Monday, September 15, 2014

Ashwagandha Benefits

 Ashwagandha Root: Ashwagandha Benefits

Ashwagandha root is a powerful medicinal herb that is used extensively in Ayurveda. This article will look at many ashwagandha uses for ashwagandha herb including how to use ashwagandha powder and how to use ashwagandha for women. 

Common names: Winter cherry, Indian Ginseng

Scientific name: Withania somnifera

Family: Solanaceae

Parts Used: root mainly, leaf and berries can also be used

Plant Energetics: sweet, astringent, bitter, moist, warming

Plant Properties: adaptogen, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anxiolytic, aphrodisiac, immunomodulator, cardioprotective

Plant Uses: fatigue, emaciation, reproductive health, hypothyroid, insomnia, longevity, low libido, degenerative disease, anxiety, asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, insulin resistance

Plant Preparations: ashwagandha powder, tincture, decoction, poultice

Ashwagandha root has long been used in India and Africa and in recent years has enamored western herbalists with its ability to both strengthen those who are weak and calm those who are stressed and anxious. 

The Supreme Rasayana: Ashwagandha Benefits

The first writings about ashwagandha benefits are in Ayurveda texts from roughly 3,000 - 4,000 years ago. Ayurveda classifies ashwagandha as a rasayana. A rasayana is an herb that deeply rejuvenates and promotes longevity. 

Rasayanas are especially revered for bringing health into the elder years. 

It is used in all conditions of weakness and tissue deficiency in children, the elderly, those debilitated by chronic diseases, those suffering from overwork, lack of sleep or nervous exhaustion. 
Frawley and Lad
Yoga of Herbs

Classically, ashwagandha is described as reducing kapha and vata and increasing pitta. It is predominantly used as a strengthening and rejuvenative tonic for all forms of weakness, fatigue, convalescing, and wasting. 
-AHP Monograph

Calming Adaptogen

Ashwagandha root is especially alluring in its ability to both strengthen and calm the nervous system. Taken over time ashwagandha can build up emaciated tissues, decrease a negative response to stress and increase energy levels. 

Ashwaganda can be translated to mean smell of a horse’s urine or sweat. I have not been able to make this comparison myself, but don’t let this description stop you from trying this incredible herb! Along with this is a common saying for ashwaganda root: it gives you the strength of a stallion. 

“One obtains longevity, regains youth, gets a sharp memory and intellect and freedom from diseases, gets a lustrous complexion, and strength of a horse”. 
Ayurvedic Scholar
100 BC

However, rather than being overtly stimulating, one of ashwagandha's benefits is that it is gently sedative and supports healthy sleep cycles. Its species name is somnifera which refers to its use to support sleep. Rather than think of it as an herb for acute insomnia, it is something that is taken over time to restore nervous system health and restore healthy sleep cycles. 

Ashwaganda root is sometimes called the ginseng of India. But while some adaptogens, like ginseng, may be overstimulating to people with anxiety, ashwagandha excels at decreasing anxiety and soothing the nervous system. Consider it for people with anxiety as well as people with debilitating exhaustion who don’t need stimulants but instead need deep rest. 

It should be considered wherever there is nervousness and exhaustion in any chronic disease. It has the capacity to greatly increase vitality, sense of well-being while reducing anxiety and fatigue. 
Kiva Rose

Ashwagandha: Photo Credit to Liz Butler

Ashwagandha Uses for Reproductive Health…

Ashwagandha root is famously used to support both sexual desire and fertility in men and women. While it probably does this in many ways that we will never fully understand, I think of it as nourishing the vital essence. When we are overall healthy and strong we can devote more of our energy to sexual and reproductive vitality. 

Ashwagandha for women...

When used for women, ashwagandha can be paired with shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), another wonderful Ayurvedic herb. 

While ashwagandha root can be used for both sexes, it has been long used for promoting sexual health in men and can be used specifically for spermatorrhea. 

