Herb Feature

Herb Feature


Have you ever been really angry, and you just couldn’t calm yourself down? Or been anxious or irritated and didn’t know why? There can be many reasons for feeling this way and many ways to help yourself to feel better. One of my favourite plant medicines for “stroppiness” is Scutellaria Laterflora or the American Skullcap. Named after the helmet-like shape of the flowers, this marvellous plant is considered a tonic to the nerves, mild sedative and spasmolytic (relieves unwanted muscle contractions). Native to North America, it has been used for centuries for insomnia (difficulty sleeping), nervous tension, nervous exhaustion, pre-menstrual syndrome and irritability.

Before the discovery of anti-convulsant drugs, Skullcap was used for epilepsy, tremors and mild to severe muscle spasms. It seems to exert its therapeutic effects through reducing the inappropriate firing of neurons in the central nervous system. It was also used (surprisingly) for rabies and had the rather ridiculous names of “Mad-dog skullcap” and “Madweed”. Rabies is caused by the rabies virus and bat lyssavirus: these are spread by the bite of an infected animal and cause severe inflammation of the brain. Although Skullcap may be a useful addition to treatment, rabies is a severe, usually fatal disease so if you suspect that you may have contracted it from an animal, seek medical attention immediately!

Skullcap is rich in flavonoids which are powerful anti-oxidants that exert anti-inflammatory activity on the nerves. Anxiety and depression are both associated with inflammation, so we can see a potential mechanism for the sedating and calming effects of skullcap. This interesting plant is related to the Chinese Skullcap (Scutellaria Baicalensis) or Baical Skullcap which is very effective at reducing allergies such as eczema, hayfever and asthma. Baical skullcap has some benefit in stress related conditions, but it’s much more effective as an immune balancing tonic in allergies, so if you want to support your nervous system, go for the American Skullcap.

Clinical trials on Skullcap have shown that taking the herbal extracts lead to a reduction in anxiety:  one double-blind study of 19 people with stress related symptoms from 2002 showed significant improvement compared to placebo. Another 2014 study also revealed considerable improvement in anxiety symptoms without affecting mental concentration or alertness, an unfortunate side effect of many pharmaceutical anti-anxiety drugs. Along with its amazing benefits on calming our nervous systems, in-vitro (test tube) studies of Scutellaria have shown that it possesses anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-tumour, anti-oxidant and liver protecting properties. In addition, around 300 compounds have been isolated from the dried aerial parts of the plant, which is why top herbalists refer to Skullcap as a “Flavonoid Factory”.

I like to combine Skullcap with Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabra), Ashwaganda (Withania Somnifera), and Rhodiola (Rosea) in fatigue states due to stress. If someone is anxious, it combines well with Passionflower (Passiflora Incarnata) and Zizyphus Spinosa. For insomnia, A combination of Valerian (Valeriana Officinalis), Passionflower, Skullcap and Hops (Humulus Lupulus) is helpful for many people. Like any herbal medicine, it’s very important to ensure the best possible quality plant extracts are used. Skullcap has been replaced by unscrupulous suppliers with the highly toxic Germander (Teucrium Chamaedrys) so make sure you get advice from your Herbalist/ Naturopath before taking any herbal preparations. Skullcap is a safe, effective treatment for anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness when taken correctly. Peace 😊.

David Peirce is a practicing Naturopath/ Herbalist.

Bachelor of Health Science - Complementary Medicine

Contact: 07 4032 0038

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