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Sleep is Delicious



Not only is sleep delicious, it is nutritious. Sleep feeds our bodies, minds and souls in ways that we are only beginning to fully comprehend.


A few weeks ago, in an article entitled ‘Fight or Feed’, I wrote about the importance of diet to one’s physical health. I suggested that generally, every morsel of food or drink we ingest, helps or hinders our physical health, and that in fact ‘we are what we eat’.


I wrote too that my children grew up believing that ‘sleep is delicious’. I have no idea where that intuitive declaration came from — a feeling perhaps, or an experienced appetite for peace and restorative healing that I knew could be sated by sleep.


Until quite recently, when our nest emptied, I was entirely too busy with motherhood and the business of business to spend sufficient time reflecting on the lifestyle cultures and habits — good and bad — that I passed on to our children.


Almond, chamomile, mint, rose petal, fennel, cardamom & lavender latte

Food gardening and writing about food gardening has provided me many gifts, not the least of which is time for quiet contemplation, reflection, and a pseudo-scientific form of neurogenesis that bypasses conventional wisdom.


All that means really is that, food gardening on a larger scale has afforded the time, the calm, the quiet, and the connection to nature necessary for proof of concept. Creating our urban permaculture gardens generally, and food gardening specifically, has proven to me that the fundamentals of health and wellness today are as simple as they have always been.


Eat well, sleep well, live and love well within the context of a healthy ecosystem, more-or-less sums it all up, though to what extent we might be able to achieve all of this depends on so many variables inside and outside of our control. Easier said than done to be sure, but it can be done, at least incrementally.


We can for example, place fundamental importance on eating well and sleeping well. Improving just those two areas of our lives can help improve all other areas, and demonstrate to our children that respect for mind, body and nature are non-negotiable.


Some favourite home-grown and ethnic market-sourced ingredients for making sleepy teas

For starters, spending most of one’s time and grocery budget in the ‘outside aisles’ of the grocery store, those aisles dedicated to fresh and unprocessed foods, will help a great deal.


Growing some food at home, in whatever space you have, will help even more. Preparing some meals at home, using store-bought or home-grown produce, has the potential to help the most — with our own health and wellness, and with modelling positive lifestyle culture for our children, friends and community.


The benefits of a whole food diet that leans heavily on plant-based nutrition are infinite are demonstrable, but one doesn’t need to understand the science to benefit from it. There are plenty of online resources, masterclasses, and other resources dedicated to help us change our habits, and change can start with the smallest of intentions.



A healthy and modest home-made meal followed by some low-tech wind-down time, a cup of sleepy herbal tea and an early bedtime can be our proof of concept — all that we need to reap the benefits of truly delicious and restorative sleep. Perhaps that can happen just once a week or even once a month; what matters is that it happens at all.


I used to think that it wasn’t that simple, that life is too busy, that there isn’t enough time or opportunity, but I was wrong. We make it happen to whatever degree we are able within the context of our lives and economy, and we ask for help. We ask friends, organizations, teachers, elders, neighbours, family, and the universe quite frankly, to show us how. It is innate, and it comes naturally if we let it. It can start with a cup of tea.


Family favourite lemon, ginger and honey restorative tea

Consider these facts:

  • As a species we are sleep-quality and sleep-duration deprived. Almost half of North Americans report that they feel sleepy during the day between three and seven days per week. The sleep economy, the dollar value of products, services and applications connecting Americans with sleep exceeds $80B (billion) US dollars annually, currently, and is expected to reach $95B by 2024. Americans spent $429M (million) on 58 million over-the-counter sleep aids in 2020. (Statista)

  • According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, more than 80% of diets are deficient in vegetables, fruits, and dairy.

  • According to the us Department of Agriculture, approximately 11% of US households experienced food insecurity during 2019, a figure that was estimated to have more than doubled during the pandemic.

  • Studies too numerous to list illustrate the causal and inter-related connections between poor diet and poor sleep, poor sleep and poor diet, chronic disease and poor diet and/or lack of sleep, and the health and wellness benefits of spending time in nature (gardening).

It is easy to see that, as a society we have strayed far off the path of health and wellness. It is equally easy to see that, there are small steps we can take individually, as families, and in community, to course correct.


Heat loving lavender is a great container herb as its doesn't like wet feet (roots)

I recognize that, for a percentage of North Americans living in so-called food deserts, where food insecurity discriminates, the burdens of access and misinformation often outweigh inspiration and motivation. I recognize too, and celebrate the initiative of community groups and individuals planting food gardens in empty lots, along parkways, in school yards, and on rooftops — sharing and teaching the young and the old, and those with a moment of time, to take responsibility in small steps for their health and wellness, and show them that they are what the eat, how they sleep, and how they love.


One small and easy step for new food gardeners is container-growing perennial culinary and medicinal herbs for use in cooking, restorative teas, and therapeutic baths. It’s easy.


Today I grow many herbs in two herb spirals in my front and back yards, but before I built those permaculture structures, I grew herbs in containers — all sorts of pots and baskets, and boxes, large and small, acquired from friends and family, and thrift stores.