While Ashwagandha can serve as an aphrodisiac in stimulating libido in both men and women, it is even more valuable when thought of as an herb that builds semen potency as well.
-KP Khalsa
Culinary Herbalist Course

Ashwagandha Benefits for the Brain...

Ashwagandha root has been shown to improve cognitive function in young men. In a trial 20 men were given ashwagandha daily and had cognitive tests done before and after a two week regimen. After two weeks they showed significant improvements in cognitive ability. 

Not many tests have been done using ashwagandha in humans; however, this small study makes me wonder how ashwagandha might help preventing or slowing Alzheimer's disease. The authors of this study hypothesize that ashwagandha may prevent or possibly repair central nervous system disorders.  

The indication here is that the use of Withania somnifera can bring significant changes in neurological baseline functions, with the postulation that it can be applied clinically in prevention, and possibly repair, 
of central nervous system disorders.

Ashwagandha Benefits for the Heart...

Ashwagandha helps to protect the heart from age-related illness. It can be combined with arjuna bark (Terminalia arjuna) which is a famous herb for the heart from Ayurveda. 

Ashwagandha flower
Photo Credit: Liz Butler

Ashwagandha Uses to Support the Immune System and Against Cancer

Ashwagandha root is an immunomodulating herb that can support the health of the immune system. Consider it for people who have immune system disorders such as HIV or chronic infections as well as for those who tend to get every upper respiratory virus that comes their way. 

Cancer specialist and herbalist Donald Yance says he uses ashwagandha as an immunomodulating herb with his cancer patients. 

I use ashwagandha in adaptogenic formulas for all my patients with cancer during and after chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. The immune-modulating activities of ashwagandha have been well researched and are significant. 
Donald Yance
Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism

Yance, in his book Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism, also cites a study with 77 breast cancer patients that concluded: “Ashwagandha is useful against cancer-related fatigue in addition to improving the quality of life in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.” 

Ashwagandha Benefits for Degenerative Disease

Ashwagandha root is used for a variety of degenerative, wasting and chronic diseases, including arthritis, TB, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Because it builds tissue and supports overall health it can help people regain their strength. 

Ayurveda considers it a “grounding” herb — one that nourishes and regulates metabolic processes and stabilizes mood. 
- KP Khalsa

Herbalist David Winston and Steven Maimes writes in their book Adaptogens that Ashwagandha has been shown to be directly beneficial for people with hypothyroidism and insulin resistance and diabetes. 

In my own practice ashwagandha root is one of my most-used herbs. I always reach for it when there are signs of exhaustion especially when those are accompanied by sleep problems like chronic insomnia. It also works for many people with autoimmune conditions and arthritis. 

I buy all of my ashwagandha powder from my affiliate partners Mountain Rose Herbs. They sell organic high quality ashwagandha powder. 

Botanically Speaking…

Ashwagandha herb is a small shrub in the Solanaceae. It grows to about two feet and prefers semi-arid conditions. It is native to arid areas in India and can also be easily cultivated. 

Leaves are alternate and ovate. They measure about 10cm long and 5 cm wide. 

Ashwagandha leaves

The flowers are yellow to green. 

Ashwagandha Flowers
Photo Credit: Liz Butler

In the fall ashwagandha produces red berries in a papery sheath.

Ashwagandha roots are long fleshy tubers that are cream colored. If you can grow tomatoes then you can probably grow ashwagandha as they need a similar climate. 

Ashwagandha Root

The roots are harvested at the end of the first year. 

Plant preparations: Using Ashwagandha as Medicine

Ashwagandha has historically been used as a powder in Ayurveda. I learned to use ashwagandha powder from my mentor KP Khalsa. And, like him, I use anywhere from 10-30 grams of ashwagandha powder as a daily dose. 

The following dosage suggestions are taken from the official AHP monograph on Ashwagandha. 

