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My story takes place in a fantasy world with roughly medieval level technology (as is to be expected in that genre). One of my characters intends to spike someone's drink in order to make them fall asleep. He doesn't have access to magic.

How could he do this?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the watch-list. $\endgroup$ Sep 6 at 4:55
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    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Henbane is more toxic than it is narcotic, so much so that it has a starring spot in the Alnwick Poison Garden, but with the right other ingredients and a very skilled apothecary that would work. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 6 at 5:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Ash Don't get me wrong, your answer is excellent. I'm just complaining that the OP didn't do any research. From the help center, Questions "Should include research." Googling "medieval sleeping potions" or "medieval anesthesia" was the very first thing the OP should have done (and it would have quickly answered the question). DJ, please remember that we're really not a free research service - you're expected to use Stack Exchange only after you've done your due diligence. $\endgroup$ Sep 6 at 5:25
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    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Yeah fair play, I didn't even need Google to come up with a workable solution and biology is not exactly my jam so I probably should have said something along the same lines. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 6 at 5:28
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    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact I googled "how could a medieval person spike someone's drink." Perhaps I should have phrased that search differently though lol $\endgroup$ Sep 6 at 6:41
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Opium would work, you'd have to be careful with the dosage as it is a respiratory suppressant but it would render someone unconscious and it is water and alcohol soluble so dissolving it in someone's drink is certainly practical. We've been producing Opium since 3400BC so it will be available at medieval levels of technology even though in our history it had largely been ignored in medieval European medicine for centuries.

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    $\begingroup$ OTOH, ripe poppy seed extracts and infusions (not opium) have been used in some parts of Europe "from time immemorial" as sleep remedy, often for children (and sometimes for the terminally ill; and there are stories about inexperienced mothers putting their kids to sleep they never woke up from) - researchgate.net/publication/… $\endgroup$ Sep 6 at 5:38
  • $\begingroup$ @RadovanGarabík As a folk remedy yes and many small, isolated parts of Europe kept using opium right through as well but the medieval "medical profession" seem to have forgotten and ignored the usefulness of the poppy for a long time. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 6 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ Opium has a distinctive taste, so the beverage would need to be strongly flavoured. $\endgroup$
    – DrMcCleod
    Sep 6 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ @DrMcCleod Can you use tiny incremental doses over a number of drinks? It would help with the not overdosing you poor victim bit as well as disguising the attempt. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 6 at 23:52
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Dwale.

Dwale: an anaesthetic from old England

“How to make a drink that men call dwale to make a man sleep whilst men cut him: take three spoonfuls of the gall [bile] of a barrow swine [boar] for a man, and for a woman of a gilt [sow], three spoonfuls of hemlock juice, three spoonfuls of wild neep [bryony], three spoonfuls of lettuce, three spoonfuls of pape [opium], three spoonfuls of henbane, and three spoonfuls of eysyl [vinegar], and mix them all together and boil them a little and put them in a glass vessel well stopped and put thereof three spoonfuls into a potel of good wine and mix it well together.

This stuff sounds wicked to me and also to the author. Either henbane or hemlock by itself would pack a punch (ask Socrates) and here they costar with booze. Apparently the original recipe also had mandrake root which does not grow in England. But if you are going to have someone sleep through getting cut, you need serious medicine.

There is a reference to dwale in Canterbury Tales too (see linked source) so it was a known thing. The only problem for the proposed use is that it would taste absolutely terrible because of the bile. I suspect dwale would need to be made fresh because the bile would not keep. Maybe the herbal ingredients are available in case someone needs to whip up a batch and your character just uses the henbane and hemlock parts for the poison.

I can imagine the healer (the author suggests this would not have been a barber-surgeon but some layperson) explaining to your character that she thought the bile was to keep the patient from drinking it too fast, because too much dwale was liable to kill. The bile made sure the patient choked it down little by little. In your fiction, the sleeping poisoned person is actually thought to be dead - he does not stir when slapped and his beard is pulled, and his heart is so slow (from the anticholinergic henbane) that he is not thought to have a pulse. People thought to be dead but not dead are the stuff of good fiction.

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Distilled spirits. Stills were present in Europe at the time, though rare and chiefly used for medical purposes.

As an added advantage, it makes him look like he just drank too much.

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In my region (Mediterranean area) during the times of my grandparents the grandma recipe to keep toddlers quite and make them sleep, passed down the generations, was to boil normal poppies into wine and then give it to the subject, eventually diluted with water.

It worked like a charm, to the orror of whoever listen to this story in the present days.

All those ingredients were also available in medieval times.

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