Podcast 218: Herbs A-Z: Schisandra & Scutellaria
Today we’re continuing our “herbs on our shelf” from A to Z series! This week, our herbs are schisandra and skullcap.
Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) is SOUR. That flavor stands out most strongly when you taste the herb. But it’s also bitter, pungent, acrid, and a little bit sweet – that’s why it’s sometimes called five-flavor berry. Schisandra’s a great herb for modern people, not least because it helps a lot with anger and with sugar. It does have some drug interactions to be aware of, though!
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is one of the ‘bitter mints’. It’s not powerfully bitter, like motherwort, but more like betony, ground ivy, or self-heal. This group includes mostly relaxants, lymphatics, alteratives, & anti-inflammatories, and skullcap is primarily a relaxant. Its specific affinities are tension in the neck & shoulders, or else tension that’s intermittent. It makes a great base compound with betony and passionflower, whether that’s for a nervine tea blend or a before-bed tincture.
Schisandra & skullcap are featured herbs in our Neurological & Emotional Health course. This is a user’s guide to your nerves & your emotions – including the difficult and dark ones. We discuss holistic herbalism strategies for addressing both neurological & psychological health issues. It includes a lengthy discussion of herbal pain management strategies, too!
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Hi, I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere thanks to the power of the podcast.
Yeah. All right. So, today we’re going to get back to our series where we’ve been looking at all of the herbs on our apothecary shelves in alphabetical order by their botanical Latin names. And so that’s why today we get together with schisandra and skullcap.
Those are very similar to their common names also.
Well, yeah, and their Latin names, right? Because Schisandra is schisandra, at least in English. You may know it as omija or wǔwèizǐ or other names. And then skullcap is Scutellaria. It’s got some scoot in it. Yeah, it does.
Herb words are funny. This is probably the time to share an herb joke, because herb words can just be very funny. And it’s one of the reasons that we have to have a human transcribe all of our stuff. AI can’t transcribe herb words. It doesn’t know the herb words. And anytime that I think about herb words are funny, I think about back in the… I don’t know. It was like 2007 or something. I don’t know when that remake of Battlestar Galactica came out. I can’t remember. But I know it was still pretty popular in 2007. And we were hanging out with a bunch of herbalists. And somebody was making a joke about herbalists in space. And they were like, it’s Battleship Galactagogue. And anyway. That makes me laugh every time. I never even remember the setup. I just say Battleship Galactagogue, and then I just crack up laughing. So, there you go. Herb words are funny.
Okay. Well, anyway, so skullcap, schisandra. We’re going to talk about these plants today. But first a couple of things. Number one, we want to remind you that our podcast is just a small part of what we do. We’re teachers primarily, and we would love to teach you. So, you can learn herbalism with us online through our courses that are centered on video lessons, just as if you were sitting right here in the room with us.
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Yeah. All right. So, one last thing before we jump in today’s topic. It’s our reclaimer. That’s where we remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard floating in the void. It’s influenced by your, yes you, your own individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to, because we don’t believe there is such a thing.
Nope. Everybody’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research and experiment with further.
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey. And it doesn’t mean that you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action – whether that’s something discussed by your favorite herbalist on the internet or prescribed by your favorite physician at the hospital. Why not? – that’s always your choice to make. Yeah.
I suppose there could be some situations in a hospital where it might not be your choice. And in that case we are grateful for emergency room staff. Practitioners who can take care of those kinds of situations too. Yes. Thank you.
Schisandra, The Liver, & Anger
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about schisandra. This has very little to do with traumatic injuries that send you to the hospital. I can’t think… nope. Nope, not the one.
No, this is not a trauma herb, but wow. It is really an appropriate herb for our times. And there’s so much about schisandra. But two things that are really important to me when I think about schisandra, like two little flags or hats or something that I imagine on schisandra, is anger and sugar. I think that those are two things that a lot of modern people struggle with. And so an herb who can help with anger and sugar, for me that is really, really valuable. So, maybe I’ll start with anger.
Yeah. I think we should. That sort of inserts itself at the front of the queue anyway, right?
Yeah, it does. It demands it.
When you suddenly realize you’re having multiple emotions, if anger is one of them, it’s probably right up front.
It’s probably at the top. Yeah, exactly. So, schisandra is… Sort of like some background here. It is an herb that has a cooling, draining effect on the liver. And traditionally the liver is very associated with anger. Especially if you have a hot, inflamed liver, that’s very associated with anger. And I include those two things because they are traditional knowledge that comes to us from many different cultures. But what’s way more important… That’s interesting when I hear it. I’m like oh, that’s interesting. And then often I’m like why do they think that the liver is associated with anger? I don’t know.
Oh, there’s lots of connections.
I know there are. I know there are. But often when you hear those kinds of connections, it’s sort of like I don’t know.
Right. Well, it can be presented that way, right? I think the first many times that I heard herbal teachers talk about that kind of thing, it would’ve been presented in a way that was like well, this comes from an ancient system of knowledge. And so it’s not really open to questioning. Or it’s like well, it’s just like an energetic connection. You’ve got these kinds of energy here and those kinds of energy there. And when they connect, then these things happen. And that’s a way to talk about them. Lots of people like that. But there are other ways to think about it. In the modern world a lot of people are pretty comfortable talking about inflammation and talking about the way that inflammation can spread around the body like a fire, right? And so we can say, all right. Well, if you have a lot of fire, a lot of heat in your liver, a lot of irritation, a lot of inflammatory problems going on in there, that’s not going to stay there. That’s going to move to other places in your body. And then we can look at people who have inflamed livers. And we can poke under the ribs a little bit and be like oh, that’s really tender there, huh? Okay, inflamed liver. Yeah. Oh, you’ve got redness in your face. Okay, yeah. Those things come together very often. We can start to make these connections. And then we can think about somebody who’s feeling a lot of anger. And what does their pattern look like? And where’s the blood in their body? And which organs are hot and irritated at those times too.