Ashwagandha Powder: 3-6 g daily
Decoction: 20-30 g added to heated cow’s milk
Medicated Ghee: 1 teaspoon, 2 times daily
Medicated Oil: Internally, 3-10 drops; or apply externally 
Tincture: No standardized dosage information available.

Donald Yance recommends a 1:1 extract ratio at a dosage of  2-8 mL per day. 

Formulating with ashwagandha root
Ashwagandha can be taken as a single herb; however, it is often formulated. Ayurveda has some complex formulations with ashwagandha; however, it was often simply mixed with pungent herbs like pippali or or the formula trikatu. 

In the book The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, Tierra and Khalsa recommend the following preparation of ashwagandha. 

1 part pippali( (long pepper)
5 parts honey
10 parts ghee

Ashwagandha in bloom

Ashwagandha Side Effects

Ashwagandha is considered safe with no known toxicity within normal dosage amounts. Animal studies have shown abortifacient properties when taken in extremely large dosages. For this reason many sources will recommend not using ashwagandha during pregnancy. Ayurveda, however, regularly uses ashwagandha during pregnancy and even uses it to prevent miscarriage. A more balanced, yet still conservative approach, is to only use ashwagandha during pregnancy under the advice of a qualified herbalist or health professional. 

Ashwagandha side effects may include increasing the sedative effects of barbiturates. 

In Ayurvedic theory, ashwagandha side effects may increase pitta or ama when taken in excess. It shouldn’t be used if there is a current upper respiratory infection or lots of congestion. 


Ashwagandha root is a supreme tonic herb that can be used both to revitalize those who are exhausted and weak as well as soothe people with anxiety and overt stress. 

Ashwagandha has been used for thousands of years in Ayurveda and is becoming more popular in the west due to its unique mix of strengthening and calming benefits. This is a safe and powerfully rejuvenating herb that could benefit many people faced with the chronic health problems of modern society. 

Other resources used in writing this article

Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism by Donald Yance
Way of Ayurvedic Herbs by Michael Tierra and KP Khalsa
Adaptogens by Winston and Maimes
AHP Monograph
Culinary Herbalism Course with KP Khalsa

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Parsley Benefits: More than a simple garnish

The Benefits of Parsley

Botanical name: Petroselinum crispum

Family: Umbelliferae

Parts used: roots, seeds, leaves

Taste: sweet (root), aromatic, pungent (leaves)

Plant Energetics: close to neutral (root), leaves slightly warming

Plant Properties:  diuretic, carminative, anthelmintic, antioxidant, aperient, emmenagogue (especially the seeds), galactagogue  

Plant Uses: urinary tract infections, edema, kidney stones, cystitis, delayed menses, amenorrhea, digestive complaints, cancer prevention, heart disease

Plant Preparations: parsley tea, decoction, culinary, essential oil, fresh leaf poultice

It’s unfortunate that many folks are so intent on finding the next exotic herb and spice in far-away lands that our seemingly common kitchen herbs rarely get the respect they deserve. Parsley is a prime example of that!

Oftentimes parsley is simply thought of as a garnish herb to make a dish look more appealing. But few realize that eating a handful of parsley or drinking parsley tea frequently is good medicine. In this article we’ll look at the specific ways parsley is used medicinally as well as the benefits of eating it regularly to prevent diseases. 

Benefits of parsley as food…
The medicinal benefits of parsley can be partially attributed to it's nutrient content. 

Parsley vitamins
Parsley is really high in nutrients, notably Vitamin K, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. It is especially high in Vitamin K, which is strongly tied to heart health and healthy bones. 

Parsley has minerals galore including a good supply of iron. It’s high in folic acid, which helps relive stress by strengthening the nervous system. Parsley is well known for strengthening the functioning of the kidneys. 
-Robin Rose Bennett 
Plant Healer Magazine Volume II Issue IV

If you want to get the most medicinal benefits of parsley as food, forget simply eating a small sprig once in awhile. Instead, eat large amounts of fresh parsley in salads and sauces. 