Patio container-grown herbs shiso, lemon verbena, lemon balm, pineapple sage

I started with the usual oregano, basil, mint and thyme, and then moved onto chamomile, sage, lemon balm, lavender, stevia, coriander, and many more tender and hardy culinary, medicinal, and ceremonial herbs. I use the herbs fresh for cooking, for tea, for baths and in bouquets. I dry them for home use and for gifting, and for the ceremony in itself.


There is something primal and contemplative about harvesting herbs throughout the summer, then hanging small or large bundles in the kitchen to dry. The glass jars of dried pink and purple speckled green and grey herbs that rest here and there in the kitchen and in the pantry remind me to take time out for a cuppa, to take time out for me, and to take care.


I am happy to share a few favourite recipes for what I refer to broadly as Sleepy Teas, though a few of them could be described more accurately as lattes or cafe au laits. The herbs, spices and other ingredients were chosen for their calming affects, and/or so-called anti-inflammatory potential (see footnotes below recipes). On that note, I share these recipes with the recommendation of checking with your healthcare provider about allergies or other considerations, before consuming.


Sleepy Teas and Lattes


Mint, Lemon Balm & Ginger Sleepy Tea

Ingredients

  • mint (fresh or dried)

  • lemon balm (fresh or dried)

  • ginger (fresh or dried)

  • honey or maple syrup (optional)

Method Use dried ingredients at a ratio or one teaspoon each dried herbs plus 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger per cup. Use fresh ingredients at a ratio of one large handful each fresh herbs plus six thin slices fresh ginger per pitcher. Cover ingredients with boiling water and let steep for several minutes. Add honey or maple syrup only if desired.



Ginger, Lemon & Honey Restorative Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 Lemon

  • small knuckle of fresh ginger (frozen)

  • 1-2 tablespoons honey

Method I have been making this tea for years for my family, to calm nerves, coughs and sore throats, to warm bodies, and to help boost immunity. It isn't for the faint of heart, but none-the-less it is a favourite. Juice one lemon into a large mug, use a microplane or fine grater to create ginger snow to add as well (see image below for quantity suggestion, more or less), add boiling water and enough honey to matter. The drink should taste very strongly of all three ingredients.



Almond, Chamomile, Mint, Rose Petal, Fennel & Lavender Latte

Ingredients

  • 4 cups almond milk (unsweetened, no additives)

  • 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers

  • 1 teaspoon dried mint

  • 1 teaspoon dried rose petals

  • 1 teaspoon dried fennel seeds

  • 1 teaspoon dried lavender flowers

  • four green cardamom pods, split open to expose the seeds

  • honey or maple syrup (optional)

Method This recipe makes a small pot of calm, but once the dried herbs have been combined they can be used one heaping teaspoon at a time to make just one cup. Add dry ingredients to almond milk, in a saucepan and heat gently just until boiling, stirring as you go. Turn off the heat and let steep, covered, for several minutes. Re-heat again quickly before straining fragrant milk into a heatproof jug or mugs. Add honey or maple syrup to taste if desired. I re-use the dried herbs a second time, saving them in the fridge for a day or two. The intensity of this drink can be increased by crushing the dry ingredients in a mortar and pestle before heating, and then straining through a fine sieve or cloth.



Almond, Turmeric, Cinnamon & Ginger Golden Latte

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk (unsweetened, no additives)

  • 3/4 teaspoon dried powdered turmeric

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried powdered cinnamon

  • 3/4 teaspoon dried powdered ginger (or small chunk peeled fresh ginger)

  • honey or maple syrup (optional)

Method Add dry ingredients to almond milk, in a saucepan and heat gently just until boiling, stirring as you go. Turn off the heat and let steep, covered, for one minute. Pour into a heat-proof mug and enjoy. Add honey or maple syrup if desired. I sometimes grate a sprinkling of nutmeg, dark chocolate and tonka beans (vanilla-like) overtop, and/or add a whole cinnamon stick as a fancy garnish. If using fresh ginger, either pre-blend all ingredients before heating, or dice the ginger before heating and strain into mugs before serving.


A vegan version of so-called golden milk, rich and delicious

Mint, Chamomile & Holy Basil Sleepy Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers

  • 1 teaspoon dried mint

  • 1 teaspoon dried holy basil

  • honey or maple syrup (optional)

Method Add boiling water to herbs and let steep for 3-5 minutes, covered. Add honey or maple syrup if desired. This tea is delicious served cold as well.



Chamomile & Hibiscus Flower Sleepy Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers

  • 1 teaspoon dried hibiscus flowers

  • honey or maple syrup (optional)

Method Add boiling water to herbs and let steep for 3-5 minutes, covered. Add honey or maple syrup if desired. This tea is delicious served cold as well. I sometimes makes jugs of this tea, steeping it overnight (covered) on the drainboard, and then re-using the strained flowers a second time by saving them in the fridge for a day or two.


