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To Get a Good Night’s Sleep

Island Epicure

Do you have a hard time turning off your mind and getting to sleep during this busy, exciting pre-Christmas season? Or fall asleep okay, but wake up around after four or five hours and find promptly going back to sleep impossible?

Don’t worry about it. Worry equals tension, equals wakefulness. Way back when humans were cave people, somebody always had to stay awake and keep the fire at the front of the cave burning to make sure no predatory  nocturnal carnivore sneaked and made off with one of the children. No doubt  each adult took a shift until getting too sleepy for effective guard duty, then woke up a replacement or tagged whoever was already awake. Compared to the million or more years of homo sapiens existence, our modern era is brief. Being awake for a time during the night may be quite natural, and staying asleep all night an acquired talent. Or evidence that we’ve not been sleeping our required  seven or eight or nine hours.

Perhaps even in those prehistoric days, we knew that certain plants made getting to sleep easier, and chewed wild sage, valerian, catnip, chamomile. You probably have dried sage at least in your kitchen.  Now that we’ve domesticated fire and invented kettles and cups, we can make a soporific tea of it.

We know sage (Salvia oficinalis) best as a  flavoring herb for turkey stuffing, or for flavoring meatloaf, and as an herb that enhances pork when cooked with it, but it is also calming and soporific.  We can grow it in our gardens, or buy the herb, and make a sleepy-time tea that tastes good, comforts a sore throat, and is said to aid memory and lengthen life. In the Middle Ages, a Latin proverb was: Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto. Translation: Why should a man die when sage flourishes in his garden? The name ‘salvia’ means ‘health’ or ‘salvation’.

When herbal medicine was the only kind we had, sage was considered a cure for whatever might ail a person, a mild sedative, and a preventer of colds and flu. It originated, and still grows wild, in the Mediterranean. Roman legionnaires carried it all over Europe in their backpacks, believing that it made them strong. They planted it at their camps.
In Crete two old men in Turkish style pantaloons and headbands gave us handfuls of wild sage and told us to drink tea made from it all winter to stay healthy.

It must have worked; we all stayed well that winter though the temperature in December went down to 50 degrees in our unheated villa. And we slept well, snuggled in sleeping bags, despite drinking Greek coffee all day to keep warm. I don’t advise drinking any caffeinated beverage after 4:00 p.m.  Even decaf has some stimulating caffeine.

Sage tea: Cover 1 teaspoon of crumbled dried sage with 1 cup of boiling water. Let steep 5 minutes. Add a lemon slice and a few drops of honey if desired.  

If you would go to sleep promptly, refrain from after-dinner television and computer work within three hours of bedtime. The brightly lit screens steal melatonin from your eyes and stimulates your mind. Reading is more apt to make you sleepy than to keep you awake, especially if you choose something boring.