Ingredients for tabouleh: A parsley recipe

Parsley Recipes
Now that you know the amazing qualities of parsley you'll probably want to know how to make a tasty parsley recipe. 

I have two favorites ways of enjoying the benefits of parsley.

The first is parsley pesto. Basically to make this parsley recipe you make a basic basil pesto but substitute the basil for parsley. You can see a complete parsley pesto recipe here. 

My other favorite way to enjoy parsley is a tabouleh salad. This parsley recipe includes lots of other nutritious vegetables. I like to make mine with quinoa so that it's gluten free as well. You can see my entire tabouleh parsley recipe here. 

Medicinal uses of parsley as a diuretic…
As a medicine, parsley herb is best known for its effects on the urinary system. The leaves and roots are used as a diuretic and have been used for a variety of ailments in which increased urination is beneficial, including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, cystitis, edema and, historically, it was used for gonorrhea. 

Parsley roots have a stronger diuretic action than the leaves and are typically taken as a strong decoction or tea. 

An infusion of parsley is beneficial when, with nephritis or
cystitis, the specific gravity of the urine is high, and the urination painful and irritating to the mucous membranes. It is useful in gonorrhea and strangury, with great irritation of the parts, with heat, or a scalding sensation on passage of urine, and can be given during the inflammatory stage. It has also been given in dropsy with good results.
-Finley Ellingwood 
American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919

Medicinal uses of parsley as a carminative…
Besides sprucing up your dinner plate, parsley herb is also used as a garnish herb because it can help with poor digestion. Have bad breath? Try fresh parsley. Have signs of stagnant digestion such as bloating, constipation or gas? Try eating parsley. Maybe you have trouble finding a good appetite, then try eating a few sprigs of parsley before the meal is served.

Fresh parsley (especially the flat-leafed variety) is great for digestion on its own. It can also be paired with fennel to relieve more severe cases of stagnant digestion. 

Parsley as an emmenagogue…
Parsley has a mild ability to stimulate uterine contractions and can be used to promote menstruation in delayed menses or amenorrhea (lack of menstruation). (Often times there is an underlying hormonal issue that also needs to be addressed.)

Parsley root is also considered nourishing and blood building, which can be an important part of supporting a healthy menstrual cycle. Herbalist Peter Holmes likens parsley root to nettle, another nourishing and blood-building herb.  

Because parsley herb can stimulate uterine contractions it is not recommended in large doses during pregnancy. Although we don’t have any actual case studies showing a strong abortive effect it’s better to take a conservative stance on using parsley during pregnancy. 

In the quote below Ellingwood discusses the use of the essential oil for amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea (painful menses). 

Apiol is a specific in amenorrhea. Five or six minims in a capsule, three times daily, for six or eight days before the menstrual epoch will restore the flow in many stubborn cases. It has no marked abortive influence. In persistent dysmenorrhea it has cured many 
cases intractable to other agents.
-Finley Ellingwood 
American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy, 1919

Medicinal uses of parsley herb used externally..
I don’t hear of many herbalists using parsley externally today, but there are many references in our older herbals using fresh parsley leaf poultices. Different herbals recommend it for eczema, insect bites, dandruff, inflamed eyes, sprains and enlarged glands. 

The seeds as well as the leaves, sprinkled on the hair, in powder, or in the form of an ointment, will effectually destroy vermin; the leaves, applied as a fomentation, will, it is asserted, cure the bites or stings of insects. The leaves, bruised, are a good application to contusions, swelled breasts, and enlarged glands—reputed to "dry up the milk" of wet-nurses. 
-KIng’s American Dispensatory, 1898

The Leaves of Parsley laid to the Eyes that are inflamed with heat or swollen, doth much help them, if it be used with Bread or Meal; 
- Culpepper, The English Physician, 1652

Parsley herb for inflammation and heart disease….
Dr. Bharat Aggarwal, in his book Healing Spices, describes parsley as being an “antioxidant helper”. He says that not only is parsley high in antioxidants and flavonoids, it has also been shown to increase the benefits of other antioxidants. 

