Geoffrey Soma - Herbalist 'Notes From Beyond The Veil' July 06

Geoff’s Medicinal Notes – July 2006


Notes from Beyond the Veil will return next month with Nicholas Culpeper.  This month we have our resident Medical Herbalist, Geoffrey Soma BSc(Hons) MNIMH, discussing this month’s herbs; Skullcap, St John’s Wort and Vervain.


Skullcap – Scutellaria lateriflora

Native to America, and also known as Mad Dog and Madweed, Skullcap will send you crazy and is absolutely guaranteed to have you talking to pixies and biting the postman on the leg.  Heh, heh, only kidding herb fans.  In fact skullcap is one of the finest nervines in the repertoire.  A nervine is what we witches, wise women and other herbalist folk call a herb that restores the nerves and relaxes the nervous system.  Skullcap was in fact known as Mad Dog because the 19th Century physiomedicalists used this herb to treat rabies, which is caused by the bite of an infected ‘mad dog’.  Originally used by native American tribes such as the Cherokee, when they weren’t attacking wagon trains or muttering dark thoughts about iron horses, as in “What are these palefaces on?  It’s a train, isn’t it.  Do you know anyone who calls it an iron horse?”, Skullcap was a woman’s herb used to relieve breast pain, encourage menstruation and in birth to encourage shedding of the placenta.  Introduced into Europe in the 1600’s, Skullcap is one of the most widely used of herbal remedies, finding a place in the treatment of anxiety, stress, insomnia and mental exhaustion.  The marked differences in usage by the native American tribes and Europeans could be seen as an interesting comment on our different societies and lifestyles.  It has been said that herbs are what we need them to be but before I stray too far into the realms of metaphysics here’s a good home cure for tension headaches.  Make a tea using dried or fresh aerial parts (i.e the bits that grow above ground – flowers, leaves and stalks) with 1 part skullcap, 3 parts betony, and 1 part chamomile.  Infuse in a teapot for 10 minutes and drink freely.  Then go out and talk to the pixies; some of them are my best friends.


St John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum

Nervine, wound healer, and anti-depressant, some say St John’s Wort is so named because it flowers in midsummer around the time of St John’s feast day.  Loving a good controversy as I do I thought I’d point out that others say it’s common name derives from the Knights of St John of Jerusalem because they used it to heal wounds during the Crusades.  Even the Botanical, i.e. Latin name has it’s question mark.  While most authorities note that Hypericum derives from the ancient Greek meaning “over an apparition” supposedly because it’s smell was said to drive away evil spirits, I personally feel there may possibly be a Christianisation of an earlier pagan connection.  St John’s wort flowering as it does when the sun is at it’s most powerful, at summer solstice, longest day of the year etc. etc., it is perhaps not a coincidence that it’s botanical name is so close to Hypericon, another name for Helios, the Greek sun God.  Certainly there are many other herbs named from Greek legends.  Who cares, get on with it I hear you say?  Well okay, the boring stuff is that you can use St John’s Wort to treat depression but everyone knows that.  Not quite so well known is that it is particularly useful in treating the emotional upsets that come with the menopause.  It will also restore damaged nervous tissue, is so strongly anti-viral that research is looking at it’s potential for treating HIV, and it actually is a great wound healer.  A simple and outrageously useful home remedy can be made from this humble herb; infused oil, which works magic on cuts, burns and scrapes.  To make, cut the aerial parts up and stick in a clear jar and cover with any light vegetable oil, Sunflower oil is ideal, and stick it in a window where it will get a lot of sunlight.  Turning the jar twice a day to thoroughly mix, leave it for 2-6 weeks until it is bright red.  Then strain and decant into dropper bottles.  This will keep for a couple of years and no first aid kit should be without.


Vervain – Verbena officinalis

Considered a holy and magical herb by most known civilisations from here to China, the Druids used Vervain in their lustral water, the Romans used it as an altar herb and there is a legend that vervain was used on Calgary to staunch the Christ’s wounds.  Strongly associated with love Vervain is sacred to Aphrodite and Venus, two girls with a well-known predilection for the steamier side of life.  Lustral water, in case you were wondering, was used in ritual purification, and even today many consider Vervain to be spiritually uplifting.  More prosaically, Vervain is our third nervine for this month, being used in the treatment of depression and tension.  Also a good liver tonic, Vervain can be used to treated jaundice or a congested liver.  Used in a wide range of digestive problems, this and it’s nervine action make Vervain an excellent remedy for those recovering from chronic illness.  Also reputed to be an aphrodisiac, and used to treat headaches Vervain is a versatile herb.  A word of caution however, it’s emmenagogue action, stimulating menstrual flow, means it should not be used in high doses during pregnancy.  Home remedy time once again and let’s keep it simple, just like me.  Vervain tea, helps stimulate digestion and thereby improves the absorption of nutrients into the body.  Drink a cup regularly and especially after heavy meals.  Make it using the aerial parts, in a tea pot, as above.


Right that’s it from me.  It’s 2:00am and Dragonhiss (see june newsletter) and I are off to the truck and into bed.  Remember if you are unsure about the use of herbs, always consult a professional before using herbs on yourself or others.