Perchance to Dream
But when the dream becomes a nightmare...
If we shadows have offended, Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
(Puck, Act 5 Scene 1 - A Midsummer Night's Dream
I get bad nightmares.
I dream all night, every night. In color, too. To say I have an active imagination is a gross understatement, at "the sun is a tad bit warm" and "water is slightly damp" levels. So nightmares come with the territory, and about once a week or two my husband has to shake me out of a deep one.
I used to think the nightmares were just par for the course, and I would mentally shrug as I tried to get back to sleep. Sometimes it works, but most of the time, not so much. So I'll stare at the ceiling and walls, and yep, that's a ceiling, and those are definitely walls, got that perpendicular wall like thing going for them, a sure sign of wallness....
So I'm not terribly creative after a nightmare. Only a few have been detailed enough to actually build a story around them. Most are along the lines of Standard #1 (good old having to go back to school, I missed a required class) or #5B (interminable road trip, driving driving driving and I never get there, then the brakes go out), or #10A (I'm in a play as prop person, but I forget I also have to take on a part in it and forget to study my lines), or Getting Old #12 (being forced to work at a place I quit long ago for good reason). If I'm going to have standard nightmares, I might as well classify them.
I was diagnosed as diabetic five years ago. One thing that became pretty clear when my meds were finally adjusted properly, is that most of my nightmares occur when I have a low blood sugar event in the middle of the night. And not just a little bit of a drop, oh no, where I'm free falling into extremely low numbers and three sodas chugged in a row aren't enough to halt the process. Add to that, I'm extremely sensitive to some medications, so I'm taking half and quarter the "normal" doses of some medications, and have to supplement with an extremely restrictive diet. Not sugar so much, because of course I can't be normal, but salt - because I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at the same time, and that's what almost killed me.
Creative problems, creative solutions.
The nightmares actually became a conduit for a solution that works most of the time.
With a double diagnosis, caffeine is one of the things that had to be cut out of my diet. That one hurt, because I may have had a rather strong addiction to a certain local brand of peach iced tea and had to go cold turkey. Liking tea, on the other hand, got me to thinking... there are quite a few herbal teas on the market, and besides that, there are lots of plants that grow locally that I can make teas out of during the year. Meadow mint is my summertime fave, with that smoother than spearmint flavor and childhood memories of my grandmother's kitchen vibe going for it. (I've heard it may or may not be a synonym for fuzzy mint or New Jersey tea, but if they're not the same plant, they're really close.) I also have a lot of pots of herbs growing for use in cooking - no salt, so I have to use spices to boost the flavor of foods naturally.
And then, a spicebush took over a corner of my garden...
I adore spicebush. It's a Pennsylvania native, and everything is edible. The flowers have one peppery taste going on, and the leaves in tea another, and the drupes another, if the blasted birds and squirrels let me harvest them. (Spoiler alert, they usually don't.) This year was an especially overproductive harvest, so I got enough to dry some for the winter! I don't expect my luck to continue in coming years.
When summer gives way to fall, I turn to spicebush tea instead of meadow mint. It has a citrus-y note to it, but also certain savory notes that remind you a bit of allspice. By fall my bush (tree, it's a tree, it's a tree that's turned my sunny back corner into a shadowy spot!) needs some serious trimming. I oblige, grabbing a handful of twigs and green leaves for simmering.
I also check for spicebush swallowtail caterpillars and chrysalises. I haven't found any yet, but with three more planted in front of my house, it's only a matter of time. I inspect each branch before running a water rinse over them and popping them in the pot.
My tea recipe is simple: get out the big pot, boil water, turn it off, fill it with stems and leaves till it's about to spill over, let steep. This works for meadow mint as well as spicebush, and that's all there is to it. Pour into containers and put in fridge when it cools down to almost room temp. It lasts up to two weeks, and I go through a lot of it.
But those spicebush leaves are some of the first to turn bright yellow and fall in the autumn, and I'd like my tea to last a bit longer.
Then I thought of sekanjabin.
What is sekanjabin? A Middle Ages type of syrup, with vinegar and sugar, to preserve the flavor of what leaf is infused into it. From Cariadoc's Miscellany, a collection of medieval recipes that have been converted to modern measurements (though this is from a more modern resource as noted on the website, check it out to read more if you're interested):
"Sekanjabin - Dissolve 4 cups sugar in 2 1/2 cups of water; when it comes to a boil add 1 cup wine vinegar. Simmer 1/2 hour. Add a handful of mint, remove from fire, let cool. Dilute the resulting syrup to taste with ice water (5 to 10 parts water to 1 part syrup). The syrup stores without refrigeration."
(The syrups of lemon and pomegranate are also particular favorites of mine)
So, why not a spicebush sekanjabin?
So I did, replacing my spicebush for the mint the tea calls for, with fresh spicebush branches and leaves cut fresh off the bush. And some drupes, because I beat the birdies to it.
Because I found that spicebush tea, right before bedtime, reduces my nightmares. It doesn't eliminate them entirely, but if I have two tablespoons of the infused sugar syrup mixed in with one of my regular herbal teas in a small glass before I go upstairs to bed, it greatly reduces them. Screaming horror nightmares get radically toned down to boring sorting-through-stuff-but-not-finding-what-I'm-looking-for humdrums. Or, even better, they go from screamers to intriguing horror stories that actually have enough of a plot that I can extract a story.
I think it's just enough sugar taken at bedtime to keep me from a sugar crash in the middle of the night. Someday I'll put my monitor on, and check that hypothesis.
I had one of the screamers transform into a story, just the other night, about a vampire. I usually avoid vampires as a genre, but this had enough intriguing plot that it will certainly become something interesting later.
Now, if I can only dream that other one again, about the time travelers that keep being sent back to fix the computer so they stop messing up the future....
I just finished my sekanjabin tea, and it's time to go to bed. I've made it a resolution this year, to stick to my schedule and use it regularly before bed. Sometimes I forget, or ignore the alarm I've set on my phone, because I'm too tired / too busy / preoccupied with reading... yeah, lots of excuses. And then the nightmares cycle up again. That's just counterproductive, and I need to knock it off.
Sweet dreams! Or, if not sweet, at least intriguing. My dream journal will get a lot of good use this year.
About the author
Mix equal parts anthropologist, biologist, geologist, and artisan, stir and heat in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, sprinkle with a heaping pile of odd life experiences. Half-baked.