Skullcap

Skullcap has traditionally been used for hundreds of years for its valuable medicinal characteristics, and it's still widely used today as an herbal remedy for various ailments.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Mad dog, scullcap, skullcap
  • Scientific nameScutellaria lateriflora
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)Canada, United States of America
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Skullcap

Skullcap is native to North America and grows wild in most of the United States and Canada. The history of skullcap has deep roots in Native American culture as a healing herb for menstrual problems. The Cherokee people originally used skullcap to stimulate menstruation, relieve breast pain, and encourage expulsion of the placenta. In the 19th century, skullcap was used by herbalists as a remedy for "hysteria," epilepsy, convulsions, rabies, and mental illnesses because of its sedative effects on the nervous system. Today, skullcap is mostly taken for its restorative properties and as a tonic for the nerves. Recently, skullcap has also been used in weaning patients from barbiturates and tranquilizers.

ACCORDING TO FOLKLORE, SKULLCAP WAS COMMONLY CALLED "MAD DOG" BECAUSE IT WAS WIDELY USED IN AMERICA DURING THE 19TH CENTURY TO TREAT RABIES.


Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntispasmodic
  • Key constituentsFlavonoids, tannins
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Tincture
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingUse with caution

Health Benefits of Skullcap

The antioxidant, antispasmodic, and sedative qualities of skullcap have made it a beneficial herb full of medicinal uses:

  • Treating anxiety and insomnia
  • Reducing withdrawal symptoms from addictive drugs
  • Managing epilepsy and convulsions
  • Alleviating mild depression
  • Reducing inflammation

How It Works

The medicinal value of skullcap has made it a popular traditional remedy for various disorders like breast pain, anxiety, epilepsy, convulsions, and schizophrenia. Skullcap's benefits are due to the combination of flavonoids, volatile oil, and tannins, which provide sedative and antioxidant properties.

The main compounds that are attributed to skullcap's nutritional value are flavonoids, although its volatile oil contains many others that are possibly involved. Flavonoids are responsible for most of the medicinal properties of skullcap. Flavonoids are shown to have antioxidant activity, prevent heart disease, and improve liver function. Skullcap essential oil has a sedative action and provides a calming effect on the nervous system.

How to Consume Skullcap

Main preparations: Teas, tinctures, capsules

Skullcap can be consumed in capsule or tablet form, and the dried leaves can also be steeped or macerated to make teas and tinctures.

Skullcap Side Effects

Experts advise that American skullcap be obtained from a reliable source to avoid the possibility of contamination. High doses of skullcap are known to cause confusion, irregular heartbeat, and seizures. This herb should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Chinese skullcap is not recommended for those who suffer from diabetes, as this form of the herb can cause blood sugar levels to decrease.

TODAY, SKULLCAP IS MOSTLY TAKEN FOR ITS RESTORATIVE PROPERTIES AND AS A TONIC FOR THE NERVES.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

Skullcap seeds and plants are available at nurseries or online. Dried skullcap aerial parts for steeping into teas and tinctures are also available online and at some herbal shops. Skullcap supplements - which are available in capsule, tablet, and extract form - are the more popular method of consumption, since a controlled dose is crucial. Skullcap supplements are available at herbal shops, some health food stores, and online.

Plant Biology

Classification

Skullcap, or Scutellaria lateriflora, is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. The Scutellaria genus contains 45 species. The most well-known related species are Baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) and marsh skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), which can be found in North America, Asia, and Europe. Both of these species offer similar sedative and therapeutic properties to American skullcap. Skullcap is a leafy perennial herb that grows to around two feet (60 cm) in height. Skullcap is characterized by its bluish, violet, or pink flowers that are be cap-like in appearance.

Varieties and Subspecies of Skullcap

There are no known varieties or subspecies of Scutellaria lateriflora. It has several close relatives in the genus that are considered skullcap species, including S. drummondii, S. elliptica, and S. parvula.

SKULLCAP HAS BEEN USED TRADITIONALLY FOR OVER 200 YEARS AND IS STILL CONSIDERED VALUABLE FOR ITS MEDICINAL USES.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • Plant spacing average0.3 m (0.98 ft)
  • Propagation techniquesDivisions

Skullcap can be grown from seed or by root division, and thrives in full sun with plenty of moisture. Well-drained soil is ideal for growing skullcap, and should be planted in the spring after the last frost. It is recommended to plant skullcap spaced about 6 – 12 inches (15 – 30 cm) apart. It's also important to strip away any weeds while skullcap is growing, and to trim the plant as it begins to flower.

Additional Information

Economic Data

According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, very little data has been published on skullcap production. In the U.S., yields of over 2,000 pounds per acre of dried American Skullcap have been reported. The selling price for skullcap was approximately $7 USD per pound in 2009. There has not been sufficient data published about other species of Scutellaria.

Bibliography