state of wakeful relaxation. That’s the state of mind you experience when meditating, being creative, or letting your mind wander in daydreaming. Alpha waves are also present during REM sleep.

Mucuna Pruriens

Mucuna Pruriens is a bean producing plant that has been used in Ayurveda medicine for over 4500 years. This is one of the few known plants that naturally contains a chemical called L-dopa. Although dopamine does not cross the blood brain barrier, L-dopa does and it is the immediate precursor to dopamine. This fact makes Mucuna Pruriens highly effective at increasing dopamine levels within the brain. There are many of reasons to supplement your diet with a little L-dopa even if you aren’t interested in lucid dreaming. Dopamine is vitally important in sustaining your motor skills and as we age our dopamine levels drop significantly. Parkinson disease is an extreme case of this in which movement is severely restricted due to the loss of proper dopamine functionality. The first line of defense in Parkinson disease is L-dopa. (reference)

Supplementing your diet with L-dopa containing substances can help keep you active and feeling young. In addition, dopamine makes you feel good and plays a major role in developing confidence and motivation. So even if lucid dreams aren’t your goal, L-dopa containing supplements can probably do you some good. Of course when it comes to dreaming, dopamine plays a major role in that it is believed the dopamine network must be engaged for dreaming to occur in the first place.

Mugwort ( Artemisia vulgaris)

Mugwort, this long time staple in Europe is superior for treating stomach ailments and eliminating parasitic invaders. This herb often helps one heal while dreaming. Some users report having darker dreams that reveal hidden insights, allowing them to better know themselves and mend from past hurts and experiences. Sweet and floral in scent, Mugwort is excellent for use in essential oils, teas, and for its aromatic qualities during ceremonies and meditation practices. One of the more interesting traditional uses of mugwort is that of a dream herb. It is often used as one of the main ingredients in sleep pillows, and it said to bring the dreamer more lucid dreams. Mugwort is also often used as a smudging (burning) ceremonial herb. It is mildly sedative and useful in calming frayed nerves and easing stress. Mugwort is one of my favorite dream herbs. It works amazing when taken with 5-HTP. In fact, people can often have lucid dreams when taking these two supplements together when going to bed. Many people find that their dreams also become much more creative with mugwort. In fact, some of my most interesting dream experiences have taken place after taking this unique herb.

Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)

Also known as Maypop and native to the USA, the Passion Flower has already been used by native americans for medical purposes. Its roots and leaves contain alkaloids that function as MAO inhibitors, which gives the plant its anti-depressant quality and also increases the effects of mind-altering drugs. Scientific studies proved that Passion Flower reduces anxiety naturally, without any side-effects currently known. It is widely used as a soft sedative, anticonvulsant and hypnagogue. Also, it has been said that the plant helps to induce a powerful imagination, which is why it appears on many lists of natural lucid dream triggers.

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola may exert positive effects on memory and cognition by improving resistance to physical and emotional stress. Thus, the dual action of cognitive stimulation and emotional calming creates benefits for both immediate cognitive and memory performance and for the long-term preservation of brain functions. Rhodiola rosea taken close to bedtime can cause dreams that are excessively vivid, graphic, and rich with details.

Silene capensis 

You may find this herb labeled as it’s technical name Silene Capensis or as ‘undlela zimhlophe‘, as it’s called by the Xhosa peoples of Africa. Noted as a ‘teaching plant’ and considered highly sacred, shamans traditionally use Xhosa dream root to promote lucid dream states in healers and other shamans during initiation ceremonies.

Prophetic dreaming is the main reason I was attracted to this particular plant. Apparently the Xhosa shamans really believe they can see the future with Silene. I tend to believe this is possible but I have yet to find hard evidence to support this. Please let me know if you have some success.

Skullcap

Skullcap is an excellent remedy to relax the nerves and cure my insomnia. Skullcap is indicated to use when a person feels stressed, edgy and agitated. It helps with all kinds of nervous system agitation, including tics, twitches, spasms and seizures. Skullcap has a broad range of clinical application and is used to treat anxiety, depression, pre-menstrual syndrome, nerve pain, and delirium tremens. 

