The Uses of Skullcap in Natural Medicine
Skullcap is a modest and humble plant, with delicate leaves and small purple flowers. It’s native to North America and scientifically known as Scutellaria lateriflora. Typically found in damp and shady places, this non-aromatic mint often grows densely, spreading wide.
Skullcap has many amazing properties that herbalists and natural medicine practitioners tap into. It’s known most for its ability to relax the nervous system–being well indicated for use in people living with stress, tension, anxiety, and panic attacks.
This blog describes skullcap’s history, energetic uses, and physical herbal benefits.
Historical and Ethnobotanical Use of Skullcap
Native American wisdom teaches much about the natural medicine uses of Skullcap. Much data on its ethnobotanical use comes from the Cherokee nation. They have used at least three different species of skullcap for a variety of ailments–including diarrhea, breast pain, and enhancing kidney function.
In 1772, Dr. Van Derveer reported skullcap as a potential cure for rabies, later claiming in 1815 he had used it thousands of times on humans and cows to prevent it after bites from rabid dogs. The London Medical and Physical Journal even published an account of a Dr. Fiske successfully using it in regards to rabies in humans in 1820. This certainly helped it gain notoriety in the western world, although it’s not currently recommended for use with rabies.
Skullcap entered the European Materia Medica in 1787, after being written about by Johann David Schopf in his Materia Medica Americana. Additionally, skullcap was first referenced as relaxing nervous system disorders by the Physiomedicalists and Eclectics of the 19th century.
Energetic Functions of Skullcap
Skullcap is energetically known as a bitter and cooling herb, meaning it is indicated for people who have a warm constitution. It can also provide relief during situations of excitability and overstimulation, such as stress, anger, and panic attacks.
Many herbalists have more specific indications for skullcap, so it may be worth trying a small dose to see if it suits you. Skullcap tinctures generally work very quickly.
Skullcap’s Use as a Relaxing Nervine
Skullcap excels at relieving acute and intense situations of stress and anxiety. Sam Coffman, an experienced herbal medic, relies on skullcap for shock-related anxiety. He’s stated that this and Passionflower formulas have never failed him, in this regard.
It can also be taken broadly to support the nervous system and reduce the negative effects of chronic stress. As a nerve tonic, it can help people who feel like their nerves are constantly on edge after prolonged periods of stress.
Herbalists have many relaxing nervines at our disposal, including those specific to anxiety. However, many of these can cause drowsiness (like Valerian, Kava, and Hops). This means skullcap tinctures stand apart! They can relieve acute anxiety without causing drowsiness, lethargy, or foggy thinking.
Use for Twitching Muscles and Spasms
Skullcap is also known for reducing muscle twitches and involuntary muscle spasms. Eclectic herbal literature states it was a favorite for chorea (involuntary muscle spasms), especially when combined with black cohosh (Actaea racemosa). It was known to calm those spasms, as well as working for people who develop tremors, nervous tics, and bruxism.
It can also be used for people with ADHD. It’s often indicated for irritability, repetitive movements, outbursts of anger, and oversensitivity to external influences. Skullcap can be very effective when used correctly and in significant doses over long periods of time.
Insomnia and Skullcap
Although a fresh skullcap tincture isn’t a strong sedative, it can be useful for someone who has tense muscles and can’t relax enough to fall asleep. Skullcap can also calm restless legs.
The Herbalist 7song uses skullcap for a restless mind at night:
“I see it most useful for people who constantly need to take charge. For working with more difficult cases of insomnia, skullcap tincture can be combined with stronger sedative herbs like valerian (Valeriana officinalis) or hops (Humulus lupulus). The Eclectic herbalists recommended a very strong infusion of skullcap for insomnia. This preparation has stronger sedative properties than the tincture.”
Skullcap is also a mild anodyne herb, meaning it is suited to relieve pain due to muscle tension–including headaches and TMJ tension in the jaw. While it isn’t the strongest herbal remedy, it can be combined well with other herbs to increase the pain-relieving effect. 7song explains, “It can help focus and amplify the efficiency of other remedies.”
Plant Preparations of Skullcap
Skullcap can be prepared as a tincture, tea, oil infusion, or smoking herb. Here are some basic suggestions for each preparation.
Tincture: Skullcap is best tinctured when fresh. As always, it’s best to start with the lowest dose and slowly work up until the effective dosage is found for the individual. (Try the Nature’s Tranquilizing Tonic or Stress Buster)
Infusion: Skullcap can lose its potency fairly quickly after drying. For best results in making tea, use some that has been dried within the past six months.A strong tea of skullcap can have more strongly sedative qualities than the tincture. Since drinking a lot of liquid before sleep isn’t a great idea, drink an hour before the desired bed time. (Try Sleepytime Tea)
As always, each of us has a different story so our current health depends on the person and the situation. If you have a lot of health issues, ask your ND, Herbalist, or practitioner about these herbs or others you are unsure of. We will be able to guide you in this. Feel free to book a consultation with me here to begin understanding how to bring your body into balance, too.
*For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. (Because why would we want to do that?)