There's a good reason why nervines are some of the most common plants we use in herbalism. It’s both simple and profound to note the extreme stressors present in modern life.
Constant overstimulation, personal, and collective traumas all compound to overwhelm our nervous systems, and this is one place where herbs are there to support us when we need them most.
I could get all heady and talk to you about how humans and herbs have co-evolved over time and space to support each other in a myriad of symbiotic ways, but I’ll just dive in to tell you about one of the best nervines out there: Skullcap.
A Soothing Nervine Tonic
Common Name: Skullcap
Latin Name: Scutellaria lateriflora
Family: Lamiaceae, Mint Family
Native to North America, this plant loves damp conditions and needs plenty of sun. It is a perennial herb belonging to the Lamiaceae, or Mint, family. Scutellaria lateriflora generally grows to about 2 feet, has opposite leaves and square stems and grows violet flowers. The seed capsules look like skullcaps when they are dried, giving the plant its common name.
To harvest, collect the aerial parts when flowering in the summer. Some say it’s best to harvest from 3-4 year old plants. As always, make sure you are 100% certain you’re harvesting the correct plant and it’s coming from a clean source. Like most Mint family plants, Skullcap is prolifically easy to grow in the garden, which is a great option for having your own fresh, organic and low-cost herbs.
Skullcap makes me feel heavy and relaxed when I drink it as a tea. It has a cooling energy and is great for fiery individuals with an overactive nervous system. This plant is also deeply soothing to the mind and is particularly helpful for those of us who struggle with anxious thoughts and overactive headspaces. A great herb for your head, it strengthens the brain, calms the mind and stimulates a meditative state (making it a particularly good herb for witchy activities of a mental nature).
Herbal Actions and Uses
Skullcap’s herbal actions include:
This plant is one of the best nervine tonics out there. It is good for all kinds of agitated and tense states, including overwork, trauma, addiction and burnout. A great herb for insomnia, nightmares and restless sleep, Skullcap also relieves muscle tension. Skullcap is a great herb to take regularly over an extended period of time, as it helps restore the Central Nervous System to a cohesive, balanced state.
In addition to depression, anxiety and insomnia, Skullcap can be used for a number of other neurological issues, including seizures, epilepsy and tremors and convulsions. It’s also a cardiac relaxant that can ease heart palpitations and other imbalances, particularly ones that stem from a nervous origin.
Scutellaria lateriflora is a great menstrual aid, helping with cramps and stress and generally easing PMS symptoms. It can also soothe migraines, although it depends on the type. As a cerebral vasodilator that expands your blood vessels, it may actually exacerbate headaches that are caused by that same effect.
A powerful herb that helps you cut out that which weighs you down, Skullcap is an amazing herbal ally for people in recovery. It is great for helping to break addictions, taking a half a cup of tea every hour or two can help people get through withdrawals, tapering off as symptoms decrease.
Magnesium is one of Skullcap’s constituents that makes it so great at easing tension, tremors and nervous stress. This is a mineral that many of us are unfortunately deficient in, causing a wide range of mental health symptoms including irritability, anxiety, depression and tension. Drinking Skullcap daily is a great way to increase your Magnesium intake, which is a water soluble mineral that needs to be taken in regularly, as your body doesn’t store it.
So, how do you take Skullcap as medicine? Tea, also called a standard infusion, will do just fine, and Skullcap tea actually tends to be stronger than a tincture of the herb.
To make a Skullcap infusion:
Measure 1-2 teaspoons per 8 ounces of water
Pour boiling water over herbs and cover (this makes sure the volatile oils don't evaporate away)
After 10-15 minutes, strain and enjoy!
This is a strongly sedating herb, start with a smaller dose, see how it makes you feel, and work up from there. If you're planning on driving anywhere, this is an herb to avoid, as it is not safe to operate heavy machinery after consuming Skullcap. Skullcap also slows your heart rate and deeply relaxes your body, which can actually increase anxiety for some people. This is another reason to increase your dosage carefully. Scutellaria lateriflora is a powerful herb with incredible healing properties that should be consumed with reverence and respect.
Herbal Apprentice Program
If you're interested in learning more about herbs, anatomy, and how to live a healthy and vitalizing life, check out Artemisia Academy’s Herbal Apprentice Program.
Much of the information I shared in this post comes from James Green's Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook, Andrew Chevallier’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, and Artemisia Academy’s classes.
About the Author
Alicia Cielle Heiser is an Astrologer, Herbalist and student at Artemisia Academy. Her work centers on facilitating a greater understanding of the cyclical nature of the world and the ways that we as humans fit within the greater whole. She is writing a series of materia medica blog posts for Artemisia to make the wisdom and knowledge of herbal medicine more available to more people. Alicia also offers herbal astrology readings and you can find her at www.aliciacielle.com.
Disclaimer: Information presented on this webpage is for educational purposes only, and does not include the diagnosis and treatment of disease nor replace the advice of a licensed physician. Please refer to a licensed health professional for any illness or persistent symptoms before using herbal remedies.
Herbs can sometimes cause discomfort or side effects, and may interact adversely with pharmaceutical medications. Do not use herbs internally without the approval of a doctor or medical professional if you are currently on medications or have a history of medical conditions.