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

The root of this tall perennial flowering plant is dried and used as a calming agent and sleep aid. According to numerous studies, valerian, native to Europe and Asia, may help reduce the amount of time it takes a person to fall asleep and also help increase the duration and quality of sleep. Native to Europe and already used in ancient Greece, the root of the valerian plant is a well-known cure to treat tension induced insomnia, anxiety and nervousness. Because Valerian itself does not cause tiredness, it can also be used for concentration problems. Components of its essential oil are also believed to bind to the GABA receptors. In case of insomnia, valerian often gets mixed with the Passion Flower to enhance its sedative effects

Vervain (Verbena officinalis)

Vervain is said to have a very balancing effect on the body system and hormones, and is used to treat headaches and insomnia and as a tonic for the heart and liver.  Based on these things, and the potential dream enhancing effects, I started taking an extract in capsule form every night before bed.  For about a week I didn’t notice any particularly dramatic effects on my dreams.  However, after a week or so of taking vervain every night, I started to have very intense vivid dreams that felt extremely prophetic in nature.  I even had a few dreams which later manifested themselves in reality within a few days. (reference)

 After this, I was fully convinced of vervain’s power as a dreaming herb. Vervain has long been said to increase awareness, both while awake and during sleep, dramatically.  I have noticed since I started working with vervain that my mind feels more open and I am more likely to be aware of everything around me than I was before.  This is true both while I am asleep and while I am awake.  Vervain is also very helpful in inducing sleep when I am suffering from the occasional insomnia.  I do find that the longer I take vervain, the more powerful the effects become.  Since it so good for health, I would recommend most anyone to use vervain as a daily supplement, whether they are looking to do dream work or not.  It is very balancing and calming, and generally supports a positive mood and good health.  However, it can act as an abortifacient, and so pregnant women should avoid it at all costs.

Wild Asparagus Root

In China wild asparagus root is known as Tian Men Dong, which means “divine spirit herb”, and it has been used by advanced yogi’s and holy people for millennia. It is an incredible tonic for the lungs, kidneys and heart. As a kidney tonic it can help to restore our fundamental life force and increase our ability to handle stress, while reducing the toll that stress takes upon us. It is a very effective respiratory tonic as well, and its ancient reputation as a profound heart medicine is the reason why it is known to be such a powerful substance for enhancing the mind and spirit.

Reported to be very effective at allowing one to fly in their dreams, many herbalists will advise against its use at all if you are not seeking to fly in your dream states. Also known as Asparagus Lucidus or Cochinensis, many Taoists use and recommend this herb for dream mobility, and reports have many users soaring through the skies and all across the universe and even into alternate realities and dimensions. Sweet and slightly bitter, most prefer to make a tea with this herb, and an additional ‘side-effect’ reported of regular wild asparagus root consumption is softer, more supple skin.

Wormwood (Artemisia Absinthum)

As a dream herb, wormwood has not been extensively researched, but numerous independent reports indicate that drinking Artemisia absinthum tea or even just putting some fresh or dried wormwood under one’s pillow can lead to incredibly vivid, beautiful dreams.  After all, since wormwood makes things appear more beautiful and vibrant in the waking world, it would make sense that it would do the same for the dream world!

Yohimbine

Yohimbine boosts norepinephrine significantly. High level of norepinephrine results in improved memory and good intellectual abilities. Not only it helps to remember dreams after awakening, but it also helps to remember dream tasks within the dream.


See also: Bibliography, Booze and dreams, Dream cycles, Dream glossary, Dream hacking, Dream recall, Dreams and brain disorders, Dreams as a source of inspiration, Essential oils, Food and dreams, Herbs for dreaming, Hypnagogic state, Lucid dreaming, Neuroprotective agents, Precognitive dreams, Psychic dreams, Recurring dreams, Shamanic dreaming, Sleeping brain, Sleep deprivation, Weed and dreams, WILD, Yoga Nidra


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