I want to make a specific reference for Western traditions, like cultural association of the liver and anger. And it wasn’t usually said the word liver, it was said with the word bile. And whenever maybe you’ll read – I don’t know – some older work of fiction or literature, and something will be said with a lot of bile. Or they’ll use the word bile as a description of a person’s behavior, or a person’s affect, or their mood, or whatever.
He has a bilious character.
Adaptogens, Energy, & Stability
Exactly. And so that is always a reference to anger, or a mean person, or a person with a lot of outburst kind of thing. Or if you say something with a lot of bile, it’s like it was spat when they said it. Like it was said with a lot of resentment or with a lot of daggers in the tone of voice or whatever. So, all those different flavors of anger that we associate in the western tradition even literarily with the word bile. So, okay. That’s helpful for me when I’m like oh, well, many cultures make this association. But it’s most helpful for me when I can be like, I can see it in the body. I can see that heat moving around. But so, okay, so it is an herb that is cooling of inflammation to the liver. But here’s what I really think about it is that schisandra falls into that category of adaptogens. And adaptogens help you manage stress better. And we often think about adaptogens as energy herbs, even though that’s not always appropriate. It’s also not inappropriate. But it’s not appropriate to think of them in that way, the same way that we would think of caffeine. And I think often we do make that the same.
It’s too easy to conflate stimulant and adaptogen. And I think that’s largely because so many of the most popular and well-known adaptogens are the stimulating ones. Red ginseng, rhodiola, eleuthero in high concentrations, right, powerful preparations. Those are the ones that are most well known and most associated with that term adaptogen. And then, you know, the more relaxing ones like jiaogulan or let alone goji berry.
Yeah, but I don’t even think those are exactly relaxing. I think that they are also about energy, just long-haul energy.
They can be stabilizing. And that stabilization can lead to at least a mental relaxation. I don’t feel like I have to hold myself together and the force of will is what’s keeping all my molecules in the same place today. It’s like okay, I’m steady. I’ve got energy. I can do what I do. That’s where the feeling of the stress can fade away from you.
Yeah. I love that so much. Everybody just back up like 15 seconds and listen to that again, because that was really beautiful.
And schisandra could be that. It could have that kind of influence. There are a lot of clients we’ve suggested schisandra to. They’ve tried it, and then they’ve been like yeah. I feel more steady. I don’t have these hot fiery flares in my day and then crashes after them. It’s a little more even. Not flat, right? But some nice rolling curves.
Yeah. Stable, I think, is a good word. But when I think about schisandra and energy, what I’m thinking about… And this is true for a lot of those not ginseng kind of adaptogens. I think about it more as like schisandra has the energy to keep up with my anger. I don’t know about y’all, but my anger is long and smoldering. And it’s easy to reignite very, very quickly. There’s just a lot of stuff to be angry about in this world today. And also, I’ve had a life with just some kind of not awesome experiences and also a lot of very awesome experiences. But there are some things that I’m angry about. And so it’s just this long hot smolder. And one time I had a client who came in. This is not about schisandra. She came in, and she was dealing with a lot of mental health issues. And she had a lot of complex overlapping mental health issues. And she didn’t really believe in herbalism. Which I say with air quotes, because the plants don’t actually care if you believe in them or not. Nettle has magnesium whether you believe nettle will help you or not. It does in fact have some minerals for you. But she was one of those people where this was a real stretch out of her comfort zone. And she came in. And she kind of threw her stuff down on the table, and she said I’m here. But I just want to tell you that I don’t want you to tell me that I need chamomile or something stupid like that, because this is a serious problem.
And of course, if you know me, you know that I think that chamomile is definitely appropriate for serious problems. But for this woman, what she was really saying was I need something that can stand up to the complexity of my emotional health that everyone before me has not been able to help with. And I don’t perceive chamomile – but maybe chamomile as a stand in for many, many herbs – as strong enough to stand up to what’s going on for me right now. And so that’s how I think about the energy in a lot of the quieter adaptogens and schisandra in particular. It has the energy to stand up to the longest, hottest, smoldering anger that you’ve got. It’s not like yeah, I’ll just have a little sip of tea, and I’ll suddenly feel magically happy and butterflies. That’s not how anger is. And schisandra is like I will get in there, and I will drain out that anger like Drain-o, the superpower one, the extra strength. But not like coffee. When you think about things that are really strong, then you think about things like coffee, and the jitters, and the uncomfortable feelings that can come along with that sort of strength. And when we’re thinking about schisandra, there is none of that discomfort. Put a little asterisk next to that, because it does have a very interesting flavor. And I find it delightful, but some people do find it a little uncomfortable. But in terms of side effects or other effects that aren’t the effects you were wanting to have or whatever. It doesn’t have that kind.
Yeah. It’s not like you’re going to take schisandra. And oops, I had double my usual dose, and now I’ve got nausea and vomiting. Or I’ve got wild diarrhea or some other nonsense going on.
That’s not going to happen.