We have a growing awareness that chronic inflammation in the body is a root cause of many different chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Eating foods high in antioxidants, like parsley, is one way we can prevent oxidative stress. 

Parsley is also used to support cardiovascular health. It’s used for hypertension (most likely due to its diuretic effect). It’s also been shown to reduce platelet aggregation, thus reducing clots that can cause heart attacks and strokes. 

According to a Pubmed article, “In Morocco, Parsley is mostly used as an elixir to treat arterial hypertension, diabetes, cardiac and renal diseases.” 

Here’s an old recipe using parsley as a cardiovascular tonic. 

St. Hildegard of Bingen wrote about the tonic effects of parsley on the cardio-vascular system in the 12th century. A recipe for parsley wine that’s been passed down is:

Parsley Tonic Wine
12 sprigs of parsley
1 quart of white or red wine
2 tablespoons of white-wine vinegar
9 ounces of honey

Put all the ingredients except the honey together into a soup pot. Boil for 10 minutes then add 9
ounces of honey.

Strain and pour into bottles. Take 1 tablespoon 3x a day.

-Robin Rose Bennett
Plant Healer Magazine #6

Photo Credit

Botanically Speaking…
Parsley is a biennial plant in the parsley family (Umbelliferae). 

The first year it has a rosette of pinnate to tripinnate leaves. Curly leaf parsley and flat leafed parsley are both commonly found in grocery stores and gardens. (More on the differences between the two below.)

It has a cream-colored taproot. 

Photo Credit

In the second year it produces an umbel flowering stem that may grow up to 1 meter tall. The flowers are pinkish to yellowish-green. 

Difference Between Curly Parsley and Flat Leaf Parsley? 
If you know your parsley you might notice that there are two distinct kinds that are commonly sold. One kind has really curly leaves while the other variety has a flat leaf. 

What’s the difference? 

You can tell a lot about herbs by their taste and this is a perfect example of letting your taste sensation be your guide. If you get a chance taste each kind. Do they taste the same? (hint: they don’t!) 

Here’s another taste question for you. Does the stem taste the same as the leaves? What’s the difference?

I’m going to let you discover the different tastes of parsley for yourself, but here’s a hint. Parsley with a stronger aromatic and pungent taste is going to be stronger herbal medicine for digestion and diuresis. 

Plant Preparations….

Is dried parsley effective? Dried parsley leaf can be effective, but parsley is best used fresh. It’s easy to grow in your garden and can also be found in grocery stores all year round. 

If you really want to use dried parsley for making parsley tea be sure to use good quality parsley, either by drying it yourself or by ordering it from a reputable company such as Mountain Rose Herbs

Dried parsley root works great. 

Since parsley is typically served as one sprig on the dinner plate we tend to think that is a good serving size. Not even close! 

In our house we make an effort to get as much parsley herb in our diet as we could possibly enjoy. During the hot summer months we make salads that are at least half parsley leaves. We also like to include liberal parsley garnishes with all of our meals (think small handful rather than sprig).  

Parsley root can be used as a parsley tea or decoction. 

Dosage suggestions: Herbalist Jeremy Ross recommends 2-3 grams of dried parsley root, 2-4 grams of dried leaves or 1 gram of the seeds. 

In his Culinary Herbalism course, herbalist KP Khalsa recommends 1-4 ounces of the fresh juice for kidney stones or as a diuretic. 

Apiol is the name given to parsley seed essential oil. (I do not have experience with this preparation.)

When buying parsley look for vibrant green bunches without any wilted or yellow leaves. When home, cut 1/2 inch from the bottom of the stems and then store in a glass with a bit of water until ready to use. 

Special Considerations…
Parsley leaves and parsley roots are considered safe for most people. The leaves, roots, seeds and essential oil should be avoided in large amounts during pregnancy and lactation. 

