In our stressful modern life today, insomnia or even just having difficulty falling/staying asleep is a very common problem. While there is a lot that we can do to try to improve our sleep, such as exercising, eating more healthily, and learning techniques to cope with stress, have you ever considered that there are perhaps specific foods that can help improve your sleep as well? 莲子小米粥 or Millet and Lotus Seed Porridge is a classic food therapy for insomnia in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
In TCM, millet is known to nourish the spleen and stomach (健脾和胃) and has the ability to help improve sleep. Lotus seeds nourish the blood, heart and spleen and has a calming effect on the mind (补心益脾、养血安神). Red dates also have a similar function.
From the Western perspective, millet is rich in calcium, magnesium and tryptophan, which would corroborate TCM’s view that millet has calming properties and can help improve our sleep. Calcium and magnesium have sedative effects, while trytophan is converted by the body into serotonin and eventually into melatonin, an important hormone in sleep regulation.
Further, millet is high in fiber and can thus help in the prevention of heart disease, diabetes and other modern day illnesses. It’s water-retentive properties, which I find surpasses that of oats, means that we also feel full for longer with less.
The lotus seed has many benefits as well. It is high in antioxidants and has anti-ageing properties. A group of scientists went to Liaoning, China in 1996 to collect lotus seeds, most of which were about 450-500 years old. Astonishingly, more than 80% of these seeds were still able to germinate. This is huge, because most seeds only remain viable for 20 years.
That same group of scientists also found that the oldest seedling that could germinate was 1288 years old! This amazing ability of the lotus to survive for 1000 years and even live through freezing weather is perhaps why we see references to the thousand-year snow lotus (千年雪莲子) in martial arts stories set in ancient times (武侠小说). So perhaps it is not completely just a figment of people’s imagination.
The anti-ageing properties of the lotus is due to its unique genetic system that is capable of repairing defects that arise through centuries of ageing. This has prompted cosmetics companies to try to harness the anti-ageing properties of the lotus seed for their products. I’m not sure how successful their attempts are, but I believe that we derive more benefit from ingesting the food rather than trying to smear it on our faces.
A tip on cooking lotus seeds is not to pre-soak it and just throw it into boiling water to cook. I came across a blog entry whose author observed that pre-soaking the lotus seeds in cold water actually made it harder to cook compared to not soaking it at all. Thinking back, I have noticed this strange phenomenon on previous occasions when I cooked lotus seeds in my porridge. The author speculates that it may have to do with how the carbohydrate structure on the skin of the seed changes on contact with the cold water.
So try this recipe out today if you are having problems sleeping, feeling stressed, or just looking for a new breakfast alternative. Who knows, you may be eating your way to a more youthful self too 😉
3/4 cup millet
1/4 cup white rice
Handful of lotus seeds (without the bitter green shoots in the middle)
Handful of red dates and goji berries
- Bring everything to a boil in a pot and then turn down the flame. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or till soft.
- Sweeten with rock sugar or honey.
Exceptional Seed Longevity and Robust Growth: Ancient Sacred Lotus from China, Shen-Miller et al., American Journal of Botany, Vol. 82, No. 11 (Nov., 1995), pp. 1367-1380.