Five Flavor Berry & Its Actions
This herb doesn’t have those kinds of risks. And hey, that’s part of why it gets to be in the category of an adaptogen. That’s a critical part of constructing that category of herbs is that you should be able to take them in small doses if you feel like it or big enormous doses. And it doesn’t make a huge difference that way in terms of risk, right? Yeah. But you did mention the flavor. And maybe we can talk about flavor and then swing around to sugar. So, schisandra, usually the first thing that hits people when you take schisandra – if you chew on the berries, or you drink tea, or you take tincture – is the sour. Usually that’s the first and most prominent flavor to come through. But if you give it a moment to kind of sink in, then you can taste other elements as well. There’s a little bit of a pungency, like the warmth. Now, don’t think of the same flavor as ginger or horseradish or turmeric, but something in that direction, something in that area.
Like the heat that comes along with the flavor.
Yeah. There’s some of that in the schisandra berry. There’s some bitterness to it. There’s some acrid flavor. That one’s a little buried, but you can find it. And there’s even a touch of sweet in there. And so this is why this plant has been called five-flavor berry.
It also has something that for me reads as smoky, even though I don’t believe that it is actually smoky.
Yeah. Sometimes you get a metallic taste a little bit. That sits next to the bitter, and it’s not the same, okay. But again, there’s an echo of the very metallic flavor of berberine.
Yeah. It doesn’t taste like berberine, but it has qualities like berberine.
Yeah. Something a little on that side.
It is a flavor… Like you were mentioning that oh, and then sort of beside it not as strong as this other flavor. But I think most people would be like every single one of them is very, very strong.
And they’re all happening at once.
If y’all were listening to this to go to bed, I’m really sorry.
Yeah, not tonight.
Sorry about that. But anyway, the flavors are intense, especially if you are just chewing on the dried berries. If you drink it as tea, a little less intense. Intense, but a little less intense. But if you take it as tincture, intense, but quick. So, tolerable. But if you are chewing on the berries… Which honestly, I do recommend at least once, just to have that experience. And again, it does become interesting if you can relax around it.
Yeah. But you know, there’s something about taking the berry directly, having that strong flavor. Chewing the berries, because they’re not going to… they’re chewy. They’re not going to disappear fast, right? These are going to take at least the jaw workout for a raisin, but almost all the way to a goji berry. Almost.
Yeah. Almost as tough as a goji berry. Yeah.
Sometimes they’re a little more gummy. Sometimes they’re a little more like dry and hard. It depends on how they were…
It depends on the batch. Yeah.
How they were handled, you know? But yeah, when you take them that way. And you wake up in the morning, and you kind of get yourself moving or whatever. And then you eat your 10 berries in the morning, and you chew them one at a time. And now you’re really saturated with that flavor. There’s something about that. There’s something about having that intensity of flavor coming in. Because when we work with herbs, we are getting effects for a lot of reasons. Some of them are obviously about the chemistry moving into your body, getting to your stomach, getting to your liver, getting to your bloodstream. Floating around, touching your nerves, touching your organs, acting on them. Okay. But there’s also these effects that travel through flavor responses. And some of those are triggered right away. And in herbalism the most famous example is bitter. Anything, when you taste the bitterness, that contact with your tongue sends signals up to your brain, sends signals down through the vagus nerve to the other organs in the body. And it says wake up. Get to work. All you digestive organs, make your juices. Let’s go. That’s not the only flavor that sends those kinds of signals though. The acrid flavor in a lot of herbs triggers a relaxant effect in many of our muscles. So, with schisandra, where there’s all these flavors coming in, and they’re all pretty intense, there’s a lot of response going on with that. I wouldn’t say it’s worthless to take schisandra extract in a capsule that you never taste at all. But I would say that I think you’re getting a less complete representation of what that plant has to offer you – or at the very least, a very different representation of how that’s going to hit your system – compared to chewing on some raw berries or sipping on some tea.
It is very alive when you have the flavor. It is like if you were having one of those days where maybe it’s gray outside, and also it’s gray inside. And also it’s gray all the way inside. Like it’s just gray everywhere and foggy. The flavor of schisandra just clears all that away. It is just very alive in your mouth.
And you can even connect that to the kind of system-wide or body-wide set of effects that the plant can have, right? Like the bitter flavor, okay. Lots of action going on in digestion. The acrid flavor, muscles are relaxing. The pungent flavor. All right. We’re getting some immunity response and maybe some lung response as well with that, right? So, these are all associations between the types of tastes that we can perceive, and the types of chemistry that caused those to happen. And the way that those hit the system, and how we can observe. You take the thing with the flavor. You get the set of effects. Give it to lots and lots of people over time. We see those consistent. This is where these traditions come from, right? And you know, for a lot of plants you can be like this is a very clear, very simple herb. This is centaury. This is gentian. This is pure bitter. This is going to get your digestion moving. It’s going to have some effects on your nerves that we understand better now than we used to. But there’s that really strong visible impact going on. And then with schisandra it’s like, wow. A lot of stuff has to be happening.
A lot of stuff is happening.
And you can tell from the taste, you know? So, yeah, valuable.
A Balancing Act & Sugar
And even some of that stuff is hormonal in action too. And that’s one of the aspects of schisandra, but also adaptogens in general is a hormonal calibration, recalibration, or hormonal modulation. I’m really working to avoid the word balancing. Because balance and hormone, those two words don’t necessarily go together.
Okay. You can associate balance here as long as you’re thinking of standing on a balance board, or somebody who’s on a tightrope. They’re not still. Their dancing.
It’s like a very active form of balance.
You have to keep the dance going, or you are going to fall over. It’s necessary, right?
