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PO Box 261, Fredonia, NY  14063


Fredonia, New York

Scullcap: Putting My Calm Hat On

Herbal Writing & Recipes

For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Scullcap: Putting My Calm Hat On

Sarah Sorci

For those who aren't well acquainted with me, I can be a bit of an over-scheduler. ("Um, a bit?" says my guy Patrick.) I ran myself ragged as a high school kid with sports and dance classes, music, AP classes, and squeezing friends and family into my spare time. College wasn't much better. "Play with me!" called my dear friend Kelsey to her three frazzled apartment mates, who enabled each other to work too much and enjoy too little. My kind and relaxed french horn professor, David Nesmith, interrupted our private lesson one day to read me "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver:

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves..."

I nearly cried.

I've gotten better over the past decade. Farm work helped: I spent three years working part time on small organic farms, letting my work schedule and activity be shaped by the weather and the seasons. I had plenty of time to rest, explore, be creative, and hike outdoors. After a productive week at Gong Garden Farm in Fredonia, my friend and former "boss" Sarom decided to spend a day making bracelets on the porch with her 4-year-old daughter and I. "Should I be weeding?" I asked. "No," said Sarom. I didn't realize I'd been anxious for years until I gifted myself a balanced lifestyle, and it felt great.

When I started my holistic herbalism practice three years ago, it was easy to fall back into the overly-busy pace. My anxiety reached a peak last spring, juggling two part-time jobs and keeping up with teaching and consultations. After a few months of anxiety, my body forms a habit of waking up anxious and staying that way-- regardless of whether the to-do list is still overwhelming. My chest feels tight and constricted; my mind feels partly spaced out, and partly like it's physically buzzing. When my nervous system gets tapped like this, I try to continue activities that help me feel sane: meditation/prayer, journaling, walking and gardening, social time. When nothing I do seems to shake the anxiety habit, I turn to herbs like scullcap for extra support.

Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Scullcap (or skullcap) is a non-aromatic mint family plant that is native to rich US woodlands. I chose to write about scullcap this month partly because I've found it so easy to cultivate. I planted some seeds directly in my garden, some seeds in a pot, and some greenhouse seedlings in my garden and in pots. Some plants are getting more sun; some are getting more shade. All have done splendidly. While rabbits and leaf-miners nibble other plants in my garden, nothing has touched the scullcap. 

Scullcap is known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. According to clinical herbalist Thomas Easley in The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, scullcap  "helps to calm brain function and is helpful for insomnia and chronic stress" (301). Like other gentle nervous system relaxers, including chamomile and passionflower, scullcap also has a bit of a muscle relaxing effect. While this can contribute to a general sense of relaxation, I particularly like this combo when folks have trouble sleeping due to stiffness or physical discomfort.

Scullcap can be particularly useful when the nervous system is overly sensitive to stimuli, or twitchy. I have added it to a formula to support a client's hand tremor (along with diet and lifestyle changes), and other herbalists report usefulness in supporting mild Tourette's, heart palpitations and more (Rogers, 2017). However, Dorothy Hall points out that "it is not a tranquilizer that blunts our sensitivity, or reduces stress reaction," but rather has a balancing effect (Rogers, 253). With clients, I always emphasize the importance of healthy diet and lifestyle as a foundation; using herbs like a band-aid will not ultimately be effective.

Since many herbalists prefer fresh scullcap over dried for its potency, it's fortunate that it is so easy to grow. While herbalist Robert Rogers, RH believes that dried scullcap has no effect, Thomas Easley considers dried scullcap to have more of a sedating action than a fresh tonic. When I brewed dried scullcap tea recently, I used leaves that were a few years old, and dumped in extra scullcap to compensate for potentially lower quality. One cup left me feeling like I'd had a beer. 

In my garden, scullcap began flowering a couple weeks ago-- the perfect time to harvest the tender aerial parts. I made an herbal tincture for easy dosing and preservation. If you would like to learn how to make herbal tinctures, look for an herbal tincture making class on the "Classes and Events" page, or get in touch for a private consult.

Easley, Thomas. The Modern Herbal Dispensatory. 2016
Rogers, Robert, RH. Herbal Allies: My Journey With Plant Medicine. 2017.