Rarely, parsley may cause a photosensitivity rash in some individuals. 

Parsley is a readily available food and medicine that can be easily enjoyed on your dinner plate or more specific medicinal preparations. While it is most commonly used as a diuretic and carminative herb, it can also be used daily to decrease oxidative stress. I hope this article inspires you to start enjoying copious amounts regularly. 

Further Resources and Citations

Web Resources:
Essential oil information:

Critique of medicinal conspicuousness of Parsley(Petroselinum crispum): a culinary herb of Mediterranean region.

Moroccan use of Parsley

Book Resources:
The Earthwise Herbal (Old World) by Matthew Wood
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes
Healing Spices by Bharat Aggarwal

A Clinical Materia Medica by Jeremy Ross

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Skullcap Herb: A restorative relaxing nervine

Photo Credit: Traci Picard from Fellow Workers Farm

Scientific name: Scutellaria lateriflora, plus many other Scutellaria species. 
Common name: American skullcap
Family: Lamiaceae
Parts used: aerial portions
Plant Energetics: bitter, cool
Plant Properties: relaxing nervine, clear heat, anodyne, antispasmodic
Used for: stress, anxiety, pain, muscle spasms, insomnia, panic attacks, seizures, twitching, teething
Plant Preparations: tincture, tea, smoking herb, massage oil

Skullcap herb is an amazing plant for stress, tension, anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks. This article will give an herbalist's perspective on skullcap uses and skullcap health benefits as well as share tips for using skullcap tincture and skullcap tea. We'll even look at the effects when smoking skullcap.

Wondering where to buy skullcap tea? Throughout this article I have links to my favorite places to buy skullcap tea, skullcap tincture and even a place to buy skullcap smoking blends. Some of these links are affiliate links. 

Energetically american skullcap is a bitter herb with cooling properties, making it most useful for those with signs of heat. While doing research for this article I found many herbalists had favorite skullcap uses and decided to include many of those pearls of wisdom in this article. 

Skullcap uses in Herbal Medicine...

Skullcap for anxiety: a relaxing nervine…

If I were pressed to simply list one application for skullcap herb it would be its ability to relieve stress and anxiety. It works well in acute situations and can be taken over time to decrease chronic stress (along with lifestyle modifications of course). 

It works well for acute and sudden onset anxiety or panic attacks. For people susceptible to sudden onset anxiety or panic attacks, fresh skullcap tincture can be kept on them at all times. 

Experienced herbal medic, Sam Coffman, shares his reliance on skullcap herb for shock-related anxiety. 

Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.) and Passionflower are two that have never failed me as a formula to help someone cope quickly with shock-related anxiety. 
Sam Coffman
Plant Healer Magazine 11

Not just for acute cases, skullcap can be taken over time as a nerve tonic to support nervous system health in people who have been through prolonged periods of stress and feel like their nerves are constantly on edge. Again I like skullcap tincture for this and I often combine it with a fresh tincture of milky oats (Avena sativa)

As herbalists we have many relaxing nervines that are specific to anxiety. However, many of these herbs also promote drowsiness (e.g. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Kava (Piper methysticum), Hops (Humulus lupulus)). One of the benefits of skullcap herb is its ability to relieve acute anxiety without causing a lot of drowsiness. 

Skullcap herb is often best for those with signs of heat and excitation. This can manifest in different ways but some common characteristics include people who are easily overheated, who are more irritable in hot weather, tend to have “type A” personalities, a red tongue (possible yellow coating) and a fast or intermittent pulse. 

