Skullcap is one of those herbs I’ve seen around but never gotten to know
very well, like a neighbor you recognize but have never actually spoken with. It doesn’t grow very well in Austin, so I’ve
never grown it or gathered it fresh. And there are so many other options for
calming herbs that I never felt any particularly lack by not using it.
A few weeks ago I was feeling constant underlying anxiety. One
evening I was buying spices at the spice stand at my neighborhood Christmas
market and figured I may as well buy a bag of skullcap and try something new to address my feeling of creeping dread. Although it’s commonly classified as a calming herb, I’d heard from many people over the years that they found it to be weak or even
completely ineffectual. Then one time at Breitenbush Herb Conference (was that
really 7 years ago? Wow!), Paul Bergner (one of my favorite herb teachers) said
that the key was to make a tea with warm, *not
* water. He said that a warm infusion of skullcap had a calming
effect that a regular infusion or a tincture didn’t have. I stored that piece
of information away for just this moment.
The effect is not quite like any I’ve ever experienced.
First off, I’ve found it to be profoundly calming. My
teacher Michael used to say that when it comes to calming herbs it is important
to distinguish the stony ones from the non-stony ones, because some people love
stoniness and some people really don’t. I love it, and for me skullcap
definitely feels like it falls into the stony classification. It makes me not only calm but also kind of hazy and stupified.
Just as I had heard from other people, I also noticed that the
effect feels very much like it is in my head. I’d heard, from Paul and others,
that the name comes from the feeling it creates on the skull, that you feel like
you are wearing a hat when you drink it. Yes. I feel that.
One thing I noticed that nobody had ever mentioned to me,
though. Drinking skullcap tea I get a very clear sense at a certain point that
I’ve had enough. I am somebody who often struggles with knowing when enough is
enough. I tend to eat too much, drink too much, stay up too late, just generally
have a hard time knowing my limits. But somehow with skullcap, a moment comes
when I know very distinctly that I’ve had enough. And since I’ve started
drinking it regularly, I’ve had an easier time stopping with other things, too.
It’s become much easier to resist the lure of facebook, for example. When
people are struggling with their overindulgences I think of calming herbs in
general, but that’s more because it seems like anxiety and depression lead to
compulsion. My experience with skullcap, on the other hand, is that it seems to have a distinct and direct effect of making setting and
recognizing my limits easier. It doesn’t feel like a roundabout side effect.
While speaking about recognizing limits, though, I want to
say that the effects of herbs can be so idiosyncratic. Especially when it comes
to emotions, psychoactive herbs and the nervous system, I don’t assume that
everyone would have a similar experience. I recognize the limits of my personal experimentation. As I said, I’m just getting to know
this herb now. If you use skullcap, please let me know if your experience of it is different,
similar or overlapping. I think I’ll be using it a lot more in the future.

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