By Erin Liljegren
Do you have trouble falling asleep at night? Do your thoughts keep you awake, triggering more anxiety, sleeplessness and insomnia? A simple herbal formula may help break this cycle by assisting the body in relaxation; allowing for more restful sleep. Scutellaria lateriflora, or Skullcap, is medicinal plant, from the mint family, that has been recommended by herbalists for nearly every ailment of the nervous system, especially sleeplessness and nervous tension.
Don't let its name scare you; skullcap is a gentle herb. It gets its name from the latin word “scutella,” which means small dish, referring to the plant's cup-like flowers. The plant's medicine is located within these flowers and when in bloom, the flowering tops are collected and then dried—or fresh pressed in alcohol to extract their medicine.
Skullcap can be used as a long term tonic, meaning it is safe to take at low doses for an extended period of time. Some people find it useful to take as a daily tonic to relieve feelings of anxiety throughout the day, while others take skullcap before bedtime to relax and fall asleep. For those that wake up in the middle of the night, skullcap can assist with falling back asleep. It can assist in meditation by calming the mind and help to reduce emotions of anger, hatred, jealousy and irritability. Skullcap is also one of the best herbs to help break addiction cycles and ease substance withdrawal symptoms. This bitter and cooling herb also supports the heart, liver, gallbladder, and large intestine.
Skullcap is classified as a nervine in herbal medicine because it helps calm the nervous system and relieve tension. It is useful for treating the symptoms associated
with nervousness and fear, sleeplessness and insomnia, anxiety, nervous system weakness and exhaustion. It also has anti-spasmodic ability; helping to relax tight, constricted muscles and spasms, such as cardiac irritability, tremors and ticks. It is specifically useful for a nervous stomach; one full of “butterflies” and nerves. Additional properties of skullcap include: sedative, relaxant, cholagogue, aromatic, anti-convulsive, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and hypotensive.
There are several factors to consider, in order to ensure you use skullcap safely. For example, the recommended dosage is 5-10 drops of the alcohol tincture, 1-4 times per day. Larger doses can create dizziness, mental confusion, and erratic pulse rate. You may also steep 1 tsp of the herb in 1 cup of hot water, up to 2 times per day for a medicinal tea. Please pay close attention to the labels when purchasing skullcap tinctures to be sure you are getting "Scutellaria lateriflora"; they are often mislabeled and contain the germander and/or teucrium plant, or you may be purchasing another species of skullcap which are not interchangeable for medicinal effects.
At Human Nature, we carry Scutellaria lateriflora alcohol extractions from Herbalist & Alchemist and are available for purchase in 2 oz bottles. Call our office to reserve a bottle.
If you find yourself restless at night or fearful and anxious during the day, skullcap may be an herb to consider adding to your diet. It is very effective at relaxing the nervous system and a restoring calm state of mind.
My personal observation when tasting the tincture:
“Bright and green, bitter yet sweet. Brought feelings of calming energy. I closed my eyes and drifted peacefully into quiet thoughts and meditation.” - Erin Liljegren
Eich, Kathy. Make Your Way to Being an Herbalist. Red Root Mountain Publications: Madison, WI. 2014. pp 171-172
Mabey, Richard. The New Age Herbalist. Simon & Schuster Co.: New York. 1988.
Tilgner, Dr. Sharon Marie. Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth. Wise Acres. Second Edition 2009. Pleasant Hill, Oregon. pp. 152
Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Crossing Press: Berkley. 2003. pp 120
Wood, Matt. The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism. North Atlantic Books: Berkley, CA. 2004