This is the root of the plant Valeriana officinalis, which was the primary herbal sedative used on both sides of the Atlantic before the advent of barbiturate sleeping pills. It is a safe and well tested herbal remedy with a smell like dirty old socks (the smell drives some people's cats wild). Don't let that put you off, since Valerian is a powerful and useful tool for inducing safe sleep - more potent than most of the other natural tranquilizers such as hops or skullcap or chamomile.
You can take Valerian in a couple of ways, but I like the tincture best - 10 to 20 drops before bedtime in a little water, or in the middle of the night when you awaken. Alternatively you can use a couple of capsules of the dried root. Valerian in lower doses is also useful when your nerves feel 'shot' during the day. Very occasionally Valerian will be too strong for a particular woman, so that she awakens with a little sense of hangover in the morning. If so, you can either cut down on the dose or try another milder remedy. In any case, it can be a good idea to change remedies every so often so your body doesn't become accustomed to one, rendering it ineffectual.
Passiflora incarnata, also known as Maypops, is a climbing plant that boasts magnificent white flowers with a purple center. It has a wonderful sedative and mildly narcotic effect on the body. Passion Flower is most useful for women who wrestle frequently with nervous tension and particularly helpful when nerves seem to be edgy before and around the time of menopause, when hormones can fluctuate wildly. It is also useful for relieving pain, thanks to its mild analgesic and antispasmodic qualities - all of which has been well demonstrated in laboratory and clinical tests. Passion Flower can also be useful for a woman troubled with premenstrual tension. It is not as strong as Valerian in its actions, is more calming than sedating, and as such is a great alternative to tranquilizer drugs. Use 10 to 20 drops of the tincture or the same amount of the liquid extract in water. Alternatively take two capsules of the dried extract up to four times a day as needed. Where a woman might take Valerian at night just before bed, the best results from Passion Flower often come from taking it 2 to 4 times a day to calm nerves and make everything easier and less stressful.
Matricaria chamomilla. One of the nine herbs sacred to the Anglo Saxon god Wotan, chamomile was also much loved by the Romans. Its name Matricaria is derived either from the Latin word 'mater', meaning mother, or from 'matrix', meaning womb. It has for thousands of years been used as a woman's herb against painful menstruation, to calm anxiety and aid sleep - even to help build strong bones, since it contains a form of readily absorbed calcium. Chamomile is also a uterine tonic - something else that has been scientifically evaluated. It boasts many other therapeutic properties as well such as being antibacterial in its actions and good for skin. The easiest way to take chamomile is in the form of a tisane or tea by infusing 5 to 10 grams of the dried flowers in hot water before bed or whenever you need relaxation. Chamomile works particularly well when taken together with Passion Flower.
Humulus lupulus. The flowers from this British herb are often used together with other remedies to treat everything from indigestion to calm nerves. Like Valerian, hops has a pronounced sedative effect, but is milder. Unlike Valerian, hops smells sweet, and can be used without concern for side-effects. You can use hops in the form of a tincture but by far the best way for sleep - particularly good for women who are awakened in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep - is to drink hop tea, which you make before going to bed by steeping the flowers for ten minutes in hot water then straining and allowing to cool. Sit the tea - sweetened with honey if you like - by the side of your bed, so you can drink it when you awaken in the night. Also wonderful is a little pillow stuffed with dried hops blossoms, which you put under your neck when you go to bed, or if you awaken.
Avena sativa. The straw from oats has an ability to restore energy when nerves have been frayed, and for counteracting insomnia. It can help ease night sweats, calm anxiety, and even relieve headache. Again, stuff a little pillow with oat hulls or infuse them in hot water as with hops, and keep beside your bed through the night in case you need it.