Sean Donahue explains this further: 

The excited tissue state is marked by over stimulation, hyper-reactivity, processes moving too fast, increased metabolism, and increased heat. The most common presentation I see of mental and emotional excitation is irritability and anxiety brought on by overstimulation, made worse by heat and brightness. Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) works wonders in calming this kind of excitation. The tincture will do nicely, but smoked Skullcap will enter the bloodstream more quickly. It combines nicely with Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) when circular thinking or spiraling 
thoughts are part of the picture. 
Sean Donahue 
Plant Healer Magazine 12

For muscle twitching and spasms…

Skullcap is also admired for its ability to reduce muscle twitches and involuntary muscle spasms. Many entries in the Eclectic literature state it was a favorite for “chorea” (involuntary muscle spasms) and was often combined with black cohosh  (Actaea racemosa) for calming these spasms. 

It is also used for premenstrual tension and cramping, TMJ pain and restless legs. 

Scullcap herb (Scutellaria lateriflora) – is a superb nervine that is especially effective for nervous people who develop tremors, palsies, nervous tics, bruxism, and muscle spasms. For people with ADHD it is indicated for irritability, repetitive movements, outbursts of anger, and oversensitivity to external influences. For this last condition use it with Fresh Oat, Rose petals, Sweet Birch, and Holy Basil. Scullcap needs to be used in significant doses over long periods of time, but it can be very effective when used correctly. 
David Winston
AHG Proceedings 2013

Skullcap Uses for Insomnia due to circular thinking…

Skullcap for sleep: As a relaxing nervine skullcap herb is commonly used to relax a busy mind at night to promote sleep. Another insomnia indication is for someone who has tense muscles and can’t relax enough naturally to fall asleep. Restless legs at night could also be calmed with skullcap (though I would also consider magnesium in these cases).

The skullcap tincture does not seem to be as strong outright sedative, but is often combined with stronger sedative herbs like Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Taking a tip from Paul Bergner I’ve found that strong infusion of skullcap tea can be a stronger sedative than the tincture, which gives more overt feelings of drowsiness. If you want to use skullcap for sleep, make a strong skullcap tea!

I see it most useful for people who constantly need to take charge. They make constant contingency plans and feel personally insulted when things don’t go their way. They may have insomnia and cannot initially fall asleep due to thinking about all the things they could have done differently that day. 
Skullcap Monograph

Here's a nighttime tea blend from Mountain Rose Herbs which includes skullcap tea as well as passionflower, hibiscus, lemon balm, hops, valerian and lavender. 

Skullcap Uses for Pain…

Skullcap herb is a mild anodyne herb and is particularly suited to relieving pain due to muscle tension. Historically it was used for numerous types of pain, including toothaches and menstrual pain. It was also used for irritability brought on by the pain of teething.  

Different Scutellaria species…

While Scutellaria lateriflora often gets most of the attention, many different species within the Scutellaria genus are used in similar ways, including S. galericulata, S. canescens, S. cordifolia. and others. 

Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)

Baical Skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) is a Chinese medicinal that is in the same genus but is used differently. It is a powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-viral herb that is commonly used for infections and fevers. 

Botanically Speaking…
Photo Credit

American Skullcap herb is a perennial herb that likes to grow in wet places such as near marshes, streams, and other damp areas. 

Here is the range map for Scutellaria lateriflora (sometimes called American Skullcap)

It grows from 60-80 centimeters in height and produces purple flowers that grow up the side of one stem from the leaf axils. 

This member of the mint family is not aromatic. 

Skullcap Photo Credit: 7Song

The Skullcaps (Scutellaria spp.) have a distinctive feature making them easier to identify. There is a distinctive cap (generally called a ‘protuberance’) on the upper side of the calyx (see photo). This part has given them both their genus and common name. A ‘scute’ is a plate or scales, similar to those found on lizard, alluding to the protuberance, as is the name skullcap. 
Plant Healer Magazine 11

Wildcrafting Skullcap…

Different species of skullcap grow across North America. While these plants aren’t explicitly endangered they could easily be over-harvested since they don’t grow in profusion. 

It’s important to keep ethical wildcrafting considerations in mind when harvesting this plant such as making sure there are well developed stands in the vicinity, leaving healthy populations behind and being respectful of the ecosystem it lives by, avoiding over trampling the area. 