Or like a slack line, yeah. And that balance has a lot of movement in it, even if it is not a person who is about to fall off, and they’re like whoa. But even a person who’s very comfortable doing that kind of activity, is very active in their body about balancing. Okay, yeah. That would be a fine way.
Yeah. And sometimes those movements that maintain balance can be small. I’m thinking of this video I’ve seen, and maybe you have too. But it’s like you’re flying alongside a raptor, a hawk or something, or a falcon. And what the video is showing you is it’s stabilized on the falcon’s head as if that’s not moving at all. But the body’s moving, and the wings are adjusting. And sometimes there’s a big wing movement. And sometimes it’s like one feather moves up two degrees. And that’s what’s required to keep the head steady. Keep your eyes on that mouse a mile away or whatever. So, there can be that kind of effect that maintains balance, dynamic equilibrium in the body. But sometimes you’ve got to be moving. You’ve got to have those counterbalances happening. Yeah.
I think we’re back to smoldering anger. This is fine. Schisandra will help with hot anger too, like very active, flaming, raging anger too. But really that sort of long-term hot smoldering anger, it is that active form. You have to drain that off and balance it out. And it is not a thing that you can just be like oh, well/ feeling better now. That’s never going to happen. It has to be a very active progression through/
Yeah. Well, anger can’t just be set down. It does need to be metabolized. So, schisandra helps with that. And schisandra is a metabolically activating herb in other ways, even though the overall effect of the plant is cooling. Again, it’s complicated. There are some cooling effects. There are some warming effects. The overall impact is going to be we drain out excess fluid. We reduce excess heat. You can think of the inflammation itself draining away from the system. So, that’s the overall impact. But that requires some activity in order to get that to happen, right? And schisandra’s really good in that regard. And so yeah, that does bring us back around to this idea about sugar. And all of the adaptogens you mentioned can have improvements on a lot of hormonal effects in our system, including ones around blood sugar regulation. But schisandra is a standout in that regard.
Yeah, it really is. Tulsi, I will put in the standout category also. And tulsi and schisandra tastes great together as tea. But schisandra has some extra bonus. There are many herbs that can help your body more efficiently manage and metabolize sugar and keep blood sugar levels in a more steady state. But schisandra, even if you are not trying, also just curbs the cravings for sugar. And the way that I found this out was that I was having some emotional rough times. And I was making a lot of cake to compensate for my emotional state. And it was gluten-free, dairy-free cake sweetened with honey. I was harm reducing my cake, but still it was cake. And I was in a place that I needed to have cake every day to get through my day. And some people maybe don’t have that kind of emotional response. But some of you out there are like oh, Katja. I have been there. So anyway, I was in that place. And I decided to start working with schisandra around anger management issues. It had nothing to do with sugar. I really hadn’t even associated it with sugar at that point. So, fine. Okay. And I started taking, you know, 10 schisandra berries every day. Which whether it is true or not, it’s unclear. But it is in the mythology around herbalism, especially specifically in New England herbalism, that traditionally people worked with schisandra by taking 10 berries a day. I don’t know if that’s really accurate, but that is the mythology that came out of New England teaching.
Ten berries a day for a hundred days.
For a hundred days, right.
And what is that, right? That’s a season. A season is a good archetypal amount of time to initiate a habit and then observe the beginning, and the end, and the change that occurs in that time.
Yeah, a season is really a good way to think about work and especially work with regard to health. But okay, so I was going to do 10 berries a day for a hundred days, and I didn’t get very far into it. And all of a sudden one day we were like, there’s mold on this cake. And you’ve got to understand…
Apparently, I wasn’t keeping up with my half of the bargain or whatever. But yeah, that had never happened before.
That had never happened before. And especially with the relationship I was in with cake in that moment. The idea that the cake would sit alone untouched long enough for mold to happen at that point in my life was just an absolute you’ve got to be kidding me.
I want to be clear, though, this was just like a hint of mold.
I didn’t even know the cake could mold.
It wasn’t like green fuzz, okay. That’s not the kind of house we live in.
That’s true. But there was enough mold for me to see it and be like oh my goodness. I can’t eat that. I took the lid off. And I was like oh my goodness. I can’t eat this. And anyway, that was when I was like but I was not trying to not eat cake. I was in a head space of cake will get me through my day. What happened here? And then we realized it was the schisandra. And when you make that kind of realization, that is exciting. But you have to test it, because what if it wasn’t the schisandra? What if it was something else? Yeah. And so we’ve tested it, and it works really, really well. That it just, over a period of time – not even too long of time, like a couple of weeks – it just changes your desire for sugar. So, that was pretty exciting. And again, I think about an herb that is strong enough to stand up to. Schisandra had enough energy, had enough strength in that time to stand up to me in a not healthy relationship with sugar and using sugar to get through emotionally challenging times. And that was amazing.
Taking Schisandra & Herb-Drug Concerns
Yeah. Well, okay. So, you can take schisandra in lots of ways, right? And we’ve mentioned a bunch of them. You can make a tea. Today we made a tea. I often like to prepare tea for the herbs we’re going to talk about in our little episodes. So, this has a combo of skullcap with schisandra. It’s about three parts skullcap to one part schisandra, and I feel like that’s a decent ratio. But you can play with it. You could try them half and half. Or you could just try each one by themselves and see what you think. But this is not overwhelmingly schisandra-sis.
Yeah. I do like these two together very much. Just a little preview. If you think about skullcap and its ability to help stop the hamster wheel of repetitive thinking in your mind. And then you think about anger, especially long held anger.
