Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) has two funny common names. The most used name, skullcap, points to the affinity this herb has with calming the mind and central nervous system, and also to how the flower appears like a hood. The second name, mad-dog skullcap, comes from a historical use for rabies, which is not a good idea anymore. However, skullcap remains one of the most useful herbs to restore and calm the nerves. I use this beautiful plant for myself and others, often.
Skullcap is known as a slightly sedating nervine, neurotrophorestorative, anxiolytic, and spasmolytic. Let me explain what each of those words mean:
- A nervine normalizes the functions of the nervous system, soothing and relieving tension.
- A neuro-trophorestorative is something herbs can do which pharmaceutical drugs don’t. It restores optimal function and structure of an organ or tissue. In skullcap’s case, its attention is the restoration of the neurons.
- An anxiolytic relieves anxiety. Not all anxiolytic herbs do this in the same way.
- A spasmolytic relieves or decreases muscle spasms in smooth or skeletal muscle.
Skullcap is specifically called for when someone has nervous, emotional irritability. Nervous irritability might appear as spasms, tremors, restlessness (perhaps in the legs), skeletal muscle tension (neck and back), teeth-grinding, stress headaches and agitation, both emotionally and physically.
Two types of agitation skullcap is good for are Excess and Deficient Agitation. Excess agitation is like the Yosemite Sam character: agitated, forceful, fiery, turbulent, angry, irritable, or jealous. The kind of energy they give off makes you want to back away slowly from them. They have a louder voice and their eye contact is steady. They give the perception of alpha dog, but when a lot of things pile up, they just might blow. This person might have cranky tension in his or her muscles (wry neck, low-back pain, or teeth-grinding) because they need to be doing something more active, not sitting behind a desk. Some women have PMS symptoms that are like Yosemite Sam. Dose: 2 grams of the leaf in tea, capsules, or equivalent of tincture three times a day.
Deficient agitation is in someone who is very sensitive and easily overwhelmed by too much noise, light, such as in a big city or a big party. Excessive stimuli, i.e. too much input, would easily lead to nervous agitation in such a person. This person might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), hypervigilance, physical hypersensitivity, heart palpitations, panic attacks/disorder, test anxiety or fear of public speaking. Dose: 2 grams of the leaf in tea, capsules, or equivalent of tincture three times a day. **Larger doses of the tincture in the moment of panic, having palpitations, or public speaking.
Skullcap demonstrates the complexity of working with herbs and the great capabilities herbs have, often not found in pharmaceuticals. This is why skullcap forms the backbone of my Peace Tea formula.
(If someone has nervous exhaustion, you’d choose wild oats, Avena sativa; and if it’s nerve damage, then St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, would be best).
Many years ago, there was an adulteration of skullcap with germander (Teucrium), and people became sick. This hasn’t happened for a very long time—over a decade—since our standards have improved for herbs. Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) has different uses than the native American skullcap.
Skullcap is OK with kids, and is not addictive like valium or benzodiazepines.
Much of the above information has come from one of my great teachers, James Snow.