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Adults and children alike can suffer from insomnia or nightmares. The frantic pace of the modern world means that all too often we go to bed with our heads whirling, our thoughts racing with lists of unfinished chores and anticipating the day ahead. Late night television and computer games can over stimulate the mind. The transition from sleep to wake, marked in pre-television days by cocoa round the fire and quiet conversation is now often a final frantic dash to get everything completed, followed by collapsing into bed.

Fragrances are a natural way to restore the gentle transition time into sleep and dreams, whether in baths, as sleep pillows or by burning scented oils or candles in the bedroom prior to sleep. We can also as people have done for thousands of years find answers to problems or questions in our dreams, by creating just before bedtime an aromatic pathway into the world of unconscious knowledge.

Fragrant Baths

Long before commercial herbal bath preparations were invented or indeed bathrooms became common in ordinary homes, men and women would add herbs, lavender heads or rose petals to the tub to bring quiet sleep or place chamomile in a fractious child’s bath.

Modern plumbing means that you cannot add your herbs or petals directly to the bath without clogging up the pipes. But there are still ways you can enjoy the floral and herbal mixes tried and loved by our ancestors

Supermarkets, pharmacies, health and beauty stores have a huge range or herbal and aroma bath products. If you read the labels a number contain only natural products.

If you are busy, ready made bath essences mean that you can instantly release the power inherent in the scents; the rituals I suggest do work well whatever the source of the bath product. The other advantage of buying bath foams and oils is that good quality products will not irritate even delicate skin as they are carefully tested, the best brands without using animals.

Look out also for school and church fetes, farmers’ markets and country fairs or a large regular market in a city or large town where stall holders come from miles around. My own favourite source is the Sunday market in Rouen in France where there is stall after stall selling wonderful fresh herbs and flowers from the gardens as well as bath products prepared according to old family recipes. My favourite is an acacia and honey mix, the original tree cutting brought back to France from India in the 1930s. My local supermarket on the Isle of Wight does a version that is almost as soothing.

However, you can create home made herbal sachets in advance and keep them in airtight jars. Making aromatic mixes can in itself be very therapeutic.

Fragrant Sleep

  • If you have had a stressful or frantic few days or just want some self time, make your pre-sleep bath a special occasion, undisturbed by phone calls, family demands and noise. Lock the door so no one can pop into the bathroom to chat, moan, comment on your cellulite, ask to borrow money for a night out or suggest they share your bath (whether toddler, the dog or amorous lover!).

  • Light small scented candles in rose, ylang ylang, peach or orange in safe places around the bathroom and check the bathroom is warm.

  • Make sure there are plenty of fluffy towels and your bath robe is ready. If you have a family as I do, most towels end up on bedroom floors in soggy heaps or mouldering in sports bags!

  • Play gentle dolphin or ocean music on a waterproof battery-operated CD player

  • Run the bath and add your herbs, foam, oils or bath salts.

  • When the bath is ready, turn off the taps and lie in the water, swirling the fragrant pools of light, symbolically pushing away in them any worries or negativity left from the day.

  • Through half closed eyes allow the light and patterns of foam or oils on the surface of the water to make beautiful images.

  • Let these pictures to flow in and out of your mind without analysing them and then push away even these pleasant thoughts, finally emptying your mind of all but the fragrance, the music and the light.

  • When you are ready, get out of the bath and wrap yourself in warm towels, pulling out the plug and allowing the water to run away, saying softly `Sorrow, sadness/stress, flow from me, to the rivers and the sea, leaving only harmony.’

  • Pour a few drops of pine or tea tree essential oil down the plughole to make sure only positive energies remain

  • Blow out each of the candles one by one, either making a wish for each or sending blessings or healing to someone or a place that needs it.

  • Leave the last candle alight and carefully carry it to your bedroom.

  • Do not read or watch television in bed but sit quietly gazing into the fragrant candle flame, allowing pictures and stories to come, perhaps ones you saw in your bath, that will lead you into your dreams.

  • If you share your bed, talk softly to your sleep companion, not about domestic or work concerns and carry the other person into your quiet world between waking and sleep.

  • Finally blow out the candle and ask that the light protects you, your family and home while you sleep.

Making Herbal bath Sachets

The following herbs and flowers are especially good for inducing relaxation and peaceful sleep.