Yeah. How repetitive is that?
How repetitive that is in your mind. Just so repetitive in your mind. And so, the idea of putting these two together is really particularly beautiful to me. So, I’m really excited that they came next to each other on the shelf, and we get to talk about them together.
One other thing I guess about schisandra before we do move on. So, something that we’ve been paying some attention to and teaching about recently. Because we’ve been filming video about herb-drug interactions. And when it comes to herb drug interactions, you’ve got some real standouts. You’ve got your St. John’s wort. Wow. That can interact with lots of plants, lots of drugs, lots of meds, right? You’ve got grapefruit. That can interact with a lot of them. And with both of them it’s largely because of their effects on these enzymes that your liver and your kidneys and your intestines make, which help to metabolize those medications and other things of course, right? Like your body didn’t invent them when pharmaceuticals were developed.
Yeah, no. All those enzymes actually have work that they do in the body in real life. Yeah.
Right, sure. But yeah, okay. A drug enters your system. These enzymes are going to break it down or help to metabolize it and get it out of your system. But St. John’s wort can make more of those enzymes happen, and that can cause you to metabolize the drug faster than usual. Grapefruit can cause you to make less of them, and so the drug is metabolized slower than usual. In either case, this can lead to some issues. Especially with drugs where you’re trying to have a really regular schedule with them, so the levels kind of reach a high point and a low point at predictable times in your day. Everything is kind of steady in that regard. But if you take one of these at the same time as your drug, or you take it consistently while you’re taking that drug. Now what’s called the pharmacokinetics or the way the drug moves in your body, that might change. More of it’s kicked out of the system than usual, or it stays around a lot longer than it should. So, it turns out that schisandra has a similar type of effect. Specifically similar to grapefruit, in that it can slow down your liver’s processing of those foreign agents. And one way to think about this that I think should make sense to herbalists is that this is in some ways an extension of the cooling effect that schisandra has on your liver. One of the reasons people today have so much liver inflammation is because we encounter so much weird stuff that our body has to cope with, tear down apart, make it into a form that you can get it out of the system.
But the first steps in that process are themselves pro-inflammatory. They are an oxidative process. Your body is burning those molecules of your pharmaceutical or the bad stuff in the water that’s the only water you’ve got to drink. If you live in a polluted area, like in Coal River Valley in West Virginia, you’ve got hexavalent chromium in the water table. There’s not a lot you can do about that. Yes, filters. Yes, bottled water. We can talk about all of those strategies, and they’re super important. But people are exposed to these things at some level anyway, right, and so your body has to cope with that. And again, part of that process of getting it out of you does involve generating inflammation. And that stacked up with sugar, stacked up with stress, stacked up with a loss of sleep, it can be more in inflammation than your system can really handle. And so slowing that down a little bit. Or helping your body to move through these things in an organized way. Like we do the inflammatory part, but only so much as we keep up with the anti-inflammatory part that really finalizes it and gets it out of your body, right? Schisandra seems to help to reach that kind of a level of liver activity. And so the takeaway though is that if there’s a drug going on, and it’s a drug where we don’t want to screw around with the cycle of it in your system, the peaks and valleys of that drug’s level in your body during the day. Then we should use a little caution when we think about schisandra, or when we want to work with schisandra. This one is of course still being researched. There’s not a final comprehensive list of all the drugs that this one could interact with. And all of the dose ranges at which that may occur for both the drug and for the herb, and the body types, and the constitutions, and the genetic variations, and the history of other health issues. That would give us a lot of clarity for one individual about whether or not this herb is safe to incorporate in their regimen.
But ultimately you could end up with too much, like a higher dose than what you really meant to have. This is such complicated stuff too, because so many of us are walking around with impaired liver function.
I don’t want to suggest that schisandra is reducing healthy liver function. Because I don’t think that that’s going on here at all.
No. But I mean, neither is grapefruit. Grapefruit is not making your liver unhealthy.
It just changes the way that certain processes happen. And again, but there are so many factors of leading a lifestyle, a modern lifestyle which is kind of inherently unhealthy, that can cause us to have liver slow-down. That could also cause that kind of accumulation just because your liver’s not getting through its to-do list as fast as it could. So, this is something to be concerned about and to be following, but also might not be as serious as St. John’s wort.
Yeah. And even the comparison with grapefruit. We have to think about dose sizes, you know? And in some contexts a person might drink a whole glass of schisandra juice the way they might drink a whole glass of grapefruit juice. If you have a schisandra plant. And you get enough berries. And you squash them all up. Yeah, you can do that. But most folks aren’t. They’re taking them as supplements, or they’re taking them as tincture or tea or berries that you chew on.
It is popular as soda in Korea.
Yep. Yeah, absolutely. Right? Omija, yeah.
And here actually, in central Massachusetts there is a schisandra farm. And they make kombucha out of the schisandra juice.
Yeah. I think there must be others, because there’s some national brands now that have schisandra kombucha. Yeah. So, it’s definitely a thing that’s out and about. And again, I want to make it super clear, right? It is never the case with even this kind of drug interaction that one sip of your tea is going to doom you to a serious interaction that puts your life at risk, you know?
Right. There’s so many complicating factors.
