Skullcap is a member of the mint family with tiny flowers that range in colour from purple and blue to pink and white. The two-lobed flowers look like military helmets worn by early European settlers; hence, the name skullcap.
Why I love skullcap
I have been wanting to blog about the benefits of skullcap for sometime now because it is one of my all-time favourite medicinal plants! I use it nightly as a sleep aid (and dream enhancer) and sometimes during the day to relieve anxiety and nervous tension.
I haven’t been able to find much information out there to support my claim that skullcap promotes more vivid dreaming, with more potential for lucid dreaming and dream recall, but it sure works that way for me. Since I love to write down and interpret my dreams, skullcap and I have a pretty intense love affair going on.
Skullcap for interstitial cystitis
Chronic stress and anxiety comes with the territory when you have interstitial cystitis. It can be both a contributing factor to the condition itself and also a product of it. Sleep is always affected with IC and therefore our nervous systems have a really hard time regenerating, leaving us feeling anxious and stressed during the day. As you will see, skullcap can be a valuable herb to treat nervous exhaustion, muscle spasms and insomnia, all issues that are common to someone with interstitial cystitis.
North American skullcap
During my research for this article, I learned that there are more than 200 varieties of skullcap, but to keep things simple, the two that are most commonly used in herbal medicine today are North American skullcap and Chinese skullcap. These plants are not interchangeable and have different healing properties.
The skullcap native to North America, Scutellaria lateriflora, was once commonly referred to as Mad Dog Skullcap or Madweed because it was used as a remedy for Rabies. Blue skullcap is another name used for North American skullcap. It is now cultivated in Europe and other areas of the world.
For more than 200 years, the aerial parts of North American skullcap have been used in Western herbal medicine. They are collected during the flowering period of August or September. The primary medicinal actions of this plant are nervine tonic, sedative and anti-spasmodic.
If you are suffering from acute or chronic stress, North American skullcap is an herb to consider. It not only relaxes nervous tension, but tones and renews the entire nervous system by nourishing and strengthening the nerves.
Another practical application of North American skullcap is the treatment of insomnia. It is mild sedative and can be used on its own or in combination with other relaxing herbs as a sleep aid.
North American skullcap is also used to relieve headaches, muscle tension and spasms due to its anti-spasmodic action. It can also help relieve pre-menstrual tension and cramping. For interstitial cystitis, skullcap can help relieve bladder spasms, leading to decreased pain and frequency.
How to use North American skullcap
You can purchase it in a tincture (extracted in alcohol), capsules, tea bags or bulk herb (dried, cut and sifted) for use in a tea.
For treatment of stress, anxiety and nervous tension, North American skullcap is usually taken 3 times a day in any format preferred.
As a sleep aid, it is generally taken once in the evening (30 min-1 hr before sleep) and it is more effective when combined with other sedative herbs.
I like to use it as a tea because the act of drinking a cup of warm tea is relaxing in and of itself. When buying as tea bags or bulk herb, choose one that is pure (not contaminated with other plants, chemicals, etc.) and organic, such as Celebration Herbals or Frontier Natural Products Co-Op.
To make a tea, add 1 tea bag or 1 tsp. of bulk herb to 1 cup of boiled water and infuse for 10-15 minutes.
A tincture can also be effective as it tends to be the most fast-acting (1 dose is usually 2-4 ml). St. Francis is a great quality company for herbal tinctures.
If you are highly sensitive, you can add the tincture to hot water or hot herbal tea so the alcohol will evaporate.
If you prefer capsules, make sure you choose a brand that uses pure North American skullcap with no binders or fillers, such as Nature’s Way.
Other herbs that go well with North American skullcap for stress, anxiety and nervous tension include adaptogenic herbs, such as holy basil, ashwagandha and licorice root. Milky oat seed is another great option.
Kristen’s sleepy tea recipe
Add 1 tsp. skullcap, ½ tsp. passionflower and ½ tsp. chamomile to a tea ball. Infuse in 1 cup of boiled water for 10-15 minutes. Drink the tea 30 min. to 1 hour before bedtime.
Other herbs that combine well with North American skullcap for sleep include valerian and hops.
Take it slow …
As with all treatments for interstitial cystitis, you need to start off slow to see if your system agrees with it or not. Start off with a few sips of skullcap just on its own or a few drops of tincture and if you are okay with that, you can start increasing your dose and experimenting with adding additional herbs to the mix.
If you are taking any drugs that have a sedating effect, such as anticonvulsants, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, drugs for insomnia or alcohol, avoid using North American skullcap. It is also contraindicated during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Have you tried North American skullcap for interstitial cystitis or is there another remedy for anxiety and sleep that works really well for you? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below.
Next week, I will post about Chinese skullcap, how it differs from North American skullcap and its medicinal uses. It’s one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in Chinese medicine and has a particular property that is very beneficial for someone with interstitial cystitis, so you won’t want to miss it!