Let me introduce you to the fabulous, easy to make, super budget friendly stocking stuffer no one has...
The Dream Pillow!
What is a dream pillow you ask?
A dream pillow is a small pouch that contains one of many herbal recipes to induce calm slumber and restful dreams.
Historically dream pillows have been used in many cultures. Folklore from Medieval Europe says that certain herbs placed in a young woman's pillow will induce her to dream of her true love. Many more cynical texts suggest that the practice originated as more of an air freshener in the days before Maytag and Febreeze.
Naturally, the scent of the fresh herbs would make for a more pleasant boudoir but you may find it interesting to note that Native Americans would sleep on pillows with Osha root otherwise known as bear root which has antiseptic properties. Medieval pillow makers often included Myrrh which also is antibacterial and cleansing.
As far as inducing a restful night's sleep though, you might be surprised to learn that there is real science behind the concept.
Humans are extremely responsive to odors. Our first cranial nerve is our olfactory nerve. That means that the first thing our body as an organism identifies in our environment is aromas. This was helpful to us before we became "civilized" because it allowed us to identify danger and decay as well as food, water sources, potential mates, and weather changes. This property of our anatomy still works in our world of air fresheners and disinfectants.
So, the idea that the aromas of herbs in our pillows might induce a nice calm night's rest is not altogether absurd. Many herbs have been studied to have a medicinal property referred to as soporific, or tending to cause sleep. Examples would be herbs like catnip, lavender, hops, chamomile, marijuana, and rose petals.
There are many more herbs and recipes that would have similar effects. Some recipes report that they can enhance dream recall or induce dreaming of one's destiny, or dreaming of one's true love.
Some recipes say they can increase the libido, or relax a stressful person. The folklore behind the recipe can make it more interesting as a gift because you have a little story to go along with it. The general idea is to choose a recipe that the recipient would enjoy. So, if your sister hates licorice don't include anise in her recipe just because it says to.
It is worth noting that hops pillows have traditionally been used to decrease pain and inflammation. Hops is a soporific herb as well. If you are looking to relieve discomfort and induce sleepiness Hops is a wonderful addition to a dream pillow. For pain a person could apply the hops pillow to the affected limb either cool or warm.
So, how do you make a dream pillow you ask?
The first thing you want to do is gather the herbs you wish to put into the pillows. You could gather them yourself from the wild or your garden, buy them from a store, or find them on line.
If you choose to buy the herbs you can purchase them in very small amounts or large depending on the number of pillows you think you will make. The fragrances tend to wear out over time if they are not stored in air tight containers. Even when precautions are taken it is not uncommon for herbs to lose their aromas when stored. You would want to store any excess herbs carefully or just purchase what you will need for this immediate project. In this instance, buying bulk to save money might work against you over time.
The possibilities of combinations are truly endless. You could also use essential oils to create a lovely effect if you don't want to work with dry herbs. Here are some examples of popular recipes that have stood the test of time. That doesn't mean you can't invent the latest and greatest version yourself. Just experiment with what you like.
A popular Native American recipe for sweet dreams
Lavender flowers, mugwort, rose petals, white sage, hops
Yerba Santa, lilac flowers, balsam fir and osha root.
A recipe from medieval times for divining one's true love
Lavender, Dandelion, myrrh, Hibiscus & Rose petals
Hops, rose petals, calendula, catnip, dill & agrimony
Recipe for clarity and lightness in one's dreams
Lemon verbena, Rosemary, peppermint, Hops, mugwort, lavender & rose petals
Recipe for enhancing one's libido and promoting sensual dreams
Cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, hops, catnip and rose petals
A popular pet recipe for calming and also repelling pesky bugs
Eucalyptus, lavender, pennyroyal, rosemary, thyme & wormwood.
Your favorite Indica Cannabis strain, Catnip & hops.
Ok, so now you have your herbs chosen. The next thing to do is to pick out some fabric. Most any fabric will work. Popular types of material to use would be flannel, cotton, satin, or silk. It would be very resourceful and eco-friendly to cut up some remnants you have at home, things like skirts, shirts, pillow cases, sheets... if it's fabric it has potential. If you head out to the fabric store or buy on line you may find it easier to determine the number of pillows you are going to make by choosing a specific size piece of material.
For example, if you buy a yard of fabric that is 60 inches wide you can cut thirty 6 inch by 6 inch square pillows out of that. Dream pillows are traditionally very small. They are put into the pillow case of the larger pillow you sleep on or else hung from the head board. It would be unusual to see one bigger than eight to ten inches. Square is the most common
shape but that doesn't mean you can't get creative.
Once you have cut your shapes out of the fabric you will need a needle and thread, a sewing machine, or a handy friend or relative willing to stitch the pockets together.
You want to have the pillow sewn together on all sides but leave a small opening on one side to allow you to insert the herbs and stuffing.
Once you have the pillows sewn the next step is to add the herbs and stuffing. You could use just about anything to stuff the pillows from buckwheat shells, cannabis seeds, polyester pillow filling, cotton (cotton balls work well), shredded fabric, straw, feathers, rice, beans, popcorn, etc.
To include the herbs there are several ways you can choose to add them. One way is to put the herbs into a muslin bag and then incorporate that into the pillow filling. This method is nice because it contains the herbs so that they don't poke out through the fabric or shift around in the pillow. You basically fluff the polyfil or whatever you stuff the pillow with around the satchel of herbs until you have a smooth shape. The scent will come through the fabrics.
You can also incorporate the loose herbs right into the stuffing. It helps to grind up larger pieces and seeds into powder with a coffee bean grinder or a blender. The aroma will be stronger and there won’t be any hard pellets or sticks to make the pillow uncomfortable.
If essential oils are more your style you would want to put several drops of your oil combination on a few cotton balls. Then, add those to the pillow before you stitch it shut.
The best way to stitch the pillows shut after you add the herbs is by hand. Use a needle and thread to carefully slip stitch the hole closed. This part is tedious but the devil is in the details. You want to make sure you take your time with this step so that the pillow holds up over time and the herbs don't leak out with use. Once the pillows are completely assembled it is advisable to store them in separate zip lock baggies until the holidays arrive. That way when you gift them the scent will be fresh. Most pillows if made with strongly scented herbs will last a year or more.
A nice way to make a more complete gift is to include a blank dream journal and a novelty ink pen to go with it. Bundle it with a nice bow and you will have an elegant unique present that anyone would appreciate.
So as the holidays sneak up on you don't panic. There's still plenty of time to gather up some herbs and nice fabric. Your friends and family will be so impressed with your thoughtfulness and creativity.
Chartered Herbalist New World Seeds, Traverse City, MI