So, there’s different ways to respond to that kind of information. Somebody who’s brand new to herbalism, probably the best thing is… Well, you’ve got a lot of learning to do before you go making any recommendations to anybody. Let’s start with that. Okay. But maybe you’re at a point where you’ve got some experience under your belt. You work with a lot of herbs yourself. You’re comfortable suggesting people to drink some chamomile tea for their tummy ache and that kind of thing. Maybe schisandra is one you keep in your back pocket for a while. Or you at least say all right, anybody on medications I’m just not going to talk about this herb, or I’m going to caution them. This might not be the right herb for you. But those of you who are in clinical practice, you need this kind of familiarity with these issues and with the nuances involved in them so that you can help somebody make their own personal decision. Okay. And look at the drug list you’ve got. I look at the health issues in your history. I look at other information we’ve got that’s relevant to these types of questions. And I think all right, for you this preparation of schisandra at this dose. I think that this is safe. That’s something that you need to be able to express to somebody as a clinical herbalist in the world today.
Right. To be able to sort of differentiate the people where this wouldn’t be a concern, or the people where this would be a concern. Because you can fine tune that. Once you get good at this, you don’t actually have to say no one taking any pharmaceuticals ever could ever have any trial sized dose of schisandra.
Put down that kombucha, kid.
It’s good to do that in the beginning when you’re not confident about herb-drug interactions. But like Ryn said, we just finished updating the Herb-Drug Interaction course. It’s really good. So, you could go grab that.
Yeah. You’re going to love it.
All right. And again, don’t be afraid of schisandra. This is a fantastic herb. There are so many cases in which it’s really helpful. And like you said kind of at the lead in here, for modern people in particular who are surrounded by sugar on all sides and have a lot to be angry about…
This herb is very, very appropriate.
Very awesome. Yeah.
Skullcap Variety, Biofilm Busting, & Emotional Health
Okay. So, you know, let’s talk about skullcap. And skullcap here, we’re talking about Scutellaria lateriflora. There are other skullcaps. There are other Scutellaria species. Probably the most famous is Scutellaria baicalensis, which is often called Baikal skullcap or sometimes Chinese skullcap, even though Baikal is in…
Yeah, okay. I’ve never heard it called Russian skullcap, but anyway. That one we’re not so much going to be addressing today because we don’t work with it. We have worked with it a few times. I’m thinking of herbal formulations that are designed to combat complex infected wounds. And include some Baikal skullcap for the quorum sensing inhibition and break up the biofilms. And that’s very helpful. But that’s been the majority, I’d say, for both of us with Baikal.
Yeah. And the thing is that there are so many plants who can do that work. And I don’t have Baikal skullcap. I think that we can grow it, but we’re not currently growing it.
Sam grew it in Texas, so it can’t be that hard.
No, I think we can grow it here, just we haven’t done it. And we could purchase it. But I think it’s that a lot of times the herbs that you like the best are because they’re the tools that you need to do the work you’re doing right now. And when I’m thinking about infection, the tools that I turn to for that are… And tools, I don’t mean to imply that herbs are like tools, I guess. Well anyway, they’re our friends. We work with them. But I’m looking at pine and plantain, herbs that are here right around me.
I think part of what happened – and I’m seeing this in my own mental history here – is when we started to hear herbalists talking about biofilms, and about quorum sensing inhibition, and all of that kind of effect. Skullcap was one of the… Baikal skullcap especially was one of the first most prominent ones to hit sort of the herbal discussion scene. You know what I mean?
And I think one of the first ones that they studied really extensively.
Yeah. And especially to the level to be like these particular chemicals, the baicalin and baicalein, which are found in lateriflora also, but especially there. It’s right there in the names, right? Baikal skullcap, baicalein. These are connected, yeah. That those were identified as serving these quorum sensing inhibition functions, and helping to break up a biofilm, and allow the other herbs in your formula to be more effective as antimicrobials. And then over the next bunch of years between then and now, there’s dozens and dozens of papers that are pointing at lots of other herb, like lots of other herbs, okay?
Like basically I think every herb that they have investigated to say, I wonder if this herb has…? Yeah. It turns out quorum sensing inhibition, check.
And it’s one of those things where after a while you sort of stop, and you look at the information. And you’re like well, of course it is, right? Because plants have to deal with microbial biofilms all the time. They can’t run away from them. They can’t scrape the slime off of their trunks.
So, most plants have to have some kind of a strategy for this type of problem. Okay. So, maybe we can lead with that. If you have somehow gotten the message that only Baikal skullcap can be helpful in an antimicrobial formula to enhance the efficacy of your berberine plants, or your pungent bitter mints, or your whatever else. Uh, guess what? Skullcap can help.
Yeah. Everybody can help. So, many plants can help. But when I think about skullcap and the work that I do today, I’m thinking about emotional health, and mental health, and tension, and those repeating, ruminating thoughts. Tension in the mind and tension in the body that’s associated with tension in the mind, especially at the base of the neck when you’re pinching your shoulder blades together. Those are the kinds of things that we work with all of the time. To be honest, herbalists don’t work on infections so frequently now. If you go hiking a lot, or if you do a lot of first aid and that kind of stuff, then yes. You get to work with infections a lot that way. And that’s where we have most of our experience with infections. But if you are just a clinical herbalist in the world today, you are dealing with a lot more mental health stuff than you are with actual wound care.
It’s just because of the logistics, you know? Okay, schedule an appointment with me. It’s probably not about this thing that’s growing green slime on my arm. I’m not going to wait two weeks to have my herbalist talk to me through Zoom about that, you know? Okay. That’s also why it’s good for everybody to learn basic wound care. Because if you get to those things before they’re green and growing slime, then even very common simple herbs can take care of that for you. It’s the best way, right?
