‘I bought these pills to help you sleep’, the patient said. ‘What do you reckon?’
Over-the-counter remedies usually contain a mixture of herbs with a good track record for helping with a particular problem; insomnia, anxiety, hot flushes and so on. What they don’t contain is a balanced prescription that will suit your individual needs. Sleep remedies, for example, nearly always contain hops (Humulus lupulus), because of their sedative qualities. And they do help to calm you down, but if you are at all prone to depression, they can make things worse.
So if you are taking herbal pills for insomnia, it’s worth checking what’s in them
Hops are interesting, though, not just for their sleepiness. They will smooth out digestive cramps, so they can benefit people with irritable bowel. And they contain plant oestrogens, so they are often found in formulae for hot flushes and menopausal symptoms too. The oestrogens are responsible for the effect on men of drinking too much beer, as noted by Shakepeare: ‘It promotes the desire, but takes away the performance.’