Virginia Skullcap (Scutellaria latiflora)

9 Feb

First and foremost I would like to give a big thanks and lots of love to Adam and Katie for their interest in having me contribute to their online wellness-gardening-homesteading collective. It is a pleasure to write for such a forward thinking, wholesome collaboration of souls and ideas that bring us back to the basic skills and knowledge that connect us with our cultural and biological heritage. I am a firm believer in the resurgence of these types of concepts and ideas; which are not only factual and informative but encourage the mind and body to exist beyond the parameters with which the vast majority find themselves. These articles are life lessons that are invaluable for us on an individual and community basis: there is another way to exist that treats our bodies, the body of the earth and all the various lives that it has nurtured with the inherent respect and reverence that has allowed us to survive thus far. Thanks again you two, we are all in this together.

Most of us, myself included, at this point in the winter begin to feel tired, tense, worn out and perhaps even a little bit more irritable than usual. These emotional changes are normal and tend to effect people differently and are likely dependent on factors including ethnicity, diet, exercise and other more obscure variables. However you choose to look at it, there are things that one can do that can assist them with taking the edge off of the ‘winter blues’. This includes turning to some natural remedies that many have not heard of but I have found to be extremely effective.

Scutellaria lateriflora by Tom Murray

Scutellaria latiflora, more commonly known as Virginia skullcap  blue skullcap  mad-dog skull cap, plain old skullcap or skullcap, is a perennial herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae) which grows in moist, organic soils adjacent to gently flowing streams through sunny woods and along the edges of marshes throughout southern Canada and the United States. The name ‘mad-dog’ was given to this plant when, many centuries ago, it was believed that this herb was a cure or preventive measure against rabies. Although modern science has failed to confirm this particular medicinal attribute, it has revealed many other uses that perhaps reach a wider audience. Plants for a Future (one of my preferred sources for online herbal remedies) has this to say regarding S. lateriflora: “[Virginian Skullcap is a] very effective nervine that has traditionally been used in the treatment of a wide range of nervous conditions. Its tonic and restorative properties help to support and nourish the nervous system, calming and relieving stress and anxiety”

This has a tremendous flexibility for helping the faint of spirit during the cold, short days and even colder nights of winter. The herb possesses anti-spasmodic properties which sooth and relax muscles, relieving tension and promoting fluid movement and elasticity. This herb, when used in combination with others (such as Angelica sinensis, Alchemilla vulgaris or Valeriana officinalis) could help to gradually lessen the pain and discomfort associated with menstrual cramps and limit blood and nutrient loss. I have had enormous success with Scutellaria and take pride in using an indigenous plant that could be ecologically and morally grown in one’s edible/medicinal garden without worry of introducing an invasive species (because we most definitely have enough of those..). The plant in it’s second year produces fine erect stems which bear opposite facing lovely light purple flowers that are composed of petals that have fused to form a tube. This provides pollinating insects with a courteous landing pad and allows them to rest while they feed on nectar and inadvertently transfer pollen from plant to plant.

Scutellaria is also a tonic herb; which means that the active compounds present in the plant tissues are slowly but gradually and completely utilized by almost every organ system in the body and, if consumed regularly, helps to bring about a state of health that mainstream science does not, as of yet, have the means to understand. Consistent use of this herb also promotes cardiovascular health by strengthening the heart muscles and the lining of the veins. By depressing the central nervous system, Scutellaria helps to combat pain, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, mental fatigue, and when taken in the late afternoon and throughout the evening prepares the body for sleep; something that on it’s own can help combat the many afflictions in which Scutellaria is most effective.

As a beverage, tea made from this lovely and embarrassingly underutilized herb tastes wonderfully earthy and wholesome. When consumed warm like many herbal teas, Scutellaria promotes sweating and the purging of accumulated bacteria and toxins from the bloodstream and skin. It also contains an aray of important, health promoting micro-nutrients and minerals including magnesium,  manganese, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and potassium; as discussed in Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. I find Scutellaria to be one of my new favorite herbs to take once I arrive home from work and relax in the evenings with music, food and books. A winner combination for me is Scutellaria mixed with Centella asiatica, which is known as Gotu-Kola. This thin, delicate Asiatic trailing perennial has similar attributes to Scutellaria including it’s ability to reduce anxiety, muscle tension and strengthen cardiovascular function. is also proven through centuries of medicinal use in China and India to improve memory, improve the healing of wounds, strengthen immunity to disease and regulate the nervous system. It was also used spiritually to prepare the soul and body for a state of deep meditation and mental stillness.

In combination with an increased intake of dense, high-energy fresh foods and increasing the amount of time in which you set aside to relax and contemplate, the mind will gradually clear and your overall emotions will level off and become more stable. The long nights, cold temperatures and less physical exercise that accompany winter are difficult to deal for what is in reality a tropical species. It’s all about doing what you can and not worrying about what you don’t have to or can’t change. With the help of various herbs, including but certainly not limited to the particular species that I have discussed, the path to healing is likely to be faster, easier and hopefully mentally fulfilling as well.

Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity.
– Hippocrates

Tom Nagy
Tom NagyTom is an herbal medicine missionary, nature enthusiast and skilled field botanist. He has spent many years researching the identification, taxonomy, medicinal and ethnobotanical properties of Ontario’s flora. He has successfully conducted informative public seminars on both edible and medicinal plants and continues to heal both himself and others through his studies in herbalism. He resides (at least part of the time) in Stoney Creek, Ontario.

References:
[1] USDA Plant database – profile for Scutellaria lateriflora – http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=SCLA2
[2] Plants for a Future – http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Scutellaria+lateriflora
[3]Perscription for Nutritional Healing – Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. 2000.
[4] The Herb Handbook – Sue Bristow. 2004.
[5] Herbs for Health & Healing – Kathi Keville. 2006.

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