So, when I think about skullcap, I’m thinking about lateriflora because it is so integral to the work that I do most of the time.
A Bit Bitter Mint With A Specific Relaxant Effect
Yeah. Flavor-wise, right, skullcap is pretty mild in taste. It’s a little bit bitter. And it falls into this category that we can call the bitter mints. That’s like a mint family plant, Lamiaceae family plant, right? You’ve got your pepperminty mints. You’ve got your pungent mints, like sage, and thyme, and oregano, and monarda. And then you have some that are bitter, and there’s a scale in there. You’ve got really, really bitter ones like motherwort. And then you have ones like betony, and ground ivy, and even self-heal where it’s there. It’s definitely there. And the more herb you throw into the water, and the longer you steep it, the more it comes out.
The more bitter it can be, yeah. But it’s also a green kind of bitter. As opposed to centaury or gentian or something that is a very… I don’t know what color those are, but it’s very…
Well, they’re sharp, but…
Yeah. Those are super bitter.
Some of them are clear colored.
Oh, I was going to say clear too. Yeah, okay. Well, there we go. But so the bitterness is a green bitter. It’s like just a little bitter.
What I find interesting about this little cluster together here, these bitter mints, is that they’ve got a number of overlapping effects, right? We’ve got relaxants. Many of them have lymphatic capacity. A lot of them are alterative and anti-inflammatory. And that last one, that covers all of them. Especially self-heal, but yeah, motherwort, betony, ground ivy, skullcap. All of them are nice anti-inflammatory. A bunch of them get your fluids moving. That helps with improving the quality of all your circulating fluids. Skullcap is a definite relaxant in this group.
Yeah. If we kind of make that relaxant, lymphatic, alterative anti-inflammatory into a spectrum, it’s definitely way on the relaxant side.
Yeah. That’s the major thing that we turn to this plant for.
It’s sort of… But not a generalized relaxant. It’s a really specific relaxant, and it’s specific for our times. It really is about that hamster wheel, and the tension that comes along with it. Like when you are just spinning around on the same thought over and over. It’s almost like it is winding up your body. And your shoulders are coming up to your ears. And your shoulder blades are pinching together. And the tension is just knotting itself up trying to get into your head along with this hamster wheel of thought. And that is that point of relaxation for skullcap.
Ow, that kind of hurts. I was really cranking my shoulders up.
Drink more skullcap tea. You’ve got it right there. It’ll help you. Yeah. It is helpful for those type of tension headaches. Especially the ones where the tension is localized back here in the back. If it’s right up in your temples, you could work with skullcap, but we might give it some friends. Like I might put betony in there to help out.
You know, I think of Skullcap as back of the head. But the one time that I don’t think of it as back of the head is when it is directly above your eyebrows. That kind of headache. Mm. And the fun thing about that kind of headache is even though it’s in the front of your head, it’s in the back of your head. Because there are muscles that are right above your eyebrows, and they go all the way back parallel along the skull like racing stripes. And so if you have that tension, that stress tension. And it is tensing everything up, and it’s cranking your shoulders up to your ears. That’s not the only crank that’s happening. It’s also cranking that muscle above the eyebrows as well. And so that is a front headache that I do still think about skullcap.
Yeah. That’s some like anatomy trained stuff. Because it’s like several muscles and connectives and stuff that are joined by the fascia sheath.
Right. It’s not one solid muscle. Yeah.
They run back together, right. Well, there’s that way to localize the type of tension that skullcap is most helpful with kind of geographically on the body that way. And then there’s also skullcap can be helpful for intermittent tension, where it’s there, but then it disappears. And what this usually looks like is shaking, but it’s on a scale, right? At the very low end you get some occasional twitchiness. And then if it gets more and more severe, it’s more like we get spasms. They’re not happening all the time, but yeah. Sometimes I just get a jolt, and it hurts. And it’s tense for a minute, and then it calms down. And then a further example of this would be seizure, right? And of course there’s other elements with that. We’ve got electrical activity in the brain. But it does lead to the muscles all clamping up super tight and intense in that really strong way. Skullcap, over the course of recorded history, has been a key herb or a standout herb for that type of tension pattern. And it has been very helpful in cases of seizure. And I don’t just mean a hundred years ago, right? We’ve had clients who were dealing with epilepsy and related neuro-electrical problems. And working with skullcap, getting a lot of relief, especially in combination with betony and usually passionflower.
And then also other interventions as well. It’s not like oh, just take a squirt of skullcap tincture, and your epilepsy goes away. You’re working on improving the situation a little bit in every direction until you get to a place that is like hey, this is really quite improved.
Yeah. You know, there’s food work to be done. How can we improve sleep and so on.
There are a lot of avenues of approach. But skullcap, especially with betony, really can be a big part of that work.
When to Reach for Skullcap & Formulation
Yeah. But this could also be something that is a way for you to be like when do I think of skullcap? When do I reach for it? Do you ever get that thing where you’ve had kind of an extra stressful day, and then my eye is just twitching?
And maybe you first notice it as kind of like a why did I blink only on one side? Wait, what?
Or you maybe feel the muscle.
This little tremor, this little tickle over here. Yeah. It might be time for skullcap.
Yeah. When we talk about lemon balm, often I give it the little motto or the bumper sticker: heat stroke and things that look like heat stroke. And so you could say that about skullcap. It could be seizure and things that look like seizure. And yeah, that one tiny little spasm of that muscle at your eyelid. In a very localized, teeny tiny little spot that is a teeny tiny little seizure. It’s seizure and things that look like seizure. So, yeah.