Chamomile flowers, carnation petals, catnip (small quantity only), elecampane,  elder flowers, eucalyptus (surprisingly relaxing), fennel seeds, jasmine flowers, hop flowers, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, lilac, linden blossoms, marjoram (sweet), dried orange peel, orange blossoms, passionflower, peppermint, rosemary, rose petals, skullcap leaves, slippery elm bark, olive blossoms, valerian root

These are just some suggestions and you can add your own favourite flowers and herbs as long as they are not toxic. If in doubt check in a herb book.Commercially prepared mixtures tend to be a good guide to what works. Indeed you may like to buy some natural herbal baths to see which fragrances suit you best before making your own.

Making herbal bath sachets is a very soothing activity and family members can join in preparing or mixing the herbs. In the past these making and talking sessions helped to harmonise relationships between different generations living in close proximity.

As you talk abut the different properties of the herbs and flowers, it creates a quiet space for people to share worries, fears, hopes and dreams or just to be together in companionable silence.

If you ask your grandmother, your mother or one of your older in laws they may well recall herbal recipes from their childhood and the recollection can help to establish bonds of affection, especially if you can work together creating family sleep sachets.

Step, foster or adopted children may feel able to talk about their birth family’s favourite flower or perfume as they make bath sachets.

But even working alone you can tap into the shared experiences of women who throughout the ages gathered and prepared fragrant herbs. If you write your favourite recipes in your journal you can pass on your insights to future generations.

How to prepare your bath sachets    

  • Use washed and chopped fresh herbs and flowers from the garden (as long as you garden organically and do not put pesticides on them). You can also buy freshly picked or pot herbs from supermarkets. Wash them also before use.

 You can use a single herb or flower or mix them in sachets and as infusions.

  • Experiment with two or three different kinds of flowers and herbs and note your favourite combinations.

  • Many culinary herbs are excellent in baths and you can also buy dried flower petals, powdered roots and herbs from health stores and old-fashioned grocers to store in airtight glass jars. The same chamomile with which you make tea can serve as a soothing bath.

  • Make a herb bath sachet by filling a small bag of muslin, cheesecloth or similar porous material with your favourite herbs and flower petals.

  • You can make a bag from a rectangle of cloth approximately 15cms by 20cms.

  • Fold it in half across the width of the muslin to make the bag. However the leg from a pair of tights or a nylon stocking can be filled with herbs and knotted at the top. The kind of fine meshed nets put on soft fruits can also be adapted or any small net bag whose colour will not run.

  • If you are making the bag sew the sides in running stitch, picturing light and peace entering every stitch.

  • As you add herbs to the bag, state the purpose for which you are making the sachet. For example,

`I ask that these jasmine flowers and orange blossom petals in this sachet will bring my daughter Melody quiet sleep and peaceful dreams that she may wake refreshed and able to cope with her examination tomorrow.’

  • Tie the top of the bag with string or cord. For each knot make a wish or empowerment concerning the purpose of the herbs, such as:

`One knot that Melody will have faith in herself, two that she may not panic, three that she will draw on the love of the family for support and not shut herself away with her worries.’

  • Set the sachet in the bottom of the bath, making sure the water is warm, around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, just below body temperature as any hotter will exhaust you and much cooler will be too stimulating.

  • As the water runs in, the herbal fragrance will infuse the water.

  • Leave the bag of herbs in the water for five minutes before getting into the bath and then for a further five minutes. Then squeeze the last of the infusion from the herbs and remove the sachet from the bath.

  • Alternatively hang the bag just below the hot and cold taps and let the water run through it while filling the bath.

Making herbal infusions for the bath

If you prefer, you can make a herbal infusion or decoction and add it to the bath water. You can also use fragrant herbal infusions for protective floor washes or sprinkled in rooms that seem unfriendly or dark.

  • Place 60 grams (2 oz) of fresh herbs or flowers in a bowl or jug. With dried herbs use 40 grams. Wash fresh petals and herbs before use.

  • Add 500 ml, (a pint) of boiling water this is slightly stronger than the kind of infusion you make for teas (which is one teaspoon of dried herbs or three of fresh to a cup of hot water).

  • For children and people with delicate skins use the weaker infusion.

  • Stir the infusion, naming the herbs or flowers and their purpose, for example `Lavender brings me dreams of love and fertility that I may rise above my present loneliness.’

  • Cover the infusion and leave it to stand for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally and repeat the chant. If the matter is important enchant the infusion.

  • After this time has elapsed, strain the infusion, discard the herbs and petals and either pour the infusion into the bath or store it in dark glass bottles with a screw top lid or cork. It will keep in the fridge for a week or more if it is cool.

Bath decoctions

A decoction is a method of extracting the goodness from roots and barks.