Herbalist Darcy Williamson recommends the following harvesting techniques. 

Pick the flowering herb, taking only the top 2/3rds of the blooms, leaving the lower ones to form seeds. Be certain to harvest from a large, healthy colony and take only one out of every ten flowers.
Darcy Williamson

Plant Preparations…

Skullcap can be prepared as a tincture, tea, oil infusion or even smoked. Here are some basic suggestions for each preparation. 

Skullcap Tincture
Skullcap Photo Credit: Liz Butler
Skullcap extract is best tinctured when fresh. I prefer 95% alcohol at a 1:2 ratio but have seen other herbalists use as low as 40% alcohol. The standard recommended dose is 3–5 ml three times per day. I have not seen adverse effects when using larger dosages. As always, it’s best to start with the lowest dose and slowly work up until the individual’s dosage is found. 

Skullcap Tea 
A strong tea of skullcap is strongly sedative. If you are drinking skullcap tea for sleep then drinking a lot of liquid before bedtime isn’t a great idea. I recommend five grams of skullcap infused in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes. This can be drank an hour before desired bed time. Total recommended dose per day is 6-15 grams. 

King’s American Dispensatory recommends the following amounts for skullcap tea: 

Half an ounce of the recently dried leaves or herb, to 1/2 pint 
of boiling water, will make a very strong infusion. 
Kings American Dispensatory

If you are interested in drinking a skullcap tea made with a blend of herbs I recommend Fairytale Tea from Mountain Rose Herbs. 

Often formulated
While skullcap is often used as a simple (as a single herb) it is also commonly formulated with other relaxing nervines or sedative herbs. While researching this article I commonly saw formulas with skullcap and the following herbs: 

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) 
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

Smoking Skullcap
Many herbalists rave about the effects when smoking skullcap. It has the swift ability to resolve anxiety when used in an herbal smoking mixture. If you are interested in smoking blends check out my friend Erin's Pipe Tea Herbals store. 

Massage oil
Skullcap can be used as an external massage oil to relax muscle tension and pain. The following recipe comes from Darcy Williamson from her excellent collection of 130 Monographs

Skullcap Massage Oil 
1½ cups flowering Skullcap tops
½ cup fresh Tall Sagebrush leaves
2 tbsp. dried Cottonwood buds
½ cup jojoba oil
½ cup sweet almond oil
Combine ingredients in a quart jar and cover loosely with several layers of cheesecloth. Allow mixture to stand in a warm place for three weeks. Heat jar in a pan of warm water for 15 minutes to liquefy oil, and then strain.
Darcy Williamson

Skullcap Side Effects
Skullcap side effects are rare and it is considered a safe herb that can be used by most people. 

Can you use skullcap while pregnant? The Botanical Safety Handbook says there is no evidence that skullcap is contraindicated in pregnancy and lactation but safety has not been proven. 

A few decades ago skullcap was wrongly accused of causing liver damage. We now attribute these claims to adulterated herbs. As always, it’s important to buy your herbs from reputable sources. (I buy most of my herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs because I know they independently test their herbs for contaminants.) 

In the late 1980’s several disturbing cases of purported skullcap-induced hepatotoxicity were reported (DeSmet 1997). In each case the products used were multi-herb formulas, and each contained what was purported to be skullcap. However, none were investigated for content and the botanical germander (also known as pink skullcap; Teucrium canadense), a known hepatotoxin  has been a relatively common adulterant of the skullcap 
market for decades and persists today 
AHP Monograph


Skullcap herb is a reliable relaxing nervine that is especially beneficial for people who have signs of heat and tension. It can be prepared in a variety of ways with tinctures and as a smoking herb, being most appropriate for acute situations and the strong infusion being best for promoting drowsiness. 

Herbalists use skullcap as a simple but also tend to formulate it with other relaxing nervines. Whether used by itself or in herbal formulas, skullcap is a favorite herb for relieving stress and anxiety. 

Further Resources
AHP Monograph