Necessity being the Mother of Invention, seeking cures through what the Earth had to offer was the general norm. Once traditional health care began emerging, however, lack of access to — and an inherent mistrust of — this "new medicine" caused communities of color, especially, to pull from their African, Asian, and indigenous roots to continue to heal themselves and those they loved. Mother Nature was their pharmacy and the salves, poultices and serums created by this need to cure were highly effective. The knowledge of the land and its gifts was then passed down through the generations for a time, until what was once denied was made available, what was once feared became welcome, and the gifts of non-traditional medicine were lost.
For a time.
As the years have gone on, there has been a broader acceptance of the home remedy – aka "holistic medicine." What our ancestors once treated as canon is once again sought after, and more focus is being put on the benefits and success of nature’s gifts for curing our ills and enhancing our lives. These wondrous herbs and minerals are available to all, and sharing how they work and what kinds of combos make the most sense seems like something our mothers’ mothers would really want all of us at Sleep Club to do during Black History Month.
“White Paths”: Restful nights and vivid dreams
Along the eastern cape of South Africa, beautiful white flowers bloom each night and send out a fragrance that is at once riveting and hypnotic. The scientific name is Silene Capensis, also known as Ubulawu, “White Paths”, and African Dream Herb. The shaman of the Xhosa tribe of the east South African river valleys used it to encourage dreams among the people of the region. These nocturnal sojourns are seen as gifts or messages from ancestors, and while not an herb but a flowering plant, African Dream Herb is a psychoactive that induces vivid, colorful visions while sleeping that are supposedly clearly remembered when waking. The plant also helps with mental anxiety and improves memory. Similar to ayahuasca, when vomited, it conveys a feeling of physical and mental cleansing or purging.
There are two ways you can ingest African Dream Herb and they are separated into “the hard way” and “the easy way.”
The hard way is to grind the stems and flowers of the plant, place it into cold water, and stir it vigorously with a fork until it produces a foam. You drink the liquid until you’re full and you feel ready to purge the fluid, then induce vomiting. The foam is then either used to wash the body or eaten late that evening before bed, and the combination brings about vivid dreams. Told you this was “the hard way.”
The easy way is to purchase powdered Silene Capensis roots (which you can order online), place about a tablespoon in a liter of water and let it soak for either a few hours or a few days. Stir it hard with a fork to create a thick layer of foam on top, then drink it in the morning on an empty stomach until you feel bloated and almost ready to vomit. Here’s where we get to the easy part: do not induce vomiting. Keep this up over the next few days or even weeks until you start to feel the effects mentally and when you dream. Pretty intense, huh?
Lavender: The color of calm
Notoriously soothing, calming and relaxing, lavender has been used to lower stress, battle depression, and help people sleep for centuries. Its ability to promote a positive mood and reduce tension supports a refreshed waking state during the daytime, and a longer, more fulfilling snooze at night. Inhaling lavender essential oils not only supports a more restful slumber, but it’s been shown to reduce the pain associated with migraines that can in turn help those folks suffering with headaches sleep better. You can also soak in lavender-infused baths to release tension and calm your nerves, and take supplements to relax and soothe you.
Wild lettuce: Intergenerational relief
Wild lettuce grows around the world and its soothing, pain-relieving properties are a well-documented part of homemade remedies. It's not the leaves that contain the sleep-inducing, stress-relieving wonders that make this such an effective addition to your homeopathic journey, but the milky liquid from its stem. This has something called lactucarium, a fluid that has pain reducing and sleepy properties. Some say the feeling is similar to opium but really it just helps with mild insomnia, soothing anxiety, and calms you down. Wild lettuce is also one of the natural herbs that has very little side effects, making it a good holistic sleep remedy for children. You can’t just buy actual wild lettuce in store and gain the slumber enhancing/anxiety reducing benefits. As with many of the nature made suggestions here, you can find the lactucarium-filled extract online.
Hops: not just for beer
There is this natural sleepy chemical called methylbutenol that makes ingesting certain plants excellent slumber helpers. Hops — as in the flowers that are part of what makes beer, well, beer — just so happens to have it. Back in the early 1900s, doctors suggested the patients suffering from insomnia place a sachet of powdered hops inside their pillow when they lay down for sleep and studies showed it worked. That methylbutenol stuff can be breathed in through the flower’s fragrance, which is a quick and easy way to rest and relax in the evening especially if you follow what the medical pros recommended back in the early 20th century. Hops taste bitter on their own, however, so if you want to drink them as a tea, combine it with another truly wonderful relaxing herb, chamomile, to temper the flavor and even boost the effects.
Warm milk: an international classic
This may not be innovative or incredibly unique, but it is a classic cure for a long-time issue — trouble getting to and staying asleep. Warm milk is one of those homemade potions the African American community has embraced for generations and continues to use far and wide. If you are lactose intolerant, this may not be your favorite option but there are some really wonderful ways to get its benefits, and excellent recipes that make it that much more effective. The reason the cow juice works so well is that it contains L-tryptophan (yep, that stuff in turkey), and that's a good thing because if you consume enough of it, your brain starts producing two of the building blocks of a good night’s sleep — serotonin and melatonin. And why warm it? Well, it is cozy and soothing to drink it warm, which adds to its power to make us welcome sleep.
A legacy of embracing nature
Natural remedies are ancient. Obviously. Indulging in them was not only necessary because the medical industry didn’t exist as we now know it or we lacked access to it once it did (as mentioned) but a way of honoring the Earth by embracing what it has to offer. The domain of home remedies is not just that of the African American community but it is one that has been a part of its legacy and embraced with warmth and joy. These days, finding mainstream herbalists, holistic healers, and homeopathic practitioners is easy and normal, and picking up the various herbs and plants to enhance your rest is as simple as popping into your local well-stocked grocery store or jumping on-line — fun little side note, our Sleep Stripzzz are all-natural boosts of dreamy wonder based on that whole idea of letting Mother Nature do her thing. There is still a natural draw among people of color due to the history and deep love behind them, and the memory of how resourceful our ancestors were. Also, there are the passed down home remedies in boxes hidden under beds and stained notebooks with cramped notes in the margins still brought out when we need them most. Because…
These speak to our essential being and of a home so deep, it is not just in our heart — it is our heart.
Happy Black History Month.