Skullcap

I have Skullcap growing that I started from seed indoors under lights, then moved to a place in our garden near echinacea and lovage which provide a semi-shady micro-climate from their tall stalks in summer and also keep the ground cool and moist.  The Skullcap plants have been spreading from their initial spot by way of runners and have since moved and colonized three feet away, together with mint.

I tinctured a large quantity of fresh Skullcap, stem, leaf and flowers included, in 100 proof vodka and what’s left continues to be effective seven years later. I’m curious to discover whether it’ll lose potency before I run out.

I personally find Skullcap tincture tasty in a peculiar perfumed way that leaves my mouth with the sensation of having fresher breath, it makes me want to breathe out my mouth Haa Haa. The taste lingers for quite a while, with minty notes . . . perhaps the flavor comes from growing with mint, enhancing Skullcap’s flavor?

I have used it when experiencing difficulty sleeping from having too much on my mind resulting in mental exhaustion, rather than physical exhaustion, coupled with a racing heart that’s jumping at the slightest creak.  I’ve felt its effects as quick to relax and induce a drowsy sensation within five minutes, I feel it in my limbs, after which it feels as though whatever thoughts or feelings are troubling me are drawn together and then washed out as I watch them.  As though the particulars are made visible while leaving, after which I have drifted off to sleep easily.  It also tends to cool me down when agitated and kicking off blankets/sheets from restless heat buildup, bringing about a calm, still point after which I pull the blankets/sheets back up and sleep comes. The dosage that is effective for me is 2-4 drops under the tongue, and my experience of it has been to partake only when stress overruns so one-time dosages per day.

That said, when my sister was experiencing restlessness, discomfort, and difficulty sleeping in the two days prior to the onset of her labor, she kept pacing about and reiterating how tired she was.  I administered Skullcap with absolutely no soothing effects; if anything, she became more irritable.  Her midwife, also a herbalist with a far better understanding of herbs than I, shook her head when I told her I’d given my sister Skullcap and advised that I brew her chamomile tea instead.  She later explained that Skullcap, between what my sister was experiencing and her personality, was not a complementary match at all . . . I later wondered if this was partly because it was having a stimulating (in an adverse way) rather than a sedating effect as a member of the mint family, especially since her discomfort was more physical than mental in origin?  Herbs and humans in relationship, I learned, must be matched based on personality being included in the decision making process of what to do, not just administered for their actions alone.

Chamomile, a non-mint and also a cooling nervine, proved a better match in her case as a relaxant and sort of shut off or sedated the channels that were causing aggravation to her, facilitating a soothing  sense of comfort that she needed at the time.  She slept like a baby after a cup of chamomile tea and shifted into labor after receiving some rest.

This experience taught me a lot about seeing the whole plant inclusive of its family, the whole person, the circumstances, and how they may interact in their personal relationship , as opposed to what I had been doing which was to glance at a situation through the lens of a plant’s primary actions and assume it’ll act that way with anyone at any time . . . we humans don’t, our behavior shifts with different people and circumstances, even if in subtle ways, and I learned plants do the same thing.  This came my way through Skullcap and someone to midwife the learning curve.

Botanical NameSkullcap Lateriflora

Family: Lamiacea

Common NameSkullcap, Madweed, Mad Dog Skullcap

Growing Conditions/Habitat: 

Skullcap is abundant in America, preferring temperate regions.  It will grow in sunny and open space, with well drained but moist soil, and it will also grow in shady forest habitats and hedgerows.  It is a herbaceous perennial plant that flowers in July, and is part of the mint family.  It has a square stem with toothed opposite leaves.  The blooms are small, trumpet shaped, and show up in singles and pairs; they vary from pale blue to lavender and purple in color.  Skullcap can be grown from seed or by dividing the roots.

Interesting Tidbits: 

On nomenclature:

Skullcap’s delicate flowers are formed by two tongue-like petals that were said to resemble the helmets of medieval European soldiers, from whence it gets its common name.

It was used in the treatment of hydrophobia or rabies, thus its colloquial nickname of Mad Dog.

Skullcap is associated with the planet Mercury, which rules the signs of Virgo (Earth) and Gemini (Air), due to its effects on the nervous system and by way of the mind, communication/overthinking portals.  By calming the mind, it helps facilitate meditation.

Medicinal Actions and Properties: 

Nervous system tonic (balancing, and nourishing), nervine (herbs that are restorative in nature), antispasmodic (slows movements of the gut/gastro intestinal tract, relaxes the muscles in the stomach and intestines), slightly astringent (herbs that dry, tighten, or shrink tissues and veins, remove or reduce moisture and discharge), cooling action, relaxing, and bitter.

Tissue States: Excitation (heat), constriction (tension), atrophy (lack of function).

Systems AffectedNervous System, includes the Mind/Brain

Uses 

Relieves neuralgia (stabbing, burning, and often severe pain due to an irritated or damaged nerves, which may be anywhere in the body, and the damage may be caused by several things, including aging, diseases such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis, or an infection, such as shingles), nervous headaches, headaches from incessant coughing, convulsions, hysteria (emotional excess), soothes nervous excitement, and induces sleep.

Due to its tonic effects, it assists in rebuilding depleted nervous systems such as when one feels spent from mental over-work, characterized by clenched fists, tight shoulders, and you’re holding your breath as though just waiting for that next thing to come along and worry and disturb you, such that there’s a continuous sense of gnawing anxiety. By way of calming the mind and facilitating rest, relaxing the gut, and releasing tension held, Skullcap nourishes and restores harmony to those pathways.

It is an ally for the person who has a pattern or tendency toward a wandering, over thinking mind, which keeps moving from one idea to the next until lying in bed a state of exhaustion is reached and one is tossing and turning, kicking off the blankets, yet sleep is nowhere near.

Parts Used

Leaf and stem gathered at peak of flowering, picked through for discolored parts, and then dried or chopped up for tincturing. Administer as infusion or tincture.

Ratio for fresh plant tincture 1:2, dry plant, 1:5, 50% alcohol, dispense 20-60 drops tincture or standard infusion of herb, 2-6 ounces 3x a day.

Caution: Overdose causes giddiness, mental confusion, and stupor. Skullcap, as part of the mint family, may stimulate in unwanted ways under certain conditions!

References

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants, Matthew Wood, p. 324-325

A Modern Herbal Volume 2, Maude Grieves, p. 724-725

Michael Moore’s Materia Medica Fifth Edition, p.34 (http://www.swsbm.com/ManualsMM/MatMed5.pdf)

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