  • The roots etc should be powdered, crushed in a pestle, finely chopped or bought ready chopped. This preparation provides a chance to declare the purpose of the bath mix as a slow repetitive chant.

  • You can also mix ready bought roots and bark, for example: `Valerian, valerian brings sleep to my sister Mary who lies awake every night, worrying needlessly.’

  • Add one ounce (30 grams) to a pint (500mls) of cold water or larger quantities in that proportion. Some decoctions are better if left to stand overnight before brewing.

  • The mixture should then be simmered until the amount of water is reduced by half.

  • Strain before using and squeeze the herb to get all the liquid. Discard the herbs as with an infusion.

  • Store as with an infusion or add to the bath directly.

Oil dream baths

Another option is to add essential oils to the bath after running it, about 10 drops per bath, less of citrus oils such as orange or potent oils such as peppermint. You can use the oil versions of some of the flowers and herbs I have suggested above. In addition, clary sage, mimosa, rosewood and sandalwood are very soothing sleep oils and most often found in essential oil form.

Dream Pillows

Sleeping on a dream pillow is a traditional way of inducing peaceful sleep, reducing insomnia, nightmares and creating happy dreams. They are still sold at country fairs, in rural gift stores and by mail order (and in the modern world have appeared in microwaveable form).

Dream pillows are very easy to make. But if you are short of time you can buy a small cushion cover with a zip or Velcro and inside it put an even smaller Velcro fastened openwork cushion cover to hold the herbs or flowers. Buy a really cheap inner cover as they are seldom worth refilling. Car boot sales are a good source of old small pillows and cushions form which you can cannibalise the covers.

Children who suffer from night terrors, nightmares or fears of the dark may benefit from one of the commercially available lavender or rose filled bears or if you are good at sewing you could make your own with an inner pillow and a washable, maybe towelling, cover. Make sure the child cannot open it and chew the herbs.

You can use any of the herbs or flowers listed for bath sachets, though for children chamomile, lavender and rose petals are best as they are very mild. Dried herbs and flower petals are best in dream pillows.

The following herbs are especially associated with pleasant dreams:

Angelica is good for out of body dreams and also for healing dreams

Anise in very small quantities will keep away nightmares

Chamomile will bring quiet sleep when you are exhausted or over anxious (the best herb for curing insomnia)

Cloves (again just a few) will bring dreams of childhood and of old friends and family members who are absent or who have died

Hops will bring peaceful sleep. They are not very fragrant so use with other ingredients

Lavender for gentle dreams of love or of the future

Lilac for dreams of home when you are far away

Mullein to prevent recurring nightmares

Peppermint (a small amount) for dreams of the future and other lands.

Rose for healing in dreams and for past life dreams

Rosemary (in small quantities so not to overwhelm other fragrances) to drive away night terrors and overcome fears of the dark or sleeping alone at any age

St John’s Wort for dreams of future marriages or long lasting love and for taking away grief while you sleep

Sweet marjoram for happy dreams when life is sad

Valerian for gentle dreams and for banishing insomnia

The following oils are also associated with dreams:

Frankincense for dreams of magical places and ancient ceremonies

Myrrh for past life and for healing dreams

Orange for dreams of happy relationships and banishing the regrets of the day

Sandalwood for dreams of passion and for past lives

Ylang ylang for dreams of love and for psychic dreams

Add a drop or two of these to your sleep pillow herbs to increase the fragrance, but do not use in children’s pillows (see below)

Making a dream pillow

  • Your dream pillow need not be large (about 15 cm square). You can make it in the same way you created your bath sachet.

  • This time use a natural fabric such as cotton that is not too thick

  • Make a second smaller pillow to fit snugly inside and hold the herbs that you can replace when the herbs lose their fragrance (or throw away the cushion which psychically and practically if not economically is better)

  •  You can use muslin, mesh or fine curtain net for the inner bag that will actually hold the herbs.

  • First decide the herbs and flowers you are going to use, experimenting by mixing two or three herbs or flowers to get the right mix for your needs. Set the chosen flowers/herbs in a glass or ceramic bowl so that you can inhale the aroma as you work.

  • If you are using ready made cushion covers, place them close to the bowl and light a fragrant beeswax or yellow candle in pink or lilac to empower them or place them in a pool of sunlight or moonlight. You can empower them further by holding them before filling them and visualising fields of flowers in which you drift gently into sleep.

