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, American skullcap
  • Scientific nameScutellaria lateriflora
  • Geographic distributionNorth America
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionNorth America
  • Main producer(s)Canada, United States of America
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal

Skullcap is native to Asia, Europe and North America, and it grows wild in most of the United States and Canada. The herb has a long history of use among Native Americans for a wide variety of medicinal purposes, and extensive research has validated many of its traditional applications. Nowadays, skullcap is mostly taken for its restorative properties and as a tonic to soothe the nerves. 

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

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

Health Benefits of Skullcap

The antispasmodic, and sedative qualities of skullcap have made it a useful herb, full of pharmacological applications, mainly:

  • Treating anxiety and insomnia. The sedative qualities of skullcap have been used for centuries as a natural sleep-aid, to soothe the nervous system and relieve panic attacks.

  • Alleviating mild depression. A number of studies have shown the efficacy of skullcap for the treatment of mood disorders, alone or in combination with other herbs.

  • Relieving muscle spams and inflammation. Because its antispasmodic properties, skullcap is used to manage muscular cramps, as well as epilepsy and convulsions.

In addition, scientific studies have suggested that skullcap may be useful for reducing withdrawal symptoms from addictive drugs.

How It Works

The pharmacological properties of American skullcap are yet to be fully understood, but over 12 phenolic compounds, including 10 flavonoids and two phenylethanoid glycosides have been isolated and are thought to be responsible for most of the herb's health benefits, mainly its antispasmodic, anticonvulsive actions.

At least 73 compounds have been identified in skullcap's essential oil, and most of them are sesquiterpenes, mainly τ-cadinene, calamenene, β-elemene, α-cubebene, and α-humulene. These volatile oils are believed to be the cause for the sedative and anxiolytic effects of the herb. In double-blind human trials, individuals who took skullcap extracts significantly enhanced global mood, without a reduction in energy or cognition. 


Other herbs known for their sedative, relaxant properties are lemon balm, lavender, and St. John's Wort.

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 pregnant or breastfeeding women. Chinese skullcap is not recommended for those who are taking medication for diabetes, as this particular variety can further reduce blood sugar levels.

How to Consume Skullcap

Natural Forms

  • Dried. The dried leaves of skullcap can be used to prepare a variety of home remedies.

  • Infusion. The dried leaves of skullcap can be steeped in hot water to make a soothing infusion. 

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Essential oil. Skullcap essential oil has a sedative action and provides a calming effect on the nervous system.

  • Tincture. In this concentrated form, skullcap is an effective sedative and anti-anxiety aid. Few drops diluted in a glass of water can relax the muscles, sooth the nerves, and induce sleep.

  • Capsules. Skullcap can be consumed in capsule or tablet forms, which come in standardized doses for treating seizures, mild depression, insomnia, and anxiety.


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

Natural Forms

Skullcap seeds and plants are available at nurseries or online. Dried skullcap aerial parts to be brewed and prepare home remedies are also available online and at some herbal shops.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Skullcap supplements are the more popular method of consumption, since they come in standardized doses, and are available at herbal shops, some health food stores, and online retailers.

American skullcap products have a similar composition, but the relative proportions of the individual constituents varies widely, so it is important to read the labels carefully.


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

Skullcap is easy to cultivate. It can be grown from seed or by root division, and thrives in sunny, temperate climates.

Growing Guidelines

  • Skullcap needs plenty of moisture and grows better in well-drained soil.

  • It should be planted in early spring, after the last frost.

  • Skullcap plants need to be spaced about 6 - 12 inches (15 - 30 cm) apart.

  • It's important to strip away any weeds while skullcap is growing, and to trim the plant as it begins to flower.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

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.

  • Classification

    Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family, which comprises about 7,200 species of flowering plants, many of them important aromatic herbs, such as lemon balm, sage, rosemary, peppermint, and basil.

    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.

  • Varieties and Subspecies of Skullcap

    There are not 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.

Historical Information

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. Recently, skullcap has also been used in weaning patients from barbiturates and tranquilizers.


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.