Common Name: Blisswort (my personal nickname for it), Skullcap
Botanical Name: Scutellaria spp.
Energetics: Cool, dry
Taste: Bitter, bitter, bitter
Actions: Relaxant nervine, nervous system trophorestorative, anti-spasmodic, digestive bitter
Blisswort, otherwise known as Skullcap (Scutellaria spp) is a beautiful native perennial of the mint family. Ours grows in Ponderosa Pine forest in partly shady spots among pine needles, Wild Lima Beans, Golden Pea and Candytuft. They’re little pincushion plants, small and soft and round for the most part, though there’s some bigger, bushier plants this particular spring. The leaves are hairy and sticky with resin. The flowers are voluptuous, rich purple-blue and look very much like a deep hood.
Blisswort is a relaxant nervous system trophorestorative, it rebuilds the nerves from the inside out while relaxing any impediment to the release of tension. It opens up the internal flow of energy and stress, helping to move it and let it cycle out. This is different from just sedating the nerves because it’s a nourishing, native process for the body. I feel that in addition to strengthening the nervous system, it also helps retrain the body to deal with stress in more productive ways, encouraging it move along rather than stagnating or sticking in one tired, manic part of your brain or body.’
I have found that Blisswort is most appropriate for those who have anxiety from exhaustion, often accompanied by sensations of heat, flushing and/or sweating and emotional lability and brittleness. People who need Blisswort are often strongly emotionally reactive, at the end of their frayed little rope and ready to snap. Most all of us live through periods of intense stress. For some of us, long term stress and anxiety can manifest as insomnia, irritability, mood swings, nervous system hypersensitivity that feels like the next sound or touch is going to send us into a complete nervous breakdown. Deep muscle tension, heart palpitations, and ongoing adrenalin rushes that leave us exhausted but still running. This kind of stress response inevitably leads to blocked, stuck life energy (what we call anima) in the body. Once the energy is blocked it’s often hard to get it flowing again, like a dammed river or diverted current.
There’s many life energy moving herbs, but one of the best for the above stress pattern is Blisswort. Sometimes classified as a general nervine or calmative, it has some very specific applications where it is most useful. When used as a specific, the flowering tops of this beautiful plant have the unique ability of modulating the flow of life energy river, moving dams and quietly adjusting the flow of energy back where it goes. A few drops of fresh plant tincture can work great for muscle cramps, insomnia, irritability, and general nervous hypersensitivity.
There have been times I was laying in bed just twitching with exhaustion and stuck energy, so tired but continually irritated by the way the sheets felt on my body, or the movement of a mouse or skunk nearby or even my own breathing. In these situations, Blisswort provided amazing relief. Taking a few drops under my tongue, I was able to tangibly feel my muscles relax, the floodgates open and the life energy flow through my body, allowing me to finally relax into the bed and blankets and welcome embrace of sleep.
It’s less likely to work well for those who have anxiety from excess causes, who are just too wound up to relax. It’s more of a supplementing food for frayed nerves in those who are deeply tired, and are finding that both their energy reserves and their bodily fluids are in the process of drying up. If they’re already dried up, and there’s signs of full on adrenal exhaustion with feelings of coldness and severe dryness, then I think Blisswort would be better in the company of Milky Oat tincture (specifically the tincture, not the infusion) and probably some Ashwagandha too.
It also has a tendency towards bitterness (the native ones here are VERY bitter) and have a relaxing effect on the liver and a stimulating effect on digestion. A great combo for adrenalin stressed folks with impaired digestion and uptight livers. Lovely with Evening Primrose for tension related GI distress with anxiety or depression.
As with any herb, food or other form of healing, it will be more effective the more you engage it and have a personal relationship with the process. This is why herbs can sometimes work very very well on someone who’s indications are totally different than the classical description, it’s all about our connection our bodies, the process of healing, and the plants themselves.
A nice bedtime tea is 1 part Blisswort, 2 parts Rose and 2 parts Chamomile, it’s good for the belly and digestion too. Blisswort is often bitter (more or less bitter depending on the specific spp.) so often tastes better mixed with aromatic or sweeter herbs, and accompanied by a dollop of honey, or a bit of stevia if you’re inclined.
I especially like a formula of 2 parts Monkeyflower, 2 parts Wild Rose and 1 part Blisswort. It’s divine, nourishing and deeply relaxing. The blend of tastes (sweet/astringent Rose, bitter Blisswort and sweet Monkeyflower) is a cooling and soothing mix for the hot SW summer.
Dosage & Preparations: Fresh plant tincture of flowering tops (1:2, 95%) is ideal for this plant in many situations, it’s strong and very effective. Tea of freshly dried flowering tops can be better for some people for outright strong relaxation and anti-spasmodic qualities. Home-harvested dried skullcap lasts about a year, maybe two, if carefully stored. The tincture lasts two, maybe three years at full strength and then seems to slowly break down. Commercially bought herb varies a great deal depending on when, how and where it was harvested. I’ve met some very inert Blisswort on herb store shelves, so be on the lookout for vibrant green plant matter when you can. And even then, no guarantees. Best to grow or wildcraft this plant yourself if possible. Tincture by the drop (up to a dropperful) and tea by the cup. Strength will vary greatly depending on the species of plant, and where it’s from.
Cautions & Contra-indications: This herb tends toward the cooling and drying end of the spectrum, though I’ve not ever seen it aggravate dryness in any individual. It can have an overly cooling effect though, and that should be watched for and balanced by other herbs if appropriate. Again, it is a very ~moving~ type of herb, and not all people need to be moved along, some need more in the way of grounding and deepening from a nervine and so may find another herb more ideal.