Yeah. That combo of skullcap, passionflower, and betony may be familiar to anyone who’s been hanging out with us for a while, because it is one that we gravitate back to over and over again. It’s usually the foundation for a sleep formula or for a relaxing formula. Because this can go in either of those directions and several others too, right? You could have those three. Yeah, they’re all calming. They’re all cooling in nature. They’re all a little bit sedative, but not hypnotic, not going to knock you out in the middle of your day.
Remember that the word sedative in herbalism is not the same as the word sedative in pharmacology. So, when we say the word sedative about pharmaceuticals, the corresponding word in the herbal world is hypnotic. Sedative in the herbal world is something that is very relaxing or strongly relaxing. But it will not in and of itself make you sleepy if you were not already sleepy. Now, you might be super behind on sleep and very tense. And if you relax that tension, suddenly you realize that the tension was the only thing keeping you awake. And so the result for you might be that you became very sleepy. But you can see where the difference is that the sleepiness was actually already there, and you relaxed into it. As opposed to you got plenty of sleep. You’re well rested. Everything’s fine. You took some passionflower, maybe some skullcap. And all you do is relax. You don’t feel sleepy at that point.
Yeah, absolutely. But see we can take that combo – skullcap, betony, passionflower. We can start with that. And then we can say okay, the main thing I’m dealing with is stress at work. So, we’re going to have those in there to release some of that physical tension, to keep you grounded, to keep you centered in your body and in the moment. You’re not kind of thrown into your worries and anxieties. Or you’re like I don’t know. Are they hovering? Are they watching me? That kind of feeling, but a little more calm, and centered, and relaxed. And then we can say I would also benefit from a little bit of mental focus and presence. So, we could put in some tulsi and some ginkgo, right? And this formula overall is not going to be sedative. I mean sleep inducing. I mean making you drowsy at work. You know, that kind of thing. But it will sedate the excessive activation of your nerves. It will sedate the excessive vigilance you may be feeling in your mind.
Yeah. And if you are in that state, it’s very uncomfortable. You would kind of like that state to be a little sedated. But you, in terms of your ability to think clearly and drive a car, are not sedated.
But then on the other hand, if we take skullcap, betony, passionflower. And we combine that together with, I guess on the farther end, hops and California poppy. That is a knock you out combo, right? That is, you take that in the hour before bed and you see if you make it the whole hour.
Yes. You will fall asleep. And again, same thing, we’re going to reduce those feelings of anxiousness, reduce those repetitive thoughts, reduce the sort of threat awareness or the other feelings that your anxiousness has brought into the situation. But also let’s just on top of it have a little extra knockout, because I really have to get myself to sleep.
Yeah. And maybe you’re both of those people, right? And then now what you’re going to be doing is you’re going to have your nervine formula that you can take through the day. Help you to work, not too anxious, focused and present. You’ve got your sleep formula to help you in the nighttime. Get me to sleep, sleep really well, wake up refreshed. But you’re also getting skullcap all day long, right? And now you’re reaching that place where you’re taking skullcap as a trophorestorative, something that’s rebuilding healthy nerve function. And we could say that too for betony and I think passionflower also. So, this is often a strategy that we like, where there’s continuity and also saturation with one of those herbs like skullcap. It can have an immediate impact. You can feel the relaxation when you’re in that really anxious moment. But also when you take it over the long term, there’s this restoration and this strengthening of your nervous system and of your reaction to the world around you. So, being able to set it up like this where you can get it in the moment as you need it. It can help you to go to sleep. And we’re also building that steady day in and day out intake to get this in at those types of exposure. That’s very successful.
Well, there we go. Skullcap. All the things that you can do with skullcap that don’t involve wound care or quorum sensing inhibition.
Yeah. That’ll be a different podcast. So, we’ll be back soon with another one. But before we go, both of these herbs – important nervine: skullcap, important adaptogen: schisandra – these come up regularly in our course Neurological & Emotional Health. This is a really good one.
It is one of my favorite courses. I really like it a lot. So, you might really like it a lot as well. That course, Neurological & Emotional Health, covers pain management. It covers physiological nerve issues like MS, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s, Bell’s Palsy, all those kinds of things, and then all of the emotional and mental aspects of health. So, everything from autism, ADD, depression, anxiety, just the whole sort of gamut there.
Yeah. And we get into detail about the nervines and about the adaptogens. And when does this one make more sense, and when would that one be more helpful? All of that kind of nuance. It helps you to get past oh, get anything from that category. Down to this is a time when I really, really want skullcap to be involved, those kinds of things.
So, you can make your formulas to be super targeted to a very specific situation, because you learn the plants in that manner.
So, like all our courses, this includes the video lessons, the MP3, so you can take them as you go. PDFs and guides for you to peruse. Discussion threads, access to our community and to our live Q&A sessions. And remember it’s lifetime access. So there’s no rush.
Everyone asks about certificates. Yes, there’s a certificate. And there are assignments in there and little quizzes and stuff too, so yeah. All the good stuff. It’s all in there.
It’s all there. All right. And you’ll find that with all of our courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com. All right. That’s it for us. Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.
Drink some tea.
And oh, I didn’t plan one for this. Keep your skulls in a schism. No, that’s not it.
No, that’s not right. What about taste the rainbow? Can we do something with taste? Because schisandra is the closest thing to Skittles, pop rocks, those kinds of candy flavors in the natural world, I have to say.
All right, we’ll workshop it. We’ll get one better for you next time. Bye everyone.
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