  • Sew the bags on three sides, picturing light entering the stitches. Work either in sunlight or by moon or candlelight and visualise whoever you are making the pillow for (maybe yourself) in a field filled with the herbs and flowers, then falling asleep on a bed of fragrance.

  • Next begin to mix the herbs and flowers with a wooden or ceramic spoon. Add two or three drops of your chosen essential oil, remembering you are aiming for a subtle soothing mix to lull you to sleep.

  • This time do not chant but work in silence, imagining light continuing to pour into the bowl. The light may take on the colour of the plants or flowers you are mixing, green, pink or purple. You can use a single fragrance such as rose, chamomile or lavender but still mix it.

  • You will sense when the herbs are ready. You may detect a faint aura of light round the bowl or in your mind.

  • At this point hold your hands palms downwards over the bowl, but do not move them. Your fingers will vibrate slightly – hold them still.

  • Whisper softly, `May sleep come swiftly and gently. May Mother Night carry you/me into sweet dreams. May angels keep away all harm and fear and in the morning with joy and renewal wake restored’

  • Fill the inner pillow, so that the herbs can move around and then fasten/sew it, if you wish using Velcro.

  • Finally slip this into the outer cover and leave the completed pillow in any remaining sun, moon or candlelight till the candle is burned through.

  • When the herbs lose their fragrance, tip the herbs out and scatter them to the winds or bury them beneath a fruit or nut -bearing tree. Some people prefer to create a new inner bag when they empower new herbs.

Fragrant Candles

One of the most effective ways to drive away fears and ensure quiet sleep is by lighting a scented night light or small aromatic candle.

If you use a deep glass container with coloured sand inside, the candle will be safe even if you drift off to sleep, though it is better to extinguish the candle.

Insomniac or frightened children can benefit from an apple blossom, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, mimosa, rose, sandalwood or ylang ylang fragranced candle burned in the bedroom before sleep.

This is much gentler than incense and safer than oils.

You can get the child to visualise the light of the candle by closing his or her eyes and imagining seeing the burning candle in the darkness. Then when the room is fragranced, you can together blow out the candle and get the child to lie down with his or her eyes closed, still picturing the light as the fragrance lingers.

For a child who is frightened of the dark, light five small scented night lights. Then one at a time blow out the nightlights, but tell the child to sit with eyes open and picture the extinguished light as if it was still burning. Describe the extinguished light as a fragrance fairy or angel who will shine a magical protective light all night.

Gradually though the room gets physically darker the child can still see the five light fairy/angels, even when it is totally dark and call on them during the night if he or she wakes.   

Creating Meaningful Perfumed Dreams

Perfume dream incubation or creation can be practised nightly for a week and thereafter when needed. This will rapidly harmonise sleep patterns if you are an insomniac or help you to rest if you have experienced a particularly pressurised few weeks.

You will also find that answers to questions that trouble you may appear quite spontaneously in a fragrance induced dream.

Even if you have no specific questions or issues to which you would like answers in your dreams, this method will create a beautiful sleep experience from which you will wake relaxed and refreshed.

  • Set the phone to silent answer, switch off fax machines and do not check your e-mails just before getting ready for bed. It is all too easy to slip back into social or work mode.

  • Have a scented bath or shower, with night lights illuminating the bathroom.

  • Afterwards, when you are wrapped up warmly in your dressing robe, have an herbal or milky drink while you sit in semi-darkness listening to gentle music.

  • When you are totally relaxed, light a small candle or night light in a safe place in your bedroom and sit on the bed facing it, well propped up on pillows.

  • In the semi-darkness gently smell either a bottle of rose or lavender essential oil or rose or lavender cologne or your favourite gentle fragrance.

  • Imagine yourself in a beautiful rose garden or field of lavender or some other flowery place.

  • Finally sprinkle just a drop or two of the scent on your pillow to transfer the experience to the realms of sleep.

  • Blow out the candle and close your eyes, in your imagination stepping through the flowers, field upon field, until at last you sink down among the fragrant blossoms into the world of dreams.

For psychic dreams of past worlds or for glimpses into the future light a candle scented with sandalwood, frankincense or myrrh.

  • This time allow a question to formulate quite spontaneously in your mind. The choice may surprise you. Repeat this question in your mind slower and slower until your inner voice becomes silent.

  • Blow out the candle so the lingering fragrance can continue to work as you all asleep.

  • Now whisper the question over and over again until you drift into sleep.

  • Your dream will contain scenes or symbols that when you wake will fill your mind with optimism and creative opportunities or solutions to problems. If in doubt about the meaning of the dream smell the fragrance again.

 

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