The final ingredient in my sleep plan is relaxation and deep breathing. I breath deeply and with intention to put myself to sleep. By focusing entirely on the path that each breath takes as I inhale deeply and exhale slowly, I force my thoughts away from any stresses, noise and distraction and I 'bore' myself to sleep. It took some practice, but it works for me.

Chamomile and hibiscus flower tea is delicious hot or cold, with or without natural sweeteners

Food for thought

If given a choice between natural sleep aids and pharmaceuticals, I chose natural. Inherited knowledge, traditional Chinese and herbal medicine practitioners, holistic nutritionists, and a growing body of scientific evidence support the integration of natural herbs and medicines into personal health and wellness plans.


The specific reasons behind individual calming or sleep inducing benefits vary and can range from increasing melatonin, to reducing cortisol, to sourcing magnesium, to ritual placebo. To learn more about using culinary and medicinal herbs, and also how they may adversely affect any health conditions, or medicines you may be taking currently, check with your healthcare practitioner before consuming.


I refer to many online and published journals and libraries for information suggesting or confirming benefits and possible health risks. An excellent source of referenced online information is healthline.com. from which many of the following purported benefits were sourced.

  • Mint is purported to help: calm nerves, relieve tension headaches, relieve clogged sinuses, fight bacterial infections, improve sleep, reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies.

  • Lemon balm is purported to help: relieve stress, reduce anxiety, ease insomnia, relieve digestion, calm nausea, ease headache and toothache pain.

  • Ginger is purported to help: reduce inflammation, contribute antioxidants, aid digestion, balance blood sugars, reduce cholesterol, hydrate, complement weight loss

  • Almonds are purported to help: relieve stress, reduce anxiety, induce sleepiness, relieve insomnia, elevate melatonin, reduce cortisol, reduce inflammation.

  • Chamomile is purported to help: calm nerves, improve quality of sleep, reduce inflammation, balance blood sugars, air digestion, reduce anxiety.

  • Rose is purported to help: calm nerves, improve quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and depression.

  • Fennel is purported to help: aid digestion, contribute antioxidants, calm nerves, improve quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and depression.

  • Lavender is purported to help: calm nerves, improve quality of sleep, reduce anxiety and depression.

  • Cardamom is purported to help: lower blood pressure, contribute antioxidants, reduce inflammation, reduce anxiety, reduce oral bacteria and fight infection, balance blood sugar levels, improve oxygen uptake, calm nerves, improve quality of sleep, reduce depression.

  • Turmeric is purported to help: reduce inflammation, improve brain function, lower blood pressure, relieve joint pain, calm nerves, reduce anxiety, improve quality of sleep, reduce depression.

  • Cinnamon is purported to help: reduce inflammation, reduce joint pain, contribute antioxidants.

  • Ginger is purported to help: reduce inflammation, contribute antioxidants, reduce nausea, improve digestion, balance blood sugars, reduce cholesterol, assist weight loss, improve hydration, reduce toxins.

  • Holy basil (not regular basil) is purported to help: reduce inflammation, fight bacterial, viral and fungal infection, balance blood sugars, reduce cholesterol, reduce tension, lower blood pressure, ease inflammation and joint pain, improve digestion.

  • Hibiscus flower is purported to: reduce blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, aid digestion, contribute antioxidants.

  • Honey* is purported to help: suppress coughs, improve memory, fight bacterial infection, contribute antioxidants.

  • Maple Syrup* is purported to contribute antioxidants.


*Adding honey or maple syrup before bedtime is optional and should be considered in context of individual health plans. I use honey and maple syrup in moderation, in place of processed sugars.


Ethnic herbs and spices close at hand for inspiration

In the city where I live, we have access to many small ethnic markets and specialty shops. I frequent these shops for their incredible selection of low-cost herbs and spices, humbly packaged and very fresh, and for their small but super fresh selection of fruits and vegetables.


Dried chamomile, hibiscus, lavender, and rose petals are available inexpensively at Middle Eastern and Persian markets, as are most of the spices. Indian and South Asian markets carry a vast selection of exotic spices.


I save a great deal of money buying herbs bulk in this way. I stay out of the centre aisles of large supermarkets, I support small communities, and I learn about ethnic food cultures. Since the onset of the pandemic, most of these same small ethnic markets have started selling online, providing bulk pricing and bulk quantities to the greater community.


A gift of anti-inflammatory teas and lattes for a friend

Look for Middle Eastern, Persian, African, Asian, Italian and other ethnic markets in your area, and ask the people who work there for inspiration. I learn so much from the elders at the ethnic markets in my community. I learn their cultural traditions, and I learn their ancient ways of using herbs and spices to heal and also nourish. My family has benefited greatly from that inherited knowledge — not just about food, but about people and connection.


The common denominator across all cultures, ages, and inclinations seems to be tea, or some sort of hot restorative beverage served with intention. If you have your own sleepy tea or calming beverage recipes and traditions that you would like to share, I would love to learn about them.


